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An Unscheduled Funeral For Lincoln

Nov 29, 2017
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(Author’s Note: For the past sixteen days, I’ve been running a series of posts in commemoration of the 145th anniversary of the assassination of Abraham Lincoln, April 14, 1865. The journey which his Funeral Train took over nearly 1700 miles from Washington to Springfield was remarkable as thirteen cities held funerals for the murdered president in displays of grief and mourning which have never been duplicated in our nation. Today marks the 145th anniversary of an unplanned funeral held for Mr. Lincoln in a small Indiana town.)

The capital city of Indianapolis, Indiana had only hours before bade a final goodbye to Abraham Lincoln when his Funeral Train left late in the evening on April 30, 1865. The next scheduled funeral for him was a massive one planned in Chicago, as his home state was preparing to welcome him home at last. But an unplanned stop in the small town of Michigan City, Indiana resulted in an impromptu tenth funeral for Abraham Lincoln, complete with a viewing of his remains.

The schedule for the Funeral Train called for a non-stop run from Indianapolis to Chicago, with a planned arrival in the Windy City of 11:00 a.m. on May 1, 1865. Even in those days, though, “important” people felt the need to be in the presence of greatness. So the Lincoln Funeral Train pulled in for a stop at the station in Michigan City at 8:00 a.m. while it waited for 100 men from Chicago to board where they would escort it into their city.

Like so many of the small towns along the funeral route, Michigan City had constructed a temporary arch at its depot, featuring pictures of the president, mourning displays, and words of grief. Now it became the scene of a brief, but moving funeral as town residents made the most of their unexpected opportunity. The scene at the depot that day maybe viewed in the photo at the beginning of this post.

Officials in charge of the Funeral Train decided on the spot to open the coffin to display the remains, breaking the rule which had stated that the coffin would be opened only in the cities holding official funerals. Then townspeople were permitted to board the Funeral Car to file past the coffin while the people who had been riding the train were breakfasting inside the depot.

Quick prayers were said and hymns were sung as the smallest funeral for Abraham Lincoln began inside the Funeral Car. It was later said that the grief shown by the Michigan City townspeople was as palpable that day inside the car as it was in the other cities where the official funerals had been held.

The entire ceremony that day was also the shortest as the unexpected stop lasted barely an hour. The service was over in just thirty-five minutes.

The image below also depicts the funeral arch which stood that day in Michigan City. Look at the attention to detail which had gone into constructing it! Keep in mind, if you will, that it was built simply to straddle the tracks as the Lincoln Funeral Train passed under it.

By 9:00 a.m. the day of May 1, 1865, it was over as the Funeral Train chugged out of Michigan City, heading to Chicago. In just an hour, the citizens of that small town on the shores of Lake Michigan seized their opportunity to become part of history. They would remember it as the thrill of a lifetime.

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