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Springfield Welcomes Mr. Lincoln Back Home

Nov 29, 2017
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(Author’s Note: On May 3, 1865, the Funeral Train of Abraham Lincoln was nearing its final destination of Springfield, Illinois. It had covered almost 1,700 miles on its journey from Washington, D.C. to bring the remains of the president home. Washington City (as it was called in those days) and ten other cities had held funerals for Mr. Lincoln. All that remained was the final one, the thirteenth, as Springfield prepared to say a final farewell to its most famous citizen. Today marks the 145th anniversary of the arrival of Lincoln’s remains in the town he had called home.)

The assassination of Abraham Lincoln 145 years ago on April 14, 1865 caused an outpouring of grief the likes of which had never before been seen in the United States of America. From the time of Lincoln’s State Funeral in Washington, D.C. on April 19 to Chicago on May 2, 1865 it was estimated that approximately one million mourners had already filed past Lincoln’s remains in those cities, plus the nine others which had held official funerals for the martyred president. The Funeral Train had passed through countless crossroads, villages, towns, and cities along the way, with an estimated 25 million more Americans lining the tracks to pay homage to Lincoln.

Nowhere in the country were hearts heavier on the morning of May 3 than those in Springfield, Illinois. The nation had lost a leader, but Springfield had lost even more: a lawyer, a partner, a neighbor, a friend. As dawn broke that day, crowds had already formed at the Chicago and Alton depot on Jefferson Street, waiting for the Funeral Train to bring Mr. Lincoln back home.

As the train approached Springfield, the official mourners (numbering around 300) accompanying Lincoln’s remains were surprised to find themselves moved to tears once more, for they thought their emotions were exhausted from the previous funerals over the past two weeks. Now as they saw signs and banners which read “Bring Him Back Home” or “Home At Last” or “Home Is The Martyr” in those final few miles, the grief surfaced again.

Springfield had been home to Abraham Lincoln for a quarter of a century from 1837 until he departed for Washington as president-elect in February, 1861. That day he had given his famous “Farewell Speech” to the people of Springfield, telling them that “To this place, and the kindness of these people, I owe everything.” He closed by telling them “I now leave, not knowing when, or whether ever, I may return….”

As in the other cities holding funerals, Springfield had been draped in a sea of black ribbons, streamers, and crape. Lincoln’s own home (seen in the image at the beginning of this post) was so decorated for mourning, inside as well as out. The home had remained in the possession of the Lincolns when they left for Washington, having been rented to a family for the previous four years. Now the Lincoln home (which of course still stands) became a place of pilgrimage for mourners and souvenir seekers alike, with people denuding the trees of leaves, stripping paint off the house, and even daring to remove bricks from the walk and foundation. It got so bad, with about 200 people visiting the home every few minutes that the renter asked soldiers for protection so something might be left.

The other major building in Springfield associated with Abraham Lincoln was the State Capitol, and it, too, was appropriately covered in mourning as the below picture shows. Lincoln served his last term as an Illinois State Representative in this building from 1840-1842. More importantly, it was in the Capitol where Lincoln gave his famous “House Divided” speech on June 16, 1858 in which he declared that the country could not continue to exist half-slave and half-free. Additionally, Lincoln used offices in the Capitol in Springfield after he was elected to the presidency. Now it would serve Abraham Lincoln one last time, for it was here where his final laying-in-state was to be held.

People began lining up hours ahead of time at the State Capitol that day, wanting to be assured of getting their chance to say goodbye to their former neighbor. They had heard the stories of mourners in the other cities losing their opportunities to see the remains when doors had closed. No one in Springfield wanted that to happen to them.

The Funeral Train pulled into the depot at 9:00 a.m. that day. As it did, many people in the waiting crowd burst into tears, some weeping uncontrollably. Within only a few minutes, Lincoln’s casket was removed from the Funeral Car and transported directly to the Hall of Representatives at the State Capitol for the laying-in-state, with the crowd streaming behind.

I hate to be morbid, but some of my readers have been asking how Lincoln’s remains could have been preserved for viewings in thirteen cities. The answer is with very great difficulty. The bullet wound had, of course, done damage to the president’s head, which resulted in a general discoloration of the skin. Now the undertakers in Springfield were horrified to find that the face was completely black. It took thirty long minutes, much rouge, and makeup to restore Lincoln to a presentable manner.

The doors were open to the public at 10:00 a.m., which was standing six abreast as the line filed in to the Capitol. There, the single line was split in two, so that people could approach the casket on either side. The photo below is of a print which depicts how the laying-in-state appeared that day.

The Capitol remained open to mourners, some of whom had come from St. Louis, Chicago, and from points even further away, all day and through the night of May 3. The doors didn’t close until around noon the next day, the day of the last funeral.
Mourners looked for things to do after viewing the remains. So pilgrimages of sorts were made to landmarks associated with Lincoln throughout Springfield. His law offices were visited, and even the homes of his physician, or friends, and other associates. As I briefly described earlier, many made their way to the Lincoln home.
Now a special guest awaited the visitors at the home. The Lincoln’s former pet, a mixed-breed dog named “Fido,” had been brought by in an attempt to help the mourners cheer up. Fido had been left behind with a kind family four years earlier when Lincoln decided that the dog would never be able to tolerate the loud noises and lurching of the trains. Fido was easily startled by such noises, and Lincoln thought it better if he could be given to another family. Such a family had been found, who had promised to let the dog have his favorite treats, not to be scolded too much, and be permitted to have his favorite sofa taken from the Lincoln home and left with his new owners. Fido was in good spirits that day, no doubt happy to be back in his former home, but quite probably seeking out his former master. The dog was taken later that very day to a photographer, who took the photo below. (By the way, original photos of Fido often sell for higher prices than do some photos of Lincoln himself!)

So went the day of May 3, 1865 when Abraham Lincoln at long last came home to Springfield, 145 years ago today. The next day would be his final funeral, the subject of my next post.

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