What President Lincoln’s funeral was like (1865)

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Remains of President Lincoln in Chicago

Yesterday was a marked day in the history of Chicago — a day long to be remembered by the hundreds of thousands, who witnessed the grand and imposing ceremony of receiving the mortal remains of the Nation’s noble son, Abraham Lincoln, the martyr President of the United States.


For many days, preparations for this grand and solemn occasion had been going on, and everything presented evidences, on Saturday of being nearly complete. On Sunday, the weather was unpropitious, and rain fell nearly the whole day. The streets were very muddy.

On Monday morning, the sun shone out brightly, and at an early hour, the who people of the city were astir, and those from the country, were pouring in from all directions in immense numbers. The streets along which the procession was to move were once made clean, so that people could walk upon them as well as upon the sidewalks.

The various military organizations in the city, the civic societies, schools, and organizations, were at once formed, moved to the positions assigned them by the Chief Marshal.

abraham lincolns funeral train car 1865

The funeral train arrived at the point designated, near Michigan Avenue, some two miles south of the Central Depot, at 11 o’clock, am. The arrival was announced by the tolling of bells, and the firing of minute guns. The thousands assembled in the vicinity stood in breathless silence, and reverently uncovered, as the sacred corpse was borne to the funeral car, under a grand arch.

About the President’s coffin

As it may be a matter of some interest to our readers, we here give a description of the coffin, taken from the Chicago Journal:

As the coffin was removed from the car to the hearse, it became visible for the first time to the spectators. Its splendor and magnificence could not well be surpassed. Its entire cost was about $2,000, and it is probably the most perfect and superbly finished article of the kind ever manufactured in this country.

The timber used in the construction is mahogany. This is lined with lead. The inside of the coffin is faced with box plaited satin, the pillow and lower surface are of the finest description of white silk, and the whole is surrounded with chenille as in fringe. The inside of the face lid is raised with white satin, the center piece is trimmed with black and white silk braid, fastened at the four corners with silver stars. The upper part of the lid is thrown back so as to reveal the head and bust.

The most rich and costly description of black cloth covers the outside. It is heavily fringed with silver, having four silver medallions on either side, in which are set the handles. All along the sides it is beautifully and elaborately festooned with massive drapery, in each fold of which glitters a silver star.

The edges are decorated with silver braid, having tassels each five inches in length. Upon each side are four massive handles, also of silver, and at the end and front are stars of the same material. On the top is a row of silver tacks, extending the whole length, a few inches from the edge. In the center is a silver plate, on which is the inscription:

ABRAHAM LINCOLN, Sixteenth President of the United States.
Born July 12,1803.
Died April 15,1865.

This is encircled by a shield formed of silver tacks. The whole is really beautiful, and finished with exceedingly good taste and fine workmanship.


The grand archway

The grand arch above referred to, is described in the Journal as follows:

The entire arch, which extends across Park place, is of triple Gothic form, in length spinning a distance of fifty-one feet, and having a depth of sixteen feet.

The height from the ground to the center of the middle or main arch is thirty feet, with a width of twenty-four feet — the side arches being each eight feet wide and twenty feet in height. The total height of the center arch and pinnacles is about forty feet. So much for the dimensions of this beautiful structure.

Each of the arches — all presenting their front elevations towards Michigan avenue and the lake — is supported by a cluster of hexagonal columns, resting upon a single base, forming four sets of columns on each front. The interstices between these columns are fitted up as Gothic windows, and beautifully draped as such, in black and white, adding a solemn effect to the general appearance.

At the center of each arch, on the top of the columns of both fronts, are large imposing American shields, from which draped national ensigns hung in graceful festoons. From these flags the mourning drapery entwines about the different portions of the arches, up to the pinnacle in the center. The lower portions of the arches is also heavily draped in black and white, beautifully arranged. Fifty flags, in all, form the drapery and surmount the arches.

1921 Lincoln's immortal words

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On each pediment of the main or center arch is placed a bust of the lamented dead, and upon each main front, resting on the pinnacle above the bust, is seen a magnificent eagle. Underneath the eagles, and above the busts, the drapery takes the form of the sun’s rays, as if they still lingered upon the honored corpse.

Over this archway were various appropriate mottos, some of which were as follows: “The Union, cemented with patriot blood, will stand forever.” “An honest man is the noblest work of God.” “We mourn the man with heaven born principles,” etc., etc.

The Funeral Car was a most splendid affair, in design, and executed in excellent taste. It was drawn by ten beautiful black horses, each attended by a groom.

lincoln funeral chicago

The funeral procession

The procession was immense and grand. Any description we could write of it would entirely fail to give any adequate idea of its magnitude and grandeur. It was promptly and quietly formed, and moved down Michigan Avenue. Upon each side was formed the various public organizations, schools, etc., etc., and as the head of the procession passed through, they fell into the rear.

To give a partial idea of its extent, over four hours elapsed after the head of the procession moved, before the whole had fallen into line. The head of the procession reached the court house, where the sacred remains were deposited, at about one o’clock; at four o’clock, when we left the city, the rear had not arrived at that point, nor had all the organized societies.

Abraham Lincoln quotes

All the residences along the route of the procession were beautifully decorated with various emblems of mourning. The whole scene was sadly grand. The mottos upon the different residences and business buildings, were numerous, and many of them exceedingly beautiful and appropriate.

We give a few as specimens: “Mournfully, tenderly, bear on the dead.” “Our Country’s Martyr.” “We mourn our beloved President.” “In sorrowing grief the Nation’s tears are spent.” “Humanity has lost a friend, and we a President.” “We loved him much, but now we love him more.” “Ours the Cross — thine the Crown.” “Freedom’s noblest sacrifice.” “A Nation mourns.” etc., etc.

>> Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address (1863)

Over the door of the courthouse was the following motto: “Illinois clasps to her bosom her slain but now Glorified Son.”

The city was literally full of people, all intent upon obtaining a view, at least, of the coffin that contains the much beloved remains. Every window along the entire route of the procession was filled with ladies, taking a deep interest in the sublime spectacle. The number present was estimated at not less than two hundred and fifty thousand. But we cannot further particularize. The demonstration was worthy the great city of Chicago, and worthy of the solemn occasion that called it forth.

It was fitting that Chicago should show proper respect to the great and noble dead on the arrival of the remains in that city. It was there he was nominated to be a President and a martyr. It was there he was well known in life, and most highly respected. It was there he expected to make his future residence, when his term as President should expire.

It was the first reception in Illinois, the home of the late President. Taking into view all these considerations, much was expected of Chicago. Most nobly did she meet, and doubly meet, the most extravagant expectation, of an appreciating people. In thus honoring the memory of the illustrious departed, she has done honor, not only to herself, but to the whole nation.

Illustration of Abraham Lincoln seated

Top photo: President Abraham Lincoln’s catafalque, New York City, N.Y., April 24 or 25, 1865. Photo by George Stacy, courtesy LOC. Second: Lincoln funeral car on the old tracks of the Illinois Central railroad by Lake Michigan in Chicago. Third: Women dressed in white accompanying President Lincoln’s hearse as it passes beneath ornamental arch at 12th Street in Chicago, Illinois. Fourth: Engraving of the funeral service of President Lincoln at Chicago, Illinois, May 1 – Removing the coffin from the funeral train to the catafalque. Fifth: The last portrait taken of Abraham Lincoln, on April 10, 1865.

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