The 150th Anniversary of the Lincoln Funeral Train was held in Springfield, IL the weekend of May 1st -3rd, 2015. (www.The2015LincolnFuneralTrain.com). (www.LincolnFuneraltrain.com)
150 Years ago April, the country was draped in mourning cloth of a different meaning from the last four years of the civil war. The President who signed the Emancipation Proclamation, recently won reelection and was innocently watching ‘Our American Cousin’ in the Ford’s Theater on the night of 14 April, 1865 – was shot dead in Washington D.C. by a twisted hand of fate dealt via actor John Wilkes Booth.
Despite recent victory over the confederate states the Union was still grief stricken by the ravages of war. War grief paled in comparison to their horror of losing a well liked and equally well respected President – it was almost more than the country could bear.
21 April, 1865 the Presidents private train car, the United States (1860’s equivalent to Air Force One), embarked upon a funeral train trek to assist the country in it’s shock over President Lincoln’s death. The funeral train allowed everyone the ability to personally say goodbye to the beloved leader if they desired to travel to a spot on the train route. Many black mourners came to participate in varying locations and at some locations were requested to be moved to the back of the crowd. Despite these actions, most black mourners remained to pay personal tribute to the man who worked tirelessly ensuring their futures were provided more options than slavery.
The Lincoln funeral train stopped in 11 cities where funerals were held (Baltimore, Harrisburg, New York, Albany, Buffalo, Cleveland, Columbus, Indianapolis, Chicago and Springfield) beginning in Washington D.C. where the initial funeral was held. It is noteworthy that President Lincoln did not travel without family, his son Willie (who passed in 1862 from Typhoid), was exhumed and traveled with him for burial in Springfield. Mary Todd Lincoln was extremely distraught over the loss of her husband and unable to accompany the coffin or attend the Springfield funeral.
The 1865 funeral train travel was over 1,600 miles in 12 days through 160 dedicated communities and past thousands of candle light or daylight mini-vigils held impromptu through out the vast miles of train tracks prior to the trains arrival in Springfield. Citizens, black and white, who might have been unable to traverse roads leading to the 12 main funeral cities traveled far and wide to get to the nearest train tracks in order to garner a glimpse of the train passing through. When they saw the train pass by, they paid personal respect to the fallen martyr often accompanied by song. Hats were removed to gently place over hearts in honor and respect as the train passed, heads were lowered and tears profusely shed as their dear President traveled through their lives for the last time.
Online calls were set up last year calling for reenactors to volunteer as members of such groups as the army encampment, artillery crew, funeral procession, mourning party and others. Rules included period accurate clothing only with a selective process and review. More information can be found at (http://www.lincolnfuneraltrain.org) and on Twitter (@2015Lincoln).
Around 1,100 reenactors were chosen for service and provided excellent event support and an era appropriate feel to the entire weekend. The anniversary reenactment was phenomenal and had such an exciting array of 1860’s clothing designs, period accurate hats, military and civilian encampments with mercantiles, provisions and even a period blacksmith with working kiln. It was difficult to see everything in one weekend due to the vastness of the event.
Dave Kloke of Elgin, Il and a team of volunteers worked tirelessly to re-create the beautiful historic train that carried the President on his journey back home from Washington, D.C. The recreated funeral train was a significant highlight during the event and was where the coffin was removed from prior to pall bearers transferring it to the hand crafted hearse. The hearse itself was coordinated and built by many different people around the country. P.J. Staab coordinated the project, Eric Hollenbeck worked on the car portion with local veterans (Veterans in the local Eureka, CA area were approved by the local community college to Hollenbeck’s millwork shop), John Shafer drew up the blueprints, Jack Feather was an expert in antique hearses and had to reassemble to hearse once received in his shop, Jay Jones built the wagon wheels, and Feathers upholstery specialist created a beautiful interior of the hearse as well as the carriages bench.
Henry W. Osier, an expert in historical clothing and era appropriate garb was very impressed with the event and had some insight on the occasion. “When I heard about this even in Fenruary, I knew that I really wanted to attend…It was truly once in a lifetime event…a fellow press member Kathy Berger and I met so many wonderful people who came for the event as reenactors.” Henry also commented that ‘never before had he had an opportunity to be part of such a momentous event!’ When asked what his favorite reenact or costume was, he noted the women’s dresses were great but his favorite piece was a fantastic cockade embellishment on a man’s short top hat.
The historical reenactors clothing was nothing short of phenomenal! The pride and accuracy in depicting the historical era clothing was astounding and worthy of awe and respect. The feel of the event during the funeral procession, coffin viewing, funeral march and internment was eerie yet captivating! Scores of artillery reenactors manning the canons for the many gun salutes that were done, saluting of the coffin while transporting it to the hearse, marching of the procession to the military beat of historically accurate music was breathtaking and heart wrenching at the same time.
The period clothing, accurate military presence, train, hearse and coffin reconstructions and all facets of this event were well thought out, amazingly corregraphed and intricately managed. It all came together in a successful reenactment of Lincolns Funeral Train and Funeral Procession that impressed and left one with a longing for those times or a longer weekend in which to enjoy the sights, sounds and reenactors period clothing.
Thank you to Springfield, the coordinators, all the reenactors and the talented builders – this was truly an event of a lifetime and one to remember for a lifetime.