The 2015 Lincoln Funeral Reenactment

2015 is a special year in the United States because it is the 150th anniversary of President Lincoln’s death, the first presidential assassination to ever take place.  Many organizations and patriotic individuals across the nation will be holding 150th anniversary activities as a way to remember the early death of an American leader. Through these series of events, the public will honor Lincoln’s death, remember his legacy, and be reminded of the day that the course of American history was forever changed.

Lincoln’s Sudden Death Stuns the Public

As the Civil War was ending, President Lincoln was in the midst of creating plans for reconstruction of the nation. He was working hard to change the way the North and South got along, fixing the slavery system, and making the nation feel united. However, his legacy was cut short. Lincoln’s premature death left the public with a void of leadership and tested the strength of the nation to continue Lincoln’s bequest. [1]

The video above is a brief clip that serves as a form of visual memory regarding Lincoln's assassination on April 14, 1985 and captures the horrors and distraught felt at the very moment the course of history. {1}

A Weekend of Lincoln

In a weekend long celebration, from May 1-3, several events will be taking place to honorably remember and commemorate our 16th president in Springfield, Illinois. For the first time since 1865, thousands of reenactors and visitors will gather in Lincoln’s hometown to pay tribute to our president by hosting several events that will eventually lead to the finale of the solemn recreation of Lincoln’s funeral at Oak Ridge Cemetery. The Lincoln Coalition members say, “the mission of the 2015 Lincoln Funeral Coalition (1865-2015) is to educate, coordinate, and promote the accurate and dignified reenactment of the historic anniversary of Abraham Lincoln’s funeral procession in Springfield, Illinois” [2].

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This picture above shows Lincoln’s house draped black after his assassination in 1865. {2}

The event will start on the first day of May when all Springfield residents are invited to “drape the exterior of their homes as the Victorian-era did” to show proper mourning [2]. Then, on May 2nd, “Abraham Lincoln Through the Arts” will present a funeral train that will have a hearse procession to “Washington and 6th streets.” [2]. There, an opening ceremony accompanied by the Illinois Symphony Band will host a candlelight vigil. Finally, on Sunday May 3rd, the finale will take place: the procession to Oak Ridge Cemetery for the reenactment of  Lincoln’s burial.

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The image above is the entrance of the Lincoln’s burial site, the main location of the funeral re-enactment. {2}

The Oak Ridge Funeral Reenactment is the climax of the event. There are specific instructions in order to make the ceremony seem as identical to the actual event 150 years ago. For example, the actual eulogies, speeches and salutes will be presented. In addition, to create a historic feel of this event during the ceremony, a special choir group and “civil war era” musicians will perform the original music conducted during the ceremony over a century ago. Then, the 150th Anniversary commemoration will conclude with 36 cannon salutes.

Overall, the weekend celebration of Lincoln’s death will be taking place in processual events where the community will be engaged through the arts and the humanities. Each day will serve as useable memory by bringing together the public, organizations, and institutions to provide a tribute to Lincoln and reflect upon his legacy. Together, the imagined community will prove national writer, Adam Geller’s, belief that  “Lincoln Never Dies” [3].

Lincoln’s Funeral Reenactment as Useable Memory

Not only on the 150th anniversary, but almost every year, there are commemorations of his assassination all around the country, as described by William Bennett here that are being held with the common purpose of honoring our Founding Father. In addition to public gatherings and special events during this time, there are also several material memories in circulated. For example, a Lincoln Funeral Sesquicentennial T-shirt is being sold for commodity at the Funeral Reenactment. This material memory connects the event participants as well as serve as a visual reminder to all those who could not attend the reenactment, therefore universalizing the anniversary celebration.

Lincoln’s Grave as a Site of Sanctification 

Lincoln’s death is one of his most universally “celebrated” aspects of his life. The public is fascinated and openly attracted to Lincoln’s death. Although this concept seems wrong and unethical, people are drawn to disasters and tragedies; this type of site memory is also known as Dark Tourism. Dark Tourism, as described by author of Shadowed Grounds, Kenneth Foote, is the concept of visiting specific sites of memory that are related to death or tragedy. For instance, many argue Lincoln’s burial place represents a location of violent memory and therefore classify it as a site of Dark Tourism. [5] Foote then describes how Dark Tourism sites often become sanctified. Sanctification is the process of taking a violent site and recreating it into a place that provides a lasting positive meaning in a way that people choose to remember. However, this sanctification often causes distortions to the actual history of the sanctified individual because only partial memory is recovered in the process.

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This is an artistic example of Lincoln’s apotheosis and how he is sanctified in the community. {2}

A perfect example of this distorted sanctification is at Lincoln’s burial grounds, a site of Dark Tourism. Here, since memory is processual, our memory of our 16th president is limited and partial. For instance, today most people tend to only remember certain “categories” of Lincoln: the Emancipation Proclamation, the Gettysburg Address, and 13th Amendment. However, this is a limited list of Lincoln’s actual life events; society distorts the history of Lincoln by choosing to forget the rougher political/emotionally challenging memories and focus on the positives because it is simply “easier to forget than to remember” [5].  Thus, Lincoln’s life history is distorted by the partial nature of the public’s limited memory causing him to be seen as a perfect president and often apotheosized. These distortions and partial truth at the sanctified site of Dark Tourism has therefore resulted in Lincoln being remembered as a saintly figure with few imperfections.

What is the significance of remembering Lincoln’s legacy with a Funeral Re-enactment?

The video above is the 2015 Funeral Re-enactment Promotion Video that is being aired to gain awareness of the event taking place on the 150th anniversary. {3}

It is important to understand that Lincoln’s funeral was the largest public event in American history. People gathered with an outpouring of grief. On the day of Lincoln’s funeral, although an emotionally difficult event, the nation pulled together as an imagined community to collectively mourn and honor an American leader. Like Governor Jim Edgar said, “America is not great because we are diversified but we are great because we pull that diversity together and stand united” [4]. Therefore, the funeral was a significant step in history because the nation was uniting together for a common purpose, one of Lincoln’s primary goals. He would have proud of his nation that day.

On May 4th 2015, the entire Springfield community will be involved in reliving this “celebration” and reenact the largest public gathering in history . The reenactment will provide the public with a first hand account of the funeral back in 1865 and allow for individuals to develop their own memories of the historical event. Many feel that being involved with this event is a way to honor Lincoln’s leadership and celebrate our privileges obtained through his valiant efforts. Thus, the purpose of the funeral re-enactment lies much deeper than just the replaying of the burial reception 150 years ago; it is an opportunity to pay our respects to Lincoln by to unifying the community once again in a way that Lincoln always wished to see it.

Overall, the site designations, as Hilda Santiago perfectly expresses, “are embodiments of the literal and symbolic incorporation of Lincoln into the official narrative of US history” [8]. They not only show that Lincoln and his memory have become significant to the present, but also that the memory of Lincoln’s accomplishments “relate fundamental American values that should be upheld as the nation grows and progresses.” His assassination and funeral are useable memories that historians utilize to help connect communities, collectively mourn, and publicly remember Lincoln’s life achievements.  Ironically, through his death, we are remembering his life.


1. Where Lincoln’s Legacy Lives. “Remembering Lincoln: A Digital Collection of Responses to His Assassination” Accessed March 24, 2015.

2. Geller, Adam. “Lincoln Never Dies”. ABC News. Accessed on March 30, 2015

3. NEWSPAPER METHODS: Have Changed Greatly Since the Assassination of President Lincoln, as Shown by Comparison of Reports. ProQuest Database. UNC Library. Accessed March 28, 2015.

4. “Remembering Lincoln’s Assassination.” CNN News. Accessed April 14, 2015.

5. Literal Infinity: The Live Journal. Accessed April 12, 2015.

6. Foote, Kenneth E. 1997. Shadowed ground: America’s landscapes of violence and tragedy. Austin: University of Texas Press.

7. Gardner, Alexander. American Civil War. “1965 Lincoln Funeral”. Accessed April 4, 2015.

8. Santiago, Hilda. Lincoln’s Tomb in Living Lincoln Project.

9. Miller, William. Abraham Lincoln’s Classroom.

Digital Media Sources