Lincoln’s Funeral Train

What Is It?
After President Lincoln was assassinated on April 15, 1865, funeral services were held in Washington, D.C. Following the service in DC, his casket, along with the casket of his son Willie, was loaded onto a train going to his burial site in Springfield, IL. From April 21 to May 3, the train passed through 444 cities and followed the route that Lincoln took when he first came to D.C. for his first inauguration only a little more than 4 years later. [3] By following the path that he took when becoming President, it allows for a commemoration of all that he had done in only four years.

Lincoln Funeral Train in Harrisburg, PA

Lincoln Funeral Train in Harrisburg, PA [2]

Independence Hall and Usable Memory
In many of the cities it passed through, there was a small viewing or memorial and then the train passed through, after all, the train only traveled for 12 days. In some cities, however, there was more of a commemoration.

The schedule of the Lincoln Train, 1865. [3]

The schedule of the Lincoln Train, 1865. [3]

For instance, in Philadelphia, there were both public and private viewings in Independence Hall over the course of one day. Not only was the casket viewed in Independence Hall, but it was placed in the room where the Declaration of Independence was signed. By using that specific room, the memory of the Founding Fathers is used in conjunction with the memory of Lincolns’ presidency. Their memories are used to invoke the ideals of freedom and nationalism, something that Lincoln had attained with the call for peace at Appomattox Court House only a week prior. However, the memory invoked by Independence Hall is only partial. The Declaration of Independence is a declaration of freedom declaring a separation, comparable to a secession, from Great Britain. This is relatable to the CSA’s secession from the union, and many Southerners used the memory of a nation founded through a separation to validate their own split. Thus by displaying Lincolns’ body in the place where the Declaration of Independence was sign, it recalls not only universally accepted ideas of equality for all and national unity, but memories used to by the CSA to validate the secession that led to war, with President Lincoln as Commander in Chief of the USA.

The memory of the Founding Fathers is usable in supporting Lincolns’ legacy of freeing enslaved people. In the Declaration of Independence, it says that “All people were created equal”, but when this was signed, this was not true. When Lincoln emancipated slaves, this finally made one of the most famous lines in universal memory true. The Emancipation Proclamation was a military document above all else, but by placing Lincolns’ casket in a place famous for the ideal of freedom, it further seeks to legitimate the memory of Lincoln as ‘The Great Abolitionist’.

Why Was The Funeral Train So Large?

It is precisely the symbolic elevation of Lincoln from a flawed figure disliked by many to a man that represented fundamental American values that lead to the impressive scale of Lincoln’s funeral. Though Lincoln’s assassination was both shocking and traumatic it did not immediately overcome ambiguous feelings for the controversial president. The massive displays of public mourning following his death were driven more by a sense of duty than by sentiments of true grief. [1] Citizens felt it was necessary to mourn the loss of a prominent national figure in order to affirm their association with the nation. [1] By gathering together in mass numbers to publicly mourn Lincoln, the American people demonstrated their loyalty to the imagined American community. Commitment to the idea of nationhood superseded the division engendered by the vast array of sentiments surrounding Lincoln.

In this way, Lincoln became instrumental for establishing the imagined American community post-Civil War. The need for communities to create tangible representations of symbols meant that the abstract concept of nationhood was vicariously commemorated through Lincoln’s funeral rites. The lavish funeral rites, so meticulously organized and flawlessly executed, were a symbol of the nation’s remarkable ability to triumphantly come together – for a second time – in the face of crisis. [1] However, as time passed the memory of the elaborate funeral commemorations became interwoven with the memory of Lincoln himself. In essence, celebration of the ideal of nationhood became celebration of the life and work of the late president. Remembering Lincoln was seen as analogous to commemorating the preservation of the American nation and celebrating the bonds between all Americans regardless of their views.

What Happened to the Funeral Train after the procession?

Newpaper Coverage from When the Lincoln Funeral Train Car Burned [3]

Newpaper Coverage from When the Lincoln Funeral Train Car Burned [3]

The history of the train after the funeral procession is spotty. However, it is known that it was auctioned to Union Pacific before the train had even finished transporting the president to Springfield. Union Pacific removed all of the rich furnishings and used the car for the transportation of normal passengers. Following this, the car that had transported Lincoln’s body was owned by a series of private owners until it consumed by a prairie fire in Minneapolis in 1911 [5]. Perhaps the lack of memory associated with the car at this time reflects the attitude of America during reconstruction. Eager to move forward from the destruction of the civil war and the loss of a great leader, continuing to reflect on Lincoln’s assassination was unappealing.

Today, the memory of the train is being revitalized as a group of volunteers are attempting to rebuild it. Headed by Dave Kloke, an avid Lincoln fan, the train has been reconstructed using the exact plans from the original train.[6] Due to this destruction by fire of the material memory there were still many details of the appearance of the original train that remained a mystery.  Even the color was unknown until very recently when chemist and Lincoln Historian Wayne Wesolowski analyzed a piece of the car’s window frame microscopically. To the joy of Kloke and his team, they were able to determine that the train was a deep red. [4] The fact that people are trying to preserve and recreate memories of Lincoln 150 years after his passing demonstrates the permanence of his legacy in our culture.

Funds permitting, the train is scheduled to run its original route in May of this year in honor of the 150th anniversary of Lincoln’s death. The 2015 Lincoln Funeral Train is made accessible to anyone who wishes to take part in its revitalization of Lincoln memory by electronically providing an application to have the train stop in your hometown.[6] Due to the work of Kloke and his team a new generation is being allowed to take part in and experience Lincoln and his legacy.


Citations:

  1. Schwartz, Barry. “Death and Commemoration.” Abraham Lincoln and the Forge of National Memory. Chicago: U of Chicago, 2000. 29-65. Google. Web. 13 Apr. 2015.
  2. Newman, Ralph G. “’In This Sad World of Ours, Sorrow Comes to All’ a Timetable for the Lincoln Funeral Train.” Journal of the Illinois State Historical Society 58.1 (Spring 1965): 5-20. JSTOR. Web. 13 Apr. 2015.
  3. Norton, R. J.“Abraham Lincoln’s Funeral Train.” Abraham Lincoln’s Funeral Train. R.J. Norton, n.d. Web. 16 Apr. 2015. 
  4. Pruitt, Sarah. “Chemist Solves Lincoln Funeral Train Mystery.” History.com. A&E Television Networks, 09 May 2013. Web. 16 Apr. 2015.
  5. “The Strange History (And Future) Of Lincoln’s Funeral Train.” Atlas Obscura. N.p., 14 Apr. 2015. Web. 16 Apr. 2015.
  6. “Videos.” The 2015 Lincoln Funeral Train RSS. N.p., n.d. Web. 16 Apr. 2015.

 

Authorship:
Catie: “What It Is?” and “Independence Hall and Usable Memory”
Hilda: “Why Was The Funeral Train So Large?”
Kelly: “What Happened to the Funeral Train after the procession?”

 

 

1 thought on “Lincoln’s Funeral Train

  1. Alexi Wordell

    Catie and Hilda,

    I liked your concept about the usability of placing Lincoln’s body in the room where the Declaration of Independence is. That isn’t something I would have thought of and your point is interesting. I bet people that viewed his body in that room felt what you describe as “nationalism”. However, I get lost when you talk about the partiality in comparison to the CSA. Are you saying members of the CSA wouldn’t have felt the same way in that room with Lincoln and the Declaration of Independence? Same with this analysis: “by placing Lincolns’ casket in a place famous for the ideal of freedom, it further seeks to legitimate the memory of Lincoln as ‘The Great Abolitionist’.” Was the Emancipation Proclamation document also in this room?

    In the second section your topic sentence is really powerful. It makes me want to read and learn more. It’s fascinating that people felt obligated to mourn (this is definitely something that dominant memory has pushed out and forgotten!). As an imagined community, Americans really do see Lincoln as this “elevated” figure that connects us to patriotism. To tie your point together about how Lincoln spurred the American imagined community post ww2, you could maybe talk about his goals to unite Northerners, Confederates, and Blacks with his whole “no malice” line. Maybe explore what his death did this goal of an integrated United States.

    Heads up! Some sections don’t have citations or aren’t properly cited.

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