Saturday, September 16, 2006
Lincoln's coffin ready to be moved the last time.
Lincoln lying in state in New York's City Hall. The only photograph of him in death and in his coffin. He would be moved into several new coffins in his 36 years of being a corpse waiting for a steady grave.
Abraham Lincoln is buried in his tomb at Oak Ridge cemetery in Illinois. But how he finally got there was a long and difficult process.
Lincoln was shot on the evening of April 14th 1865. By the crazed actor John Wilkes Booth. Lincoln was carried across the street to the Petersen house, where he lingered till 7:22 am on the 15th.
His body was brought back to the white house and embalmed. The embalming was very effective, as his body was going to travel a great distance and be seen often during his long funeral procession by well over 500,000 people.
In fact Lincoln would travel with an embalmer who could help keep his body looking view-able for close to 20 days
The question was at first where do we bury him?
In her mental state, Mary Lincoln was not able to do much. But, she stated she wanted her husband to be buried at Oak Ridge cemetery. She battled with everyone. There were talks about burying him in Chicago, Springfield town center and still Mrs Lincoln said no. Washington DC was offered and Mrs Lincoln said no. Oak Ridge Cemetery in Springfield, Illinois it would be.
His body was displayed all over to large crowds. One time he was even photographed in his mahogany lead lined coffin in New York City Hall. There were several photographs taken and all were destroyed including the negatives. The order to destroy them was through Sec. of War Stanton. It is ironic on a side note that the only existent photo of Lincoln in death was in his papers.
Finally the body was brought to Springfield and it was time to say good by. He was first buried in the cemeteries receiving vault there while work was to start on a vault for the fallen leader. He was entombed next to his son Willie. Lincoln was finally gone and would never been seen again.
At least that is what one would think.
He was entombed there till December 21, 1865 when another receiving vault for Lincoln was prepared. Lincoln's coffin was opened by Leon P. Hopkins and 5 friends to check on him and see if he was there.
Work went on for a final burial place and finally on Sept 19, 1871, the coffins of Lincoln and his son was moved from the receiving vault.
His coffin was opened again by Leon and friends and carried to the half finished tomb. The area he was kept was just a holding area in the massive tomb but he was closer to where he should be.
It was found that his mahogany coffin was falling apart and he was transferred to an iron coffin. Finally his marble sarcophagus was ready and he was moved again on October 9, 1874. However, the iron coffin was by inches to large for its new home. So once again a red cedar coffin was brought and Lincoln's body was transferred into this. He was finally buried in his tomb and it was dedicated on October 15, 1874.
In 1876 trouble was brewing in Illinois. In Springfield to be correct. A group of counterfeiters were in the area and having some trouble. They were planning to take Lincoln's remains and hold them hostage to have one of their members removed from jail. This information was discovered a detective named W.D. Longnecker.
The head of this gang was a fellow named "Big Jim" Kneally, he was in charge of all the "coneymen" which was the name given to counterfeiters in the 1870's. The master engraver of the group Ben Boyd, had been caught by officials and put into prison in Joliet with a 10 year sentence. Kneally worked out a plot to have his men steal Lincoln's body, the most precious possession of Illinois.
He figured such a sacred corpse in his hand he would would have a great deal of power and could push for Boyd's release from prison. So he felt a corpse for a good engraver a good deal.
He opened a saloon in with his men and prepared but they all got drunk and the bar maids talked and soon everyone knew of the plot, so it was cancelled for the moment. One gets the idea they were not the most organized group.
After 2 years Kneally started again he found 2 fellows to do the dastardly deed. Terrence Mullen and Jack Hughes. The police and the Secret Service were aware something was a foot. So a plant was added Lewis C Swegles who called himself the "boss body snatcher of Chicago". They took them into confidence and followed what they were doing.
They finally announced that they were going to steal the body of Lincoln and Swegles said he would be happy to be involved and mentioned a person they should have with them a certain Billy Brown. It was decided that Brown would handle the wagon while the other 3 removed the body from the tomb.
The date was set for election night 1876. No one would be around that night. They met that evening and they were caught but not till the coffin had been dragged somewhat out of the marble enclosure.
What is interesting was the political battle that ensued...it was suggested by Democrats that Republicans had disrupted Lincoln's grave to show how much the Democrats hated Lincoln.
On May 28 1877 Mullen and Hughes were convicted, but not for much. It seems that there were no laws to protect the dead, so they were charged with trying to steal Lincoln's coffin, valued at $75.00.
Shortly after Lincoln's very moved body was taken to the monuments basement and buried partly under the damp wet dirt and covered over with old boxes and boards.
Hundreds of thousands of pilgrims came to honor Lincoln and were visiting an empty grave. He was not there. He was in the basement under a pile of junk. In a while he was joined by his wife. It is amazing when you think of this and the hide the bait game with a body of a dead ex president.
In April 1887 a new place was made to hold the body of Lincoln and family made of brick. Once again his coffin was opened and 18 people filed past, all said it was him.
In 1899 Lincoln's tomb that was to last the ages was starting to fall apart. So the whole place was going to have to be torn down and rebuilt.It seems that they built it over a wet and damp piece of ground and the foundations were giving way.
Lincoln, his wife and children all had to be moved again. The original tomb was replaced by a much better one. The wife and children were put back in the new tomb..and finally on September 26th 1901 Lincoln's coffin was opened again and 30 some odd people filed past his very well preserved body.
Leon P. Hopkins who had opened and closed Lincoln's coffin for years opened it for the last time..and people passed by.
I find that for the last 36 years ending in1901. It had become a ghoulish ritual to look at the body of Lincoln time and time again. I really am not sure they did it all the time to check on him, but to quench this rather bizarre desire that they had repeated so many times before.
J.C. Thompson who was in that group recalled what Lincoln looked like in 1928 when he was asked about it. "As I came up I saw that top knot of Mr. Lincoln's-his hair was course and thick..like a horses he used to say. It stood up high in front. When I saw that I knew it was Lincoln. Any one who had ever seen his pictures would have known it was him. His features had not decayed. His face was very dark, just dark and brown. His skin was swarthy in life. He looked just like a statue of himself lying there."
One thing that had occurred was that Lincoln lost his eyebrows and his suit in which he had been buried had turned yellow with mold.
Also his face was not as dark as it had been before as seen in 1887, as a fine covering of mold had covered it. In a sense it did what the makeup and powder tried to do. The reason for the darkening of Lincoln's face was due to the gunshot wound and the fracture of the bones in the skull.
There is something rather macabre about this. How many times did they have to look at the body? As well preserved and recognizable Lincoln was, I find it a little odd. However, other Presidents have been looked at long after death. The names Washington, James Madison, John Q. Adams and Zachary Taylor come to mind.
Robert Lincoln said he wanted his father buried in such a way that no one could ever bother him again. He followed what George Pullman had done ..had himself buried in a large amount of cement. Robert Lincoln provided the $700.00 to bury his father in 10 feet of cement. The casket was put in a steel cage and it was covered with 10 feet of cement. Lincoln would never move again! He was finally buried. It only took 36 years. Today when you come to the grave of Lincoln, you will see his wife and son's all buried in vaults along the wall. Lincoln is separate. Somewhere some 10 to 15 feet down is what remains of Lincoln.
Rest in peace Mr Lincoln. No one will look at you anymore.
No President after death was ever so mobile........