“Our Nation’s Icon of Freedom” performed handsomely. Abraham Lincoln’s reconstructed funeral hearse joined about 1,250 Civil War re-enactors, women dressed in period costumes, and many sightseers along a route from downtown Springfield’s train station to old capitol square and eventually to Oak Ridge Cemetery. Lincoln was buried there on May 3, 1865. The hearse, in my opinion, was the essential participant in the 150th anniversary re-creation of this event on May 3, 2015.
On April 21, 1865, President Lincoln’s body left Washington, DC and for 12 days traveled to Springfield via more than 160 communities where citizens paid tribute to the assassinated leader. In 12 cities along the route formal funerals were held. As the 150th anniversary approached, extraordinarily dedicated men and women, including many military veterans, worked for 18 months to rebuild an exact replica of the hearse that was completely destroyed in a fire. Their main inspiration was a single 19th century photo. I’m happy to report that all of them were able to attend the ceremony thanks to the generosity of Mark and Terri Greenwald and the Homesteaders Life Company.
Since its use on May 3, the hearse has been in the loving care of PJ Staab, Project Coordinator, in Springfield. When Ruth & I traveled there to see it on July 15, PJ told us many interesting things that we hadn’t known before. The original hearse, built in Philadelphia for a St. Louis company named Lynch & Arnot, was used for the funerals of 3 prominent men–Thomas Hart Benton, Nathaniel Lyon, and Hamilton Rowan Gamble–before it served Lincoln. Missouri Senator Benton’s great-nephew was M. E. Benton, father of the famous 20th century artist. Lyon was the 1st Union General killed in the Civil War. He died during the battle of Wilson’s Creek near Springfield, Missouri, and his efforts kept this fence-straddling state from joining The Confederacy. Gamble was Missouri’s 16th Governor. He died in office from complications involving a broken arm that became infected. PJ told us that, unless some world leader died in the next several months and the hearse was requested for his or her funeral, its next presentation would be at the Lincoln Museum in Springfield, Illinois, in April and May, 2016. He also told us that any money derived from the use or display of the hearse would go to veterans’ causes. His last story about the making of the 8 black ostrich feather plumes was one of the best.
If you, like us, were unable to attend the 150th commemoration in Springfield on May 3, you can see the entire event on C-Span, the network that provided complete coverage. Type “C-Span Lincoln’s funeral hearse” in Google to view a 1 hour and 46 minute reenactment of the funeral procession to Oak Ridge Cemetery. Google C-Span itself and type Lincoln funeral hearse in the Search the Video Library window to see PJ Staab’s excellent presentation about duplicating the hearse. staabfuneralhomes.com is also a great source of information where I found the fine photo of the completed hearse above. PJ accurately called his hearse “a privately held piece of history”. Well said.