Many recall solemnity of Lincoln car’s journey

This article is posted by permission of the Alexandria Gazette.

Page updated on Dec 11, 2015 at 2:16 PM
Alexandria Gazette Packet Logo

Many recall solemnity of Lincoln car’s journey

June 8, 1995
By Pamela Cressey

GAZ9522 image
The Lincoln rail car pictured at a stop in Harrisburg, Pa., during the reverent passage from Washington, D.C., to Springfield, Ill. Photo/courtesy Division of Archives and Manuscripts, Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission, MG218.
“Washington, Baltimore, Harrisburg, Philadelphia, Jersey City – slowly the rail-borne funeral procession wound its way through the sorrowing heart of the Union. …New York City, Albany, Buffalo, Cleveland – crowds thronged trackside waited in line long hours. … Columbus, Indianapolis, Chicago, Springfield – ever-changing blankets of flowers draped the casket. … Arches of blossoms were raised over the track and cities were draped in mourning. …”

So the funeral for Abraham Lincoln in April-May 1865 was described by Ties, the Southern Railway magazine, in 1951.

The Lincoln car manufactured in Alexandria was transformed inside and out to accommodate its function as a hearse. Both above and below the car were draped dark alpaca festoons held by silver stars.

The funeral ceremonies began at the White House at noon. The coffin was then moved to the Capitol to lie in state until Friday morning. The Lincoln car was moved from Alexandria to the Baltimore & Ohio station at New Jersey Avenue and C Street to join the other cars as next to last. The B & O magazine in 1941 noted that the four-wheel truck design made the car awkward, and care had to be taken passing over switch points.

Victor Searcher’s book, “Farewell to Lincoln,” describes Lincoln’s silver-mounted coffin as being placed inside the front section of the car. The coffin was enfolded with an American flag, and flowers banked the special stand. The coffin of Lincoln’s 12-year-old son, Wall, who had died in 1862, was either at the other end of the car or placed at his father’s foot. However, the conductor from Baltimore to Harrisburg, Pa., recollected 50 years later that Wall’s coffin was in the baggage car.

The funeral procession traveled for 12 days through seven states to reach Springfield, Ill. The coffin was removed for the mourning crowds at Independence Hall in Philadelphia, four state capitals and numerous other cities.

A Union solder in Poughkeepsie, N.Y., wrote in eyewitness account: “President Lincoln remains passed through here last Tuesday. …It was a solemn sight to see the train and to hear the bells toll and the fare well salute fired. …It was the nicest car That I ever saw.” [sic]

On May 4, after a 1,554-mile trip from Washington, Lincoln was taken from his rail car and buried at Oak Ridge Cemetery. What was the future of the magnificent car after its first and last trip with Abraham Lincoln? Bob Slusser’s new Alexandria Historical Society publication will continue to enlighten us next week.

Pamela Cressey is the Alexandria city archaeologist.