Tuesday, June 7, 2016

Replica of Lincoln Funeral Car O Display In Duluth

Nearly every American remembers the Civil War, how disruptive and divisive it was. Likewise, nearly every American citizen recalls how President Lincoln was assassinated by John Wilkes Booth in Ford Theater at the end of the Civil War.

What people do not think much about is what happened next.

On 21 April 1865 Lincoln’s body was placed onto a train that would carry it to Springfield, Illinois, where he had lived before becoming president. Tens of thousands of Americans lined the railroad route and paid their respects to their fallen leader during the train’s solemn progression through the North. Lincoln and his son, Willie, who died in the White House of typhoid fever in 1862, were interred on May 4, 1865, at Oak Ridge Cemetery, near Springfield.

What is forgotten is how the Lincoln assassination was used for political purposes to stir up hatred for the South. Lincoln, who was all for healing the nation's deep wounds and wanted only to see Southerners embraced and welcomed back into the Union, was carried around the country in this Lincoln Funeral Car, and presented for viewing. According to History.com, "At each stop, Lincoln’s coffin was taken off the train, placed on an elaborately decorated horse-drawn hearse and led by solemn processions to a public building for viewing. In cities as large as Columbus, Ohio, and as small as Herkimer, New York, thousands of mourners flocked to pay tribute to the slain president." The unspoken message was, "Look what they did to him."

This replica of the Lincoln Funeral Car is on display in Duluth
The railroad car was dubbed "The Lincoln Special" and at each stop Lincoln's body would be removed from the train and placed in a prominent place where mourners could pay respects.

It was secretary of war Edwin Stanton who set the itinerary, who coordinated the events following Lincoln's assassination. Stanton would not even let the embalmers fix up his face so it would look more presentable when carried around the country for all to see. Here are details of that story from an article on Slate titled A Body for the Politic.

The meaning of Lincoln's life, quest and death is probably one of the most written about in American history, and as several recent Hollywood films have shown, is still fascinating as well as controversial.

Lincoln Hearse, courtesy National Archives
All this was recently brought to mind when I learned that a replica of the Lincoln Funeral Car would be coming to Duluth this summer. The original Lincoln Funeral Car was being stored in the Twin Cities suburb of Columbia Heights in June 1911, waiting for restoration, when it was burned to the metal by a grass fire. After an extensive renovation, the funeral car is back on track and riding the rails. Evidently it was here last summer but I never heard about it. Here's a brief blurb from the Mix108.com website.

Learning history is more than memorizing names and dates so we can pass tests in school. A good student of history learns about what motivates the people of history and how masses are moved into action, sometimes manipulated into wars or other behaviors to further the agendas of people with influence.

In this sense, the Lincoln Funeral Car was no sweet memorial to a great man. It became the occasion of winning support for an agenda at cross-purposes with the fallen president. For Stanton, the post-war period was going to be payback time. 

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