Lincolnís Burial (and Re-burials)

 

 

(From Who's Buried in Grant's Tomb?: A Tour of Presidential Gravesites by Brian Lamb, Richard Norton Smith and Douglas Brinkley.)

 


 

The most revered of presidents has suffered posthumous indignities that Jeb Stuart wouldn't wish on his worst Yankee enemy. To begin with, there was Lincolnís funeral, which at twenty days was prolonged even by the lugubrious standards the day. Too prostrate with grief to accompany her husband remains to Illinois, Mary Lincoln found solace by quarreling with her Springfield neighbors, whose plan to entomb Lincoln in a downtown city lot she loudly vetoed. She insisted that Lincoln be interred in rural Oak Ridge Cemetery, a park like setting modeled after such recently consecrated beauty spots as Bostonís Mount Auburn and Brooklyn.

 

Alternatively, Mrs. Lincoln would consign her husband to the basement crypt in the Capitol that had originally been reserved for George Washington.

 

In defense of the much-maligned widow there is something about a funeral that brings out the worst in people. Within hours of John F. Kennedy's assassination, an Iowa Congressman and self-proclaimed watchdog of the treasury named H.B. Gross questioned the cost of placing an eternal flame over Arlingtonís Section 45, Grave S45.

 

Anyway, with Mary holding all the cards, the Lincoln Monument Association quickly folded. Its members may have entertained second thoughts after a band of would be body snatchers broke into the Lincoln tomb on election night, 1876. The conspirators planned to hide the presidential remains in an Indiana sand dune pending the release of their leader, who was in jail on counterfeiting charges. The intruders nearly succeeded in extricating the Great Emancipatorís coffin before being surprised by agents who had infiltrated the gang.

 

Over the next quarter century, Springfield's city fathers buried and reburied their most famous citizen.

 

At one point Lincoln's casket was concealed under construction materials, leaving admirers to pay homage before an empty tomb. In September 1901, a small group assembled at Oak Ridge. Among those in attendance was a thirteen year-old boy named Fleetwood Lindley, who had been hastily summoned to the scene by his father. A pungent odor filled the tomb as a blowtorch-wielding plumber removed the section of Lincoln's green lead casket above the president's head and shoulders.

 

Young Lindley crowded forward with the others to get a better look.

 

What they saw, thirty-six years after the fact, was the handiwork of a Philadelphia undertaker, who had used white chalk to disguise the decomposing corpse during its cross-country rail journey.

Notwithstanding this macabre cosmetic touch, Lincoln's features were plainly recognizable to the boy.

 

To be sure, the presidential eyebrows had vanished and yellow mold and small red spots, the latter guessed to be remnants of an American flag, disfigured the black broadcloth suit in which Lincoln had taken his second inauguration oath in March 1865. But the figure in the coffin was unmistakably Abraham Lincoln. His identity established and the crowd's curiosity gratified, Lincoln was lowered for the final time into a cage of steel bars and smothered under ten feet of Portland cement.

 

Before his death in 1963, Fleetwood Lindley claimed distinction as the last living person to have gazed upon the features of Abraham Lincoln.


Note this tale.