A nine-car, garland-draped train carrying the coffin of assassinated President Abraham Lincoln left Washington on this day in 1865, headed toward Springfield, Illinois, where the nation’s 16th president would be buried on May 4. The coffin carrying Lincoln’s body was placed in the eighth car.
The funeral train, carrying about 300 mourners and known as the Lincoln Special, retraced the 1,654-mile route Lincoln had traveled as president-elect in 1861 — with the deletion of Pittsburgh and Cincinnati and the addition of Chicago. His portrait hung over the engine’s cow guard.
In all, the funeral train’s journey traveled through 180 cities and seven states. 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 to be viewed by local citizens. 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.
In Philadelphia, Lincoln’s body lay in state in the east wing of Independence Hall, where the Declaration of Independence had been signed. Philadelphia officials estimated that some 300,000 persons passed by Lincoln’s open coffin, some of them waiting up to five hours to do so. So many people wanted to view Lincoln’s body that police had difficulty maintaining order; some people had their clothing ripped, others fainted. One woman broke her arm.
In New York, Lincoln’s hearse was drawn by 16 horses draped with long blankets. About 75,000 New Yorkers marched in the procession. Windows along the route rented for up to $100 a person, a large sum at the time.
When the procession neared Union Square, it passed by Theodore Roosevelt’s grandfather’s home, where the then 6-year-old future president viewed the proceedings from a second-story window. After departing from the city, the train arrived at night in Rensselaer, New York. From there, the casket was ferried across the Hudson River to Albany. Throngs of people watched as it was moved to City Hall for public viewing. Throughout the night, a steady stream of people passed by to pay their last respects.
The coffin of Lincoln’s son Willie was also on board the train. (Willie had died in the White House in 1862 of typhoid fever at age 11, during Lincoln’s second year in office. His body had been disinterred so it could be buried alongside his father in the family plot in Springfield.) Upon its arrival there, Lincoln’s coffin was laid upon the marble slab inside the tomb. The crowd watched as the iron gates and heavy wooden doors of the tomb were closed and locked.
In 1911, a prairie fire near Minneapolis, Minnesota, destroyed the train car that had carried Lincoln’s body to its final resting place. Some of the furnishings from Lincoln’s funeral car are in the Union Pacific Collection at the Western Heritage Museum in Omaha, Nebraska.