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Lincoln Hearse 150th Anniversary

Lincoln Hearse 150th Anniversary

Today (5/2/15) marks the end of an era.  While there were Civil War related happenings that occurred after today, the celebration of Lincoln’s funeral trail arriving in Springfield, Illinois, represents the end of a glorious 4 years of remembrance.  As a reenactor, I have thoroughly enjoyed having the Civil War so close to our thoughts during this time.  I’ve attended national events, visited battlefields and museums, and watched movies (including this week covering the Lincoln assassination and showing The Conspirator) and TV shows focused on the period, and attended countless other events.  With today’s event, that aspect will begin to fade.  For that reason, despite the busyness of the season for me and the struggles of coming off chemo and preparing for surgery for my friend, we decided to make the 3+ hour trip to Springfield–to be there for this once in a lifetime event.

We arrived in Springfield just as the horses were pulling the hearse down the street followed by a procession of reenactors.  But, we still had to park, so we actually arrived just as the formal program was beginning.  It was truly a beautiful beginning.  Bishop Thomas Paprocki of the Catholic Diocese of Springfield opened with prayer, recognizing the fact that when Lincoln left Springfield to travel to Washington D.C., not knowing if he would see his friends and neighbors again, he left them in the care of God.  He explained that while many lost a president, residents here lost a friend.  A number of other speakers followed–each with a pearl of wisdom.  Governor Bruce Rauner shared about Lincoln’s role as a uniter of races–a relevant topic in light of recent events.

Reenactors outside the Old Statehouse

Reenactors outside the Old Statehouse

The military commander shared about Lincoln the soldier, and not only the way that he followed instruction, but the way that he led.  Lincoln was represented by a number of members of the armed forces from Illinois who also represented fallen comrades in Iraq and Afghanistan.  The ambassador from San Marino to the U.S., Paolo Rondelli presented a Lincoln coin that had just been created in Italy.  Interspersed with these inspiring speeches was the music of a number of different bands and a choir.  My favorite was when the choir sang “Amazing Grace” shortly after the invocation.  The man beside me began singing along, I did as well, and before the end of the first verse, many of the crowd had joined in. It was a powerful moment.  What I loved most about this time was that each speaker painted a different picture of Lincoln.  As our group would later discuss, Lincoln was a man–he did many things I agree with and admire, and a few that I don’t, but all in all, he was simply a man.  A man who as Secretary of War Edwin Stanton said, “Now (he) belongs to the ages.”

From the opening program, we headed over to the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum.  It was an amazing experience, well worth the $15.00 combined ticket with Union Station (which I got for $8.00–Teacher perk…)  The museum really focuses on Lincoln’s entire life.  It starts with Journey 1, where visitors will track through Lincoln’s early life, his boyhood, jobs, courting, etc.  In the section called Journey 2, Lincoln’s political life comes to life and death, for here we trace Lincoln’s career as a young Senator, through his presidency, and finally to his funeral.

Entrance to Journey 1

Entrance to Journey 1

Each area offers incredibly lifelike wax figures portraying scenes in Lincoln’s life, but also shows artifacts from the period and gives information on Lincoln’s journey during that time.  My favorite section of the display was a series of political cartoons published about Lincoln.  I had seen about 4 or 5 of them, but there were probably 50 completely vilifying Lincoln.  I’ve long told students that political cartoons back in the day were brutal, and the ones about Lincoln are exceptionally cruel.  Just another opportunity to see a different side of Lincoln.

The dual ticket from the Museum also offered entrance to Union Station where there is currently a display called “From History to Hollywood.”  This display boasts sets and costumes from the movie Lincoln.  What was most interesting to me in this section was the wardrobe of Mary Todd Lincoln (costumes.)  I learned that Sally Fields is exactly the height of Mary Todd, though she had to gain 20 pounds to play the role.  Standing on the floor beside the costume resting on the steps, I towered over the top (I’m 5’9″).  How short was Mary Todd?!  About 5 feet tall–Imagine that next to the 6’4″ Lincoln.  They must have looked fun in pictures, though I don’t recall any of the two of them beside each other.

Lincoln Home draped in mourning

Lincoln Home draped in mourning


With sore feet, we headed to the Lincoln House, but, when we found out that the next tour wouldn’t leave until about an hour and a half later, we decided to just enjoy the outside and head out of town.  We made one final stop at Lincoln’s tomb to see where all of the family is buried, except Robert, who is buried at Arlington–I’ll have to look him up next time I’m there.  The monument tomb has to be the coolest burial place.  Not only is the monument huge and imposing, there are replicas of numerous statues of Lincoln with details of where the actual statue stands.  The walls also bear transcripts of famous speeches Lincoln made–incredible to read.  Finally, the sarcophagus for Lincoln is beautiful and surrounded by the flags of states where he or his ancestors had lived.  Just an amazing and appropriate place–and indeed, the perfect place to lay to rest this season of Civil War celebrations.

Lincoln tomb monument

Lincoln tomb monument

What struck me most is a statement Lincoln makes in his farewell to Springfield (transcript posted inside the tomb and quoted in the opening ceremony today.)  In the speech, he states, “I now leave, not knowing when, or whether ever, I may return, with a task before me greater than that which rested upon Washington.  Without the assistance of the Divine Being who ever attended him, I cannot succeed.  With that assistance, I cannot fail.  Trusting in Him who can go with me and remain with you, and be everywhere for good, let us confidently hope that all will yet be well.”

What stood out to me was the fact that he had a tougher task than George Washington.  Washington merely had the task of building a nation (merely!)–Lincoln had the task of reconciling a nation that had splintered before he ever stepped into office.  And yet, he managed.  With faith and trust in God, he saw our nation weather devastating losses, brought an oppressed people to freedom, and kept our nation from splintering, all while undergoing untold personal losses–the death of three of his children and its affect on both him and his wife.

Close up of Lincoln Memorial

Close up of Lincoln Memorial

One of my students asked me this week how the nation would have been different if Lincoln had never been assassinated.  The ripples, I explained, would be vast.  With easier reconstruction, racial reconciliation might have been easier, perhaps even eliminating the need for the Civil Rights movement, as segregation might never have happened.  But, he also might not have been quite so loved.  Lincoln had been horribly unpopular in wide circles, but with his assassination, the tide turned, and people flocked to pay their respects.

But, regardless of what might have changed, the fact is, 150 years later, we are still touched by the legacy of a man who held fast in difficult times and saw our nation through.  His example of steadfastness in the midst of adversity is incredible.  May we strive to do the same today–to bring reconciliation to long held wounds, to hold fast to truth and integrity, and to seek to leave a legacy for those who follow behind us!

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