Friday, April 14, 2017

In Memory of President Abraham Lincoln

Today marks 152 years since President Abraham Lincoln was assassinated by the actor and southern sympathizer, John Wilkes Booth. Like today, that April 14 fell on Good Friday.

Lincoln was in a jovial mood when he and his wife, Mary Todd Lincoln, arrived at Ford's Theater---General Robert E. Lee had surrendered the Army of Northern Virginia to General Ulysses S. Grant just five days earlier. Lincoln had invited Grant and his wife to attend the theater with them, and Grant had accepted, but his wife, Julia, disliked Mrs. Lincoln, and convinced her husband to bow out of the invitation. After several others, including the Lincoln's son, Robert, turned down the invitation, young Clara Harris and her finance, Major Henry Rathbone, accepted.

Letter to the Editor describing funeral
observance for President Lincoln at
Zanesville's A.M.E  Church on South Street
The story is pretty well known from this point. Booth had laid his plans carefully, and no one questioned the famous actor's presence at the theater, or made any effort to impede his free movement. Booth timed his entry into the Presidential box, and the firing of the fatal shot to coincide with the delivery of a major laugh-line in the play Our American Cousin. Rathbone tried to stop Booth's escape, but was felled by a serious knife wound. Booth leaped to the stage, and was said to have shouted Sic semper tyrannis ("Thus ever to tyrants"). In his jump to the stage, Booth broke his ankle, but still made it to his waiting horse, and was able to get out of Washington before authorities could effectively mobilize to stop him. Twelve days later, Booth was tracked down and killed.

The dying, unconscious President was carried to a boarding house across the street from Ford's Theater, where he died without ever regaining consciousness early the following morning. Most Northerners were grief-stricken. African Americans in the North and the South mourned the loss of the person they considered their "Moses".

Lincoln's funeral was held in Washington, D.C. on April 19, and, as in other states, Ohio's Secretary of State asked Ohioans to hold observances to coincide with the one in Washington. One such observance in Zanesville was reported in the April 20, 1865 edition of the Daily Zanesville Courier.

Following the funeral, Lincoln's body, and that of the Lincoln's son, Willie, were put on a funeral train for a long, slow journey to Springfield, Illinois. It took two weeks for the train to travel from Washington to Springfield because of stops in major cities to allow citizens file past the casket and pay their respects. Although Lincoln's body was embalmed, undertakers had an increasingly difficult time keeping the darkening face and decaying body suitable for viewing. By the time the train arrived in Columbus on April 29, there were real concerns about the appropriateness of continuing the open casket viewings.* Nevertheless, Lincoln's body was conveyed to the State Capitol where it was on display for nearly twelve hours before the trip to Springfield was resumed. On May 4, Abraham Lincoln was finally laid to rest, along with his son Willie, in Oak Ridge Cemetery in Springfield.

"A Body for the Body Politic: The strange, sad, and gross saga of Abraham Lincoln's two-week funeral procession"

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