Remembering President Lincoln, 150 years later

A replica of the hearse that carried Abraham Lincoln’s body is being built and will be used in a funeral procession in Springfield, Illinois.
A replica of the hearse that carried Abraham Lincoln’s body is being built and will be used in a funeral procession in Springfield, Illinois. 2015 Lincoln Funeral Coalition

Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee had surrendered to Union Gen. Ulysses S. Grant a few days before, effectively ending the Civil War, and a weary President Abraham Lincoln decided to see a play that evening at Ford’s Theatre in Washington, D.C. The date was April 14, 1865.

You know the rest. As he sat in his box at the theater, the president was shot by John Wilkes Booth. Gravely wounded, he was taken across the street to the Petersen House, where he died the next morning at 7:22 a.m.

Now, 150 years later, America is preparing to mark Lincoln’s assassination with anniversary events in several venues.

The commemorations will take many forms. There will be reenactments and encampments, exhibits and ceremonies, lectures, speeches and symposiums. But the most wide-ranging of them will take place in Washington, D.C., at Ford’s Theatre, and in Springfield, Illinois, Lincoln’s hometown, where in 1865 he was buried in Oak Ridge Cemetery.

In addition, a replica of the train car that carried the president’s body from Washington to Springfield is under construction, and there’s a proposal to have the replica retrace that route, but whether it will actually make the trip has not been confirmed.

Here’s a rundown on the main events.


A series of anniversary events called “Ford’s 150: Remembering the Lincoln Assassination” is planned at the Ford’s Theatre Campus, which includes a museum, the theater, the Petersen House and the Center for Education and Leadership.

An exhibition of items that Lincoln carried on the night he was assassinated will be on view at the Center for Education and Leadership March 23-May 25. Called Silent Witnesses: Artifacts of the Lincoln Assassination, the collection will include Lincoln’s top hat, cuff buttons, a Brooks Brothers great coat and the contents of his pockets. Also on view will be Mary Todd Lincoln’s black velvet cape, Booth’s derringer pistol, the bunting flag from the Presidential Box at the theater and other items.


Other programs include the world premiere of the play The Widow Lincoln; the musical Freedom’s Song: Abraham Lincoln and the Civil War; performances of one-act plays One Destiny and The Road From Appomattox; History on Foot walking tours; and a series of free panel discussions.

On April 14 events will include readings of Lincoln’s words and stories, Civil War-era music, excerpts from Lincoln’s favorite theatre and operas, and more.

On April 15, Lincoln’s death at the Petersen House will be marked with a wreath-laying ceremony, and church bells will ring all over Washington, as they did 150 years ago. Additionally, Lincoln’s carriage will be on view at Washington’s Museum of American History March 23-May 25.

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The replica of the train car that took Lincoln’s body from Washington to Springfield is under construction by Kloke Locomotive Works in Elgin, Illinois, and is expected to be completed by mid-March. Replicas of the 1865 locomotive and tender were built by the same company some years ago.

One plan is for the train to travel from Washington to Springfield, stopping at several cities en route on the 12-day trip, as did the original, but that may not happen. Another possible plan for the train car, said Shannon Brown, a spokeswoman for Kloke, is for it to tour other states and cities during the next year or so.

What is certain, Brown said, is that the locomotive, tender and train car will be at the Springfield station May 2 to reenact the original train’s arrival there.

The train car will carry two coffins, as did the original. Lincoln’s body was in one, the body of his son Willie, who had died three years before, in the other. Willie’s body had been kept in a crypt in Washington, as the president had always intended to move it to Springfield. The coffins will remain on the train.



Lincoln’s hometown will be the site of many anniversary events, which have already started, and there will be events every day starting in February, said Katie Spindell, chairwoman of the Lincoln Funeral Coalition in Springfield.

Currently open at the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum is the exhibit Undying Words: Lincoln 1858-1865, which runs to Feb. 28, 2016, and focuses on Lincoln’s five most important speeches, but also includes a section on his assassination. More than 120 items related to Lincoln will be on view, including two dozen that have never been publicly displayed.


From Feb. 1 to May 10, the Illinois State Museum will mount Remembering Lincoln, an exhibition of objects associated with the assassination. Performances of Our American Cousin will be staged on several evenings, including April 14. Symposiums, concerts and other events also are scheduled at various venues.

But the signature events will occur May 1-3, commemorating when the Lincoln Funeral Train reached Springfield and Lincoln’s funeral and burial were held.

Springfield is trying to re-create the city’s atmosphere as it was at the time of Lincoln’s funeral. “On May 1, Civil War encampments around town will make [Springfield] resemble how it was in 1865,” Spindell said. That evening, a concert featuring music of Lincoln’s era will be held in Bloomington.

Replicas of the Lincoln hearse and coffin are being constructed. On May 2, reenactors will gather at the Amtrak station, from which these replicas will be taken in a funeral procession to downtown Springfield for ceremonies and an all-night vigil.

The coffin, separate from those on the train, will be draped with a 36-star flag that is being reproduced by Annin Flagmakers, the same company that made the original flag. Of the 12 honorary pallbearers who will be on hand, six will be direct descendants of the original dozen, Spindell said.

On May 3, the procession will move to Oak Ridge Cemetery, where Lincoln is buried, for funeral ceremonies.


An earlier version of this story included wrong information about an event at Ford’s Theatre. Ford’s is not presenting “Our American Cousin” on the anniversary of the assassination.


Events marking the 150th anniversary of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee’s surrender to Union Gen. Ulysses S. Grant are planned in Appomattox County, Virginia, April 8-12.

The surrender on April 9, 1865, will not be reenacted at the McLean House, where it actually took place, but at the Museum of the Confederacy in Appomattox. The change of venue is because the surrender occurred in a small room, said Ernie Price of the National Park Service’s Appomattox Court House National Historical Park, which encompasses the McLean House, Court House and other structures in the Historical Village.

However, a reenactment will be held at the McLean House of the moment when Lee, Grant and their staffs emerged from their meeting, symbolizing the finalization of the surrender. Reenactments also are planned of the Stacking of Arms, when Confederate soldiers surrendered their arms to Union troops.

Interestingly, the son of President Abraham Lincoln, Capt. Robert Todd Lincoln, was present at Lee’s surrender. He was able to personally report on it to his father on April 14 — the day Lincoln was shot — when he and Grant returned to Washington.