Until June 1, the west portico of the Ohio Statehouse will have a distinctly somber appearance. The towering limestone pillars are wrapped in black bunting, just as they were on April 29, 1865, when 50,000 people passed between them to pay their last respects to President Abraham Lincoln as he lay in state in the Statehouse Rotunda.
Above them, flags fly at half-mast. A large sign reads “With malice to no one, with charity for all,” just like it did then. The wording, taken from Lincoln’s second inaugural address that he delivered on March 4, 1865, isn’t exactly what Lincoln said, but it’s an accurate reproduction of the way it looked 150 years ago.
These are just some examples of how hard-working, history-loving event planners commemorated the 150th anniversary of the assassination of Lincoln and the funeral train that took his body from Washington, D.C. to its final resting place in Springfield, Illinois between April 18 and May 3, 1865.
For 18 months, Capitol Square Review and Advisory Board officials planned how the Statehouse could mark the anniversary in unique ways. On April 29, approximately 4,500 people stopped by the Statehouse during a five-hour period to see a Civil War encampment by historical re-enactors, experience the Statehouse’s cannon being fired, hear buglers played “Taps,” and place fresh flowers on an historically accurate replica of Lincoln’s casket in the Rotunda. That evening, a National Park Service ranger joined Lincoln actor Fritz Klein to give a presentation about Lincoln in the chamber of the Ohio House of Representatives. Click here to watch a recording of the program.
Statehouse visitors could take home a copy of Abraham Lincoln’s Journey Home, a publication that complemented the programs the National Park Service held in each of the major cities along the route that held a funeral for Lincoln.
Reproduction images from the Library of Congress told the story of the assassination and those named as conspirators. “The Lincoln Funeral Train in Pictures and Photos,” on display in the Ohio Statehouse North Hallway through June 2, illustrates how the 16th president was honored at stops along the funeral train route.
Later in the week, Scott Trostel, author of The Lincoln Funeral Train: The Final Journey and National Funeral for Abraham Lincoln, gave a special presentation recounting what occurred along the 1,600-mile route. Silkscreened commemorative funeral time tables were distributed ahead of time so that people knew when the train would pass through depots along the route. During the 13-day trip, it’s averaged that one-third of the population of the United States witnessed the train pass their community.
During “Lincoln on Screen: Black and White Lincoln in the 1950s,” Mark Reinhart, author of Abraham Lincoln on Screen: Fictional and Documentary Portrayals on Film and Television, told about actors who have portrayed Lincoln in films from Birth of a Nation in 1915 to Steven Spielberg’s Lincoln in 2012. After he played “The End and the Beginning, an episode of Mr. Lincoln, a television series that aired in late 1952 and early 1953, he explained the symbolic association that lilacs have with the event, immortalized by Walt Whitman in his poem, “When Lilacs Last in the Dooryard Bloom’d.”
One special commemorative event took place at St. Joseph Cathedral. On April 26, the Cathedral Schola joined musicologist Thomas Kernan for a lecture and recital exploring the music of Lincoln’s funeral observances in Columbus. Kernan, assistant professor of music history at Roosevelt University’s Chicago College of Performing Arts, earned his doctorate in musicology from the University of Cincinnati’s College-Conservatory of Music. For his dissertation, Kernan investigated hundreds of ways that Lincoln was treated in almost 150 years’ worth of music, from the time of his assassination up to 2009. Sounding “The Mystic Chords of Memory”: Musical Memorials for Abraham Lincoln, 1865-2009 can be downloaded for reading here.
The concert began with the ringing of the cathedral’s toller. Tolling church bells, rolling snare drums and firing cannons were all heard in the cities where the Lincoln funeral train stopped.
As Lincoln’s funeral procession made its way west, music accompanied all of the ceremonies. Kernan described how those who planned the Columbus funeral for Lincoln wanted not only to demonstrate the city’s culture and sophistication, but also to show Ohio’s new Statehouse to its best advantage. As in other cities along the route, the Columbus commemoration included the Dead March from George Friedrich Handel’s Saul. A thoughtful selection of church hymns, mostly from the 1848 and 1849 editions of Methodist hymnals, included John Cennick’s “Children of the Heavenly King,” Horatio Palmer’s “Go to Thy Rest in Peace,” and “Great Ruler of the Earth and Skies” and “See, Gracious God, Before Thy Throne,” both with lyrics by Anne Steele. Choirs performed “Comfort Ye” from Handel’s Messiah. German-American singing societies participated, offering music from their homeland, such as Richard Wagner’s Tannhäuser.
Popular opera excerpts were reissued under new titles; Donizetti’s “Marche funèbre” from Dom Sébastien became Funeral March to the Memory of Abraham Lincoln. Composers speedily penned memorial compositions, and music publishers rushed to print and distribute sheet music for them so that people could play and sing them at home. For example, George F. Root, the composer of the popular Civil War song, “The Battle Cry of Freedom,” set a poem by L. M. Dawn to music and titled it “Farewell Father, Friend and Guardian.” It was first performed at the Lincoln funeral in Chicago and again for Lincoln’s internment at Springfield’s Oak Ridge Cemetery. Sheet music for it was available within a week.
Ohio’s commemoration of the 150th anniversary of Lincoln’s death continues. The Kelton House in Columbus, a sponsor of the concert and lecture at the cathedral, will be decorated for mourning until May 24. On Sunday afternoons from 1:00 to 4:00 p.m., docents dressed in Victorian mourning garb will share information about Victorian mourning customs, such as why Victorians covered mirrors with black fabric when a death occurred.
A replica of the train car that carried Lincoln from Washington to Springfield was built to the exact specifications of the original. An operating train with the recreated car is anticipated to make three stops in Ohio: Ashland on May 18 and 19; Wellington from May 23 to 25 and Painesville on June 6 and 7. For more information, click here and here.
For the next six months, a 30-foot, 40,000-pound bronze sculpture of Lincoln will be on the Miami County Courthouse Plaza in Troy. “Return Visit” by Seward Johnson was commissioned for the Gettysburg Plaza in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. The statue depicts Lincoln gesturing toward the window of the room where he wrote the Gettysburg Address. The address is reproduced on the bronze paper held in the hands of a modern man standing next to Lincoln. The Troy-Hayner Cultural Center is hosting a “Remembering Lincoln” exhibit this month, and the Mayflower Arts Center will hold a Lincoln film festival in June.