In this version of DID YOU KNOW (Part 10) ABRAHAM LINCOLN, you’ll discover that there are an amazing amount of unique facts found about Mr. Lincoln after his death.

1. Did you know … that Abraham Lincoln was the first President of the United States to be embalmed?

2. Did you know … that after the president’s death, over one million people looked upon Lincoln’s face in open casket viewings?

It’s true. After it was decided that Lincoln would be buried in his hometown of Springfield, Illinois, a special funerary train trip was planned. Lincoln’s Funeral Train would essentially take the reverse route used by the President-elect in 1861 from Springfield to Washington. This time however, both Cincinnati and Pittsburgh would be bypassed in favor of Chicago.

The train car called "United States" was used as Lincoln's Funeral Car.                                                                             This car, called the United States, carried the coffins of both President Lincoln and his son, WIllie.

The Lincoln Funeral Train in Harrisburg, PA.

The Lincoln Funeral Train in Harrisburg, PA.

The coffin with the remains of Lincoln’s 11 year old son, Willie, who died of typhoid fever in the White House in 1862, was placed on the train with his father. Both would be buried together in Springfield.

The train dubbed “The Lincoln Special” left Washington DC on April 21, 1865 and arrived in Springfield on May 3rd.

Lincoln Funeral Train Route (Apr 21 - May 3, 1865)

Lincoln Funeral Train Route (Apr 21 - May 3, 1865)

During the 1,654 mile, 13 day trek, the train traveled through 180 towns and cities, of which only 11 were allowed to host open-casket viewings. These cities were:

1.   Baltimore, MD

2.   Harrisburg, PA

3.   Philadelphia, PA

4.   New York, NY

5.   Albany, NY

6.   Buffalo, NY

7.   Cleveland, OH

8.   Columbus, OH

9.   Indianapolis, IN

10.  Chicago, IL

11.  Springfield, IL

Sidebar:As early as the New York stopover, observers noticed that Lincoln’s face was showing signs of blackening and discolorization. For the remainder of the trip, undertakers would frequently apply white chalk powder, rouge and amber makeup to make the President appear as normal as possible.

3. Did you know … that only one photograph is known to exist of President Lincoln lying in his open coffin? It was taken on Monday, April 24, 1865 in the rotunda of New York’s City Hall while the president’s body was prepared for public viewing. New York photographer Jeremiah Gurney, Jr. took several photographs of Lincoln while lying in state. The following day, after hearing about the existence of these photographs, a furious Secretary of War, Edwin Stanton ordered that all the plates, prints and engravings be destroyed. This order was carried out with the photographer’s cooperation. One print did escape this fate and was sent to Stanton himself. He kept it hidden in his papers for fear of rebuke by Mary Lincoln. In 1887, Stanton’s son Lewis, discovered it and sent it to John Nicolay believing that he, and John Hay, Lincoln’s former secretaries, would use it in their 10-volume life of Lincoln.  They did not. It remained out of the public eye until July 20, 1952 when a fourteen-year old boy named Ronald Rietveld, found it amongst John Nicolay-John Hay’s papers at the Illinois State Historical Library. 

Lincoln lies in state in NYC's City Hall on April 24, 1865

Sidebar: When Stanton found out about the photographs, he sent a telegram to Brigadier-General Townsend accompanying the President’s body on his final journey. Taken from the book “Lincoln: An Illustrated Biography” by Philip B. Kunhardt Jr., here are the series of telegrams that went back and forth between Stanton and Townsend regarding this incident. 


Washington City,

April 25, 1865 – 11:40 p.m.

Brigadier-General Townsend,

Adjutant-General, New York:

    I see by the New York papers this evening that a photograph of the corpse…was allowed to be taken yesterday in New York. I cannot sufficiently express my surprise and disapproval of such an act while the body was in your charge. You will report what officers of the funeral escort were or ought to have been on duty at the time this was done, and immediately relieve them…. You will also direct the provost-marshall to go to the photographer, seize and destroy the plates and any pictures or engravings that may have been made, and consider yourself responsible if the offense is repeated.

 Edwin M. Stanton

Secretary of War.




Albany, N.Y.

April 26, 1865

(Received 10:40 a.m.)

Hon. E. M. Stanton

Secretary of War:

    Your dispatch of this date is received. The photograph was taken when I was present…. I have telegraphed General Dix your orders about seizing the plates. To whom shall I turn over the special charge given me in order to execute your instructions to relieve the officer responsible…?

 E. D. Townsend,

Assistant Adjutant-General.





Washington City,

April 26, 1865 – 12:30 p.m.

Brig.Gen. E. D. Townsend,

 … You being in charge, and present at the time, the sole responsibility rests upon you; but having no other officer … that can relieve you and take your place you will continue in charge of the remains under your instructions until they are finally interred….

Edwin M. Stanton,

Secretary of War.




Albany, N.Y.

April 26, 1865

 Hon. E. M. Stanton

General Dix, who is here, suggests that I should explain to you how the photograph was taken. The remains had just been arranged in state in the City Hall, at the head of the stairway, where the people would ascend on one side and descend on the other…. The photographer was in a gallery twenty feet higher than the body, and at least forty distant from it. Admiral Davis stood at the head and I at the foot of the coffin. No-one else was in view. The effect of the picture would be general taking in the whole scene, but not giving the features of the corpse.

 E. D. Townsend





To see the entire series, click here “SUMMARY OF THE “DID YOU KNOW” ABRAHAM LINCOLN SERIES (Parts 1-15)”         



If you are interested in Abraham Lincoln, you should read these interviews by three Lincoln experts:


“An Awesometalk With” ROGER NORTON, Webmaster of the ‘Abraham Lincoln Research Site’ (posted on December 30, 2008)


“An Awesometalk With” DR. THOMAS SCHWARTZ, Illinois State Historian (posted on December 08, 2008)


“An Awesometalk With” HAROLD HOLZER, Lincoln Scholar (posted on November 10, 2008)



The URI to TrackBack this entry is: https://awesometalks.wordpress.com/2008/07/10/did-you-know-part-10-abraham-lincoln/trackback/

RSS feed for comments on this post.

4 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. I was told that a doctor accompanied Lincoln’s body, injecting him with the embalming fluid before each stop to preserve the body. Also the embalming techniques used did not drain the blood, but was injected into the organs. At the 1901 opening, the body had been so well preserved that the only body part that was deterriated was the eyebrow over his left eye. The American flag held in his hands was in shreds.

  2. My great-great grandfather, Enon M Harris, stood watch over Lincoln’s body as it Lay in State in Philadelphia. Flowers were provided by Ritchie, the brother of my great-great grandmother, Helen Ritchie Dick of Helendale Greenhouses in Philadelphia.

    • Hi Helen. That is a great family story to share with us. I will contact you by email to see if you can share more with me. I look forward to hearing your family’s story.
      Many thanks.

    • Helen,
      My great great grandfather was also Enon M Harris. I have a photo of him in uniform if you are interested.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: