Viewing President Lincoln’s Body on the Move

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Lincoln's tomb, Oak Ridge Cemetery

The body of President Abraham Lincoln was moved throughout Oak Ridge Cemetery in Springfield, Illinois an incredible 17 times, and viewed six, before finally resting.

Due to security and reconstruction issues of the tomb, President Lincoln spent decades of literal upheaval before his body was placed in the final tomb on September 26, 1901, 36 years after his death on April 16, 1865.

The First Three Views of President Lincoln’s Remains

After Lincoln’s funeral in Springfield on May 4th, 1865, his remains were placed in a public receiving vault in Oak Ridge Cemetery. On December 21, 1865, he was then removed from the receiving vault and moved to a specially built temporary vault where his coffin was opened and his body viewed for the first time verifying his, well, presence. On September 19, 1871, his coffin was placed in a temporary crypt on the south wall of the Lincoln Tomb, which was still under construction. For the second time his coffin was opened, and it was confirmed, he was still there. On October 9th, 1874, Lincoln’s remains were removed from the temporary crypt and placed in a white marble sarcophagus in Lincoln Tomb, Memorial Hall. A third look inside the coffin revealed, Lincoln had remained, therefore six days later Lincoln Tomb was dedicated on October 15, 1874.

An Infamous Plot Foiled at Oak Ridge Cemetery

On November 7, 1876, two counterfeiters, Jack Hughes and James “Big Jim” Kennally, attempted to dig Lincoln’s coffin up to hold it hostage for ransom money. Through a tip off to the local sheriff, and with the aid of a Secret Service informant, the scheme was thwarted. The tomb was entered and the coffin was only partially lifted from the sarcophagus and moved a few inches before police interrupted the plan. The thieves fled the scene only to be captured at The Hub, a Chicago tavern. The very next day on November 8, 1876, the coffin went back into the sarcophagus which was closed and sealed. Yet again, Lincoln’s coffin was moved twice on November 13, 1876. It was removed from the sarcophagus and placed by the northeast wall of Lincoln Tomb only to be moved within hours to a secret location which turned out to be the eastside of Lincoln Tomb. The next day, the coffin was placed in a wooden case at the eastside location.

Still, another secret location waited for Lincoln’s coffin at the northside of Lincoln Tomb on November 18, 1878; he stayed there for two days. On November 20th, caution set in and it was decided to look in again on the 16th President of the United Sates for the fourth time, and though safe, he was not yet sound. He was reburied that day at the same secret location on the northside of the tomb. On April 14, 1887, two more moves of the coffin and the fifth viewing of Lincoln’s remains occurred. He was moved to Memorial Hall, and then transported to a newly built crypt which was beneath the floor of Memorial Hall in Lincoln Tomb.

Robert Todd Lincoln Gets Involved

In the year 1899, Lincoln’s original tomb had to be reconstructed due to the poor soil quality it was built upon. So, on March 10, 1900, his coffin was moved to a secret location some yards northeast of Lincoln Tomb. Fifteen months of reconstruction concluded in August of 1901. On April 24, 1901 the coffin of Lincoln was moved again to the newly reconstructed Lincoln Tomb and was placed in a brand new red granite sarcophagus. When Lincoln’s son, Robert Todd Lincoln, visited his father’s tomb, he expressed his concerns about the safety of his father’s remains. On July 10, 1901, the coffin temporarily was placed in an empty crypt in the wall under the floor of Memorial Hall.

A Final Viewing at Memorial Hall

On September 26, 1901, thirty years after his assassination by a bullet through his head, President Lincoln’s remains were for the sixth and final time viewed. The bronzed face of Abraham Lincoln’s corpse exhibited his still unique characteristics, his beard, mole and dark hair. The unhealed bruises of his shattered skull created the bronzing effect of his face. On every occasion that he was viewed, his casket was only penetrated at the top half, exposing his upper torso and head.

Rest would finally come to Lincoln on that 26th day of September in 1901, when his coffin was placed in a steel cage embedded with concrete ten feet deep under the floor of Memorial Hall. The red granite sarcophagus sits empty in front of where President Lincoln’s remains securely rest.

Sources:

  1. Power, John Carroll (1889) Abraham Lincoln. His life, public services, death and great funeral cortege, with a history and description of the National Lincoln monument. Springfield, Illinois: H.W. Rokker
  2. History Channel. (Director). (2009). Stealing Lincoln’s Body [DVD]. A&E HOME VIDEO