The funeral of 16th U.S. President Abraham Lincoln changed the standard funerary practices of the entire nation.
The funeral of President Abraham Lincoln was a three-week event that invited the entirety of the United States to mourn and grieve together. This public funeral spanned seven states, as the body of Abraham Lincoln was placed in an elaborate wooden coffin and brought across the Midwest on Lincoln’s “funeral train,” making twelve stops before reaching its destination in Springfield, Illinois.
The voyage of Abraham Lincoln’s body began in Washington, DC, where he was assassinated on April 15, 1865. Three days later, Lincoln’s funeral train reached Baltimore, Maryland. His journey continued through Pennsylvania, New York, Ohio, Indiana, and Illinois. It is estimated that over 1 million people attended the public services for President Lincoln, making it the largest funeral in the world until the 1960s with the death and services of President John F. Kennedy. Lincoln was interred in Oak Ridge Cemetery in June of 1865 at the request of his wife, Mary Lincoln.
Lincoln’s coffin is certainly fit for a man of his legacy. The oak lead-lined coffin was covered in a dark fabric and adorned with intricate silver work and handles. The coffin had to be especially ornate as it led funeral processions and parades in thirteen cities across seven states. It was surrounded with various cut flowers and evergreen trimmings. Lincoln himself was dressed in the suit he wore to his second inauguration. During public viewings, his coffin was only opened to reveal his head and torso.
This three-week funeral procession was made possible with embalming. Dr. Charles B. Brown was his embalmer and traveled with the body of Lincoln, taking pains to preserve the body during the journey. Abraham Lincoln was the first notable American to be embalmed, making the practice more accepted and widely used in the United States.
Before Lincoln, many soldiers killed during the American Civil War were some of the first people in the United States to be embalmed. The transportation of the bodies was often delayed during the war, requiring doctors to preserve them in order to reduce the decomposition process before the deceased could be sent to their families. This was not a common practice until after Lincoln’s public funeral.
The science of embalming made his public funeral possible, removing any hesitation of the American people to allow their own loved ones to be embalmed in order to preserve them for funeral services.