The day Lincoln’s funeral train passed through LaPorte County

The funeral train carrying the body of Abraham Lincoln stops at the Michigan City Depot, under a specially constructed arch of roses and evergreens, on May 1, 1865. This photo is on display at the LaPorte County Historical Society Museum. TO VIEW LARGER, click on photo, then on “Full Size.”)

The funeral train carrying the body of Abraham Lincoln stops at the Michigan City Depot, under a specially constructed arch of roses and evergreens, on May 1, 1865. This photo is on display at the LaPorte County Historical Society Museum. (TO VIEW LARGER, click on photo, then on “Full Size.”)

   During this year of commemorating Abraham Lincoln’s 200th birthday, it seems only fitting that we look back to May 1, 1865, the day his funeral train passed through LaPorte County.

   The remains of the president were escorted to the train car of the Louisville, New Albany & Chicago Railroad (later to become the Monon Railroad) in Indianapolis at midnight on April 30, and left there for Chicago expecting to reach there by noon the next day.

   In addition to the casket containing the president, the nine-car train carried 300 guests. The casket with the body of the president’s son Willie Lincoln, who had died three years earlier, was also on the train. Lincoln’s widow Mary Lincoln had made the decision that Willie should also be buried in Illinois.

   The train passed through Westville at about 20 minutes to 8 a.m. The LaPorte Herald reported a “tremendous crowd at the depot and most appropriate ceremonies were had.” A special correspondent from the Chicago Tribune on hand wrote the following report:

   “Two thousand people were here assembled, and a more serious, thoughtful congregation had not been. The men stand with uncovered heads, and women look on in silence. A number of little children were grouped together, holding in their hands white flags with mourning fringes. At another place was a number of very intelligent young women, holding miniature flags of the Republic bordered with rosettes, which they waved gently, in token of their love. A tasteful and pretty arch was constructed, under which the train passed. It was the handiwork of the ladies of the village, and most artistically interwoven with wreaths of evergreen and roses. On the top was a beautiful flag waving, the support of which was trimmed with green and black drapery, its base resting in a bouquet and surrounded by rosettes. On each side of the arch at the base of the curvature were portraits of the president, which were shrouded with black and white trimmings. The inscription, ‘Though dead he yet speaketh,’ was printed in large letters on white cloth, reaching across the arch where commenced the formation of the semi circle. As the funeral train slowly moved out, a choir of ladies and gentlemen, under leadership of Mr. Wilkins, a prominent citizen, sang with a sweet mournfulness the peculiarly appropriate hymn entitled ‘The Departed.'”

The casket containing the body of Willie Lincoln, the president’s son who died three years before Abraham Lincoln was assassinated, was also carried on the funeral train so the boy could be buried in Illinois along with his father.

   The train continued north through Crossing in LaPorte County (at that time locally it was known as Lacroix, later Packard and then Otis). There was “quite a nice demonstration” there by the “surrounding people of the village and those from the surrounding country, who received the cortege in the most sacred manner.”

   The funeral train entered Michigan City at the depot at 8:35 a.m., where it then came into the care of the Michigan Central Railroad. It passed beneath a magnificent arch of roses and evergreen 25 feet wide and 30 feet high, resting on nine arches. On each side of the arch was an inscription. A delegation of ladies, 16 in number, presented a beautiful cross made of solid flowers which they asked permission to place on the coffin. The request was granted. In the group stood 36 little girls representing the entire number of the states in the Republic. They were dressed in white with black sashes and rosettes of trailing arbutus on the right shoulders. The young ladies sang national airs.

   Patriotic organizations conducted memorial services and townspeople were permitted to view the remains of the martyred president. The train had to wait an hour or so in Michigan City for the arrival by special train of the committee from Chicago. With the arrival of the committee, the funeral cortege was ready to leave for Chicago.

   A Michigan City man, Edward Wilcox, was the engineer of the locomotive that pulled the train to Chicago over the Michigan Central System. Chicago was reached at 11 a.m. on May 1, an hour ahead of schedule.

   From there, the train went on to Springfield, IL, for the burial. Large delegations from adjoining states and neighboring settlements arrived throughout the night and were unable to find accommodations. About noon, the remains were brought from the Illinois Statehouse. The hearse was followed by the horse formerly belonging to Lincoln. His body was covered with black cloth trimmed with silver fringe. The procession arrived at Oak Ridge Cemetery at 1 p.m. After the benediction, the crowd returned to the city.

FERN EDDY SCHULTZ is the official LaPorte County Historian. Learn much more about our history at the LaPorte County Historical Society Museum, 2405 Indiana Ave., and visit its website, www.laportecountyhistory.org

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