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5 May 2014

Abraham Lincoln in Philadelphia

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May 5, 2014 Category: Travel Posted by:

By Renée S. Gordon 

“ Something is lacking in our hearts now- even in this supreme hour.” 

–Joshua L. Chamberlain 1865

President Abraham Lincoln traveled to Philadelphia a total of four times. His fourth “visit” was to the third of 11 cities to hold an official open-casket viewing and funeral ceremony. The 1,654-mile train journey bearing the body of the slain president was the culmination a series of events that can be traced back to 1619. Sites connected with the funeral and some of the precipitating factors are numerous so I have chosen to list those that interpret the stories that led to Lincoln’s trips to Philadelphia.

Lincoln first visited the city June 7-10, 1848 as an observer at the Whig National Convention. The meetings were held at the then Philadelphia Museum at 9th and Sansom Streets. He attended an outdoor rally in front of Independence Hall but did not enter the building.

On February 21, 1861 President-elect Lincoln arrived in a Philadelphia rail depot at Front and Berks. The Minute Men of 76 and a 34-gun salute, one representing each state greeted Lincoln. He rode from the Kensington Station, through streets lined with a congratulatory crowd, to the Italianate Continental Hotel at 9th & Chestnut Streets. The 476-room hotel was one of the finest hotels in the country. It was newly completed in 1860 and hosted many dignitaries including U. S. Grant.

The following day he and his young son Tad rode to Independence Hall. A ceremony was held inside Assembly Hall and Lincoln gave a short but compelling speech outlining his commitment to the ideals espoused in the Declaration of Independence. Following the speech he stepped outside and addressed the crowd from a dais erected on Chestnut Street.

Word had reached Alan Pinkerton that there was a plot against the life of the president and a special three car train was ordered to take him to Harrisburg, his next stop. Most people traveling to Baltimore left from 11th and Market Streets. Railroad stations were built on the periphery of the city because engines were not allowed inside the city because they were a fire hazard.  Passengers boarded a rail car at 11th Street and mules pulled the car the 3.5-miles to the West Philadelphia Station on the northeast corner of 32nd and Market. Lincoln rode in a barouche to the station.                     

The Great Central Faire, sponsored by the United States Sanitary Commission (USSC), was held in Philadelphia from June 7-28, 1864 in Logan Square. The USCC was operated by civilians and established to generate money to fund hospitals and purchase necessary supplies. The branch headquarters was located at 1307 Chestnut Street. The level of support for the US Colored Troops was not generally perceived to be equitable, and black churches and organizations formed their own sanitary commissions.

The main hall of the fair was a 200,000-sq. ft. enclosed structure. There were numerous displays, auctions and sales. Lincoln donated an autograph to be auctioned. General admission was $1, but on the day of Lincoln’s visit the price was doubled.

On June 16, 1864, the Lincolns lodged at the Continental Hotel after journeying by train to the Broad & Prime St. Station of the PW&B Railroad. He had a private lunch with Mary and later that day Lincoln and Seward visited the fair. 

Philadelphia’s Union League’s new headquarters, 140 S. Broad Street, was in the planning and construction stages during Lincoln’s third visit. It is notable for its Second Empire architecture, sweeping exterior staircase and mansard roof. A life-sized Union soldier sculpted by H. Bush-Brown guards the facade. A dedication ceremony was held on May 11, 1865. It is believed that Lincoln was to have been in attendance for his fourth visit to the city. (

The stage was set for Lincoln’s final trip to Philadelphia on the day he made the decision to attend the April 14, 1865 performance of “Our American Cousin” at Ford’s Theater. He was a theater buff but his main reason for attending were that it was a benefit performance, and Laura Keene’s final performance a the role she made famous. )

John Wilkes Booth, the Brad Pitt of his day, received his mail at the theater because he had no permanent address. While picking up his mail at Ford’s on the morning of the 14th he overheard the news that Lincoln would be in attendance that evening. As a rabid secessionist he saw this as an opportunity to put his assassination plot into action.

Grant declined to accompany the Lincolns, as did several other people, opting instead to visit relatives in New Jersey with his wife. The Lincolns then invited Major Henry Rathbone and his fiancé, Clara Harris, to share their private box. During the attack on Lincoln Rathbone was stabbed but still regretted his inability to save the president. He married Clara in 1867, but became increasingly mentally unstable. The family relocated to Germany and on April 14, 1883 he attacked his family and murdered Clara. He was tried and committed to an asylum for the criminally insane for life. Rathbone’s house at 712 Jackson Place, today a private residence, was later home to Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes. 

Booth entered the theater by the front door at approximately 10 PM. He walked up the unguarded stairs to Lincoln’s box, barricaded the outer door, opened the box door and shot him in the back of his head with a 44-caliber derringer from five ft. away. He chose the most humorous point in the production, Act III, Scene II. His guard had left his post to take a seat to see the play. At intermission he went to the Star Saloon, the same place Booth was having a whiskey. At that time there was no US Secret Service. Earlier in the day Lincoln had signed into law the bill that would create the Secret Service.

Ford’s Theater is now a National Historic Site that offers tours daily. Visitors can enter the theater and view the box where Lincoln sat. It is outfitted to replicate the one in which he was seated on that fatal night. A museum is located within the complex that interprets the times and maintains the legacy of Lincoln. Highlights of the collection are the boot cut from Booth’s injured leg, his derringer, his diary and Lincoln’s clothing from that night. Currently on exhibit is “Abraham Lincoln and the Technology of War.” You can plan your visit online. Free timed tickets are mandatory. (

It was determined that Lincoln could not withstand the ride back to the White House and so he was carried directly across the street from the three story brick Peterson House, 516 10th Street. The first floor is open for a self-guided tour of the parlor in which Mary waited and the back bedroom where Lincoln died at 7:22 AM on the 15th. He was 56-years and 62-days old.

Lincoln’s body was placed in a coffin, covered with a flag and carried by hearse to the White House. At 11 AM, six physicians performed an autopsy in a second floor guestroom. Mary Lincoln sent a note requesting that she be given a lock of his hair. 

The body was embalmed, a new procedure at the time, and dressed in the suit he wore at his second inauguration. He was then placed in a mahogany, lead-lined coffin, with handles on each side, silver braids and white satin lining. His head rested on a white silk pillow. The $1,500 coffin was placed on a specially built 11-ft. catafalque in the East Room, the largest room in the White House. On April 18th scores of people came to view the president as he lay in state. 

It is still possible to tour the White House, but tickets must be reserved in advance. The current second floor Lincoln Bedroom functioned as his office during his tenure. Virtual tours are also accessible online.

On April 19th, the official White House funeral was held at 12:10 PM and then the body was carried to the Capitol rotunda for a private service in a hearse pulled by six white horses. On the 20th, there was a public viewing. Tours of the Capitol are given Monday- Saturday. (

Mary Lincoln decided that her husband should be buried in Springfield, Illinois but she did not accompany the body, attend his services or even leave her room because of her overwhelming grief. His body, along with that of their son Willie, was taken on the 21st to the train station to begin the 13-day journey. A special funeral train would pass nearly 200 cities, towns and villages employing nearly 50 locomotives. A portrait of Lincoln was placed on the front of the train. The coffins were situated in a 48-ft. long rail car, made in Alexandria, VA, aptly named the United States.

Lincoln’s Funeral Train arrived in Philadelphia at Broad & Prime, Washington Avenue, in the late afternoon. Earley Undertakers, 10th & Green, had crafted a funeral hearse that allowed people to see the coffin as it passed. It was magnificent and was pulled by eight black horses and accompanied by 11 regiments of soldiers. The route was specifically planned to afford the maximum number of people a view of the procession. It traveled from Broad to Walnut, Walnut to 21st, 21st to Arch, Arch to 3rd, 3rd to Walnut Street and then to Independence Hall. Red, white and blue lights greeted the funeral cortege as it arrived at 8 PM and was received by Union League members.

The coffin was placed in the Assembly Room where the Declaration of Independence had been signed and the Liberty Bell was positioned nearby. People had begun lining up at 5 AM on the 22nd. The first people admitted were the city’s elite. They were given special passes and were allowed to view from 10 PM to 1 AM. Regular admissions began at 5 AM on the 23rd and by that time the line stretched miles from Independence Hall to the Schuylkill River. Though the line was kept moving the wait averaged five hours for the estimated 300,000 mourners.

At 2:30 AM, the body was removed from Independence Hall and, still accompanied by a throng of mourners, taken to the Kensington Station. The train departed for New York at 4 AM.

On May 4, 1865, Abraham Lincoln was interred at Oak Ridge Cemetery in Springfield Illinois. The body was initially placed in a receiving vault until the 116-ft. tomb could be erected. His tomb is encased in steel and concrete and rests beneath the floor. It is open daily for tours.

Mary Lincoln took an estimated 70 boxes of goods and left the White House on May 22, 1865. No one was there to bid her farewell. During her period of grief and preparation for leaving she gifted a number of people with items that once belonged to Lincoln. She gave Frederick Douglass a walking stick and Elizabeth Keckley, her seamstress and friend, his bloodstained cloak, his comb and his brush.

One of Philadelphia’s enduring monuments to the slain leader depicts him at a pivotal point in his administration. A seated Lincoln, quill pen in hand, is signing the Emancipation Proclamation. Sculptor Randolph Rogers has chosen to depict Lincoln in contemplation, gazing toward heaven. The statue was commissioned shortly after the assassination and was one of the earliest monuments to Lincoln. It was dedicated in 1871 and many participants in the Civil War attended the ceremony. The bronze statue is 9-ft., 6-inches, on a 22-ft. granite base. The front of the base is inscribed, To Abraham Lincoln from a grateful people.” It is located at Sedgley and Kelly Drives.

 “Trusting in Him who can go with me, and remain with you, and be everywhere for good, let us confidently hope that all will yet be well. To His care commending you, as I hope in your prayers you will commend me, I bid you an affectionate farewell.”  

A. Lincoln’s Springfield Farewell Speech, February 11, 1861

I wish you smooth travels!

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