Cemetery of the Week #89: Abraham Lincoln’s monument

Exterior of the Lincoln Tomb, postcard postmarked 1909

Exterior of the Lincoln Tomb, postcard postmarked 1909

Lincoln Tomb
Oak Ridge Cemetery
1500 Monument Avenue
Springfield, Illinois 62702
Telephone: (217) 782-2717
Founded: 1874
Size: 12.5 acres
Number of interments: 5
Open: November through February: Tuesday – Saturday 9 a.m. – 4 p.m.
March through April: Tuesday – Saturday 9 a.m. – 5 p.m.
May through Labor Day: Monday – Sunday 9 a.m. – 5 p.m.
September, post Labor Day, through October: Tuesday – Saturday 9 a.m. – 5 p.m.

Coming up on February 12, 2013: the American Legion conducts a Lincoln’s Birthday Program from 10:30 a.m. until 11:30 a.m. at the tomb. Other events, including a Boy Scout Sunday and Civil War re-enactors, are scheduled here.

Ford's Theater National Historic Site in Washington, D.C. The President's box is draped with flags.

Ford’s Theater National Historic Site in Washington, D.C. The President’s box is draped with flags.

When the Civil War ended on April 9, 1865, not long after Abraham Lincoln’s second inauguration, many refused to accept peace. Five days after the Confederacy surrendered, on Good Friday, John Wilkes Booth shot the President in the back of the head. Lincoln died the following morning without regaining consciousness.

Lincoln was the first president to die from an assassin’s bullet. The nation reeled from the shock and mourning gripped the northern states. A funeral carriage delivered Lincoln’s body to the White House, where doctors performed an autopsy and undertakers embalmed his body. He was dressed in the same black suit he had worn to his inauguration.

Lincoln lay in state in the Capitol rotunda from April 19 until the 21st. After that, his casket was escorted to the train, which would retrace the circuitous path Lincoln took when he rode to the White House in 1861. Hundreds of thousands of people saw him lying in state in Baltimore, Philadelphia, New York City, and Chicago, among other cities. Millions more lined the train tracks to watch the “Lincoln Special” pass.

Lincoln’s funeral was celebrated on May 4, 1865, when he was laid to rest in the receiving vault at Oak Ridge Cemetery. Mary Lincoln would have preferred to have had Lincoln buried in the vault which had been prepared for George Washington in the Capitol Building in D.C. or perhaps in Chicago, but Springfield’s businessmen banded together to offer a suitable monument to their hometown hero. They wanted to bury Lincoln on a hill visible from the city’s train station, but Mary had visited Oak Ridge’s dedication ceremony in 1860, while Lincoln ran for his initial term as president. She remembered that her husband told her that he wanted to be buried somewhere quiet. The rural cemetery seemed like the ideal place.

At the end of 1865, Lincoln’s body was removed from the receiving vault and placed in a temporary vault near the tomb. He was moved into the unfinished tomb in 1871, which was finally dedicated in 1874. The 117-foot tomb, designed by sculptor Larkin Mead, was constructed of brick faced with granite from Quincy, Massachusetts. Two sets of stairs lead to a terrace crowned with an obelisk. At the corners of the tower stand four bronze sculptures, each representing one of the four Civil War services: infantry, artillery, cavalry, and navy. The obelisk’s south side features a bronze statue of Lincoln. A bronze reproduction of Gutzon Borglum’s marble head of Lincoln, located in the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C., stands at the tomb’s entrance.

Linen postcard showing the interior of Lincoln's tomb after the remodeling in the 1930s.

Linen postcard showing the interior of Lincoln’s tomb after the remodeling in the 1930s.

In 1876, thugs from Chicago broke open the white marble sarcophagus in which the President lay, attempting to steal Lincoln’s body and hold it for ransom. They couldn’t move the 500-pound iron coffin. Pinkerton officers arrested them after they fled the scene.

The interior of the tomb is highly polished marble trimmed with bronze. Lincoln was disinterred and his body hidden several times as the tomb was rebuilt and remodeled. In the end, his coffin was sealed in an iron cage, then sunk into concrete in a vault ten feet below the marble floor of the burial chamber. A massive red granite cenotaph in the shape of a sarcophagus marks the gravesite. Crypts in the chamber’s south wall hold the remains of Lincoln’s wife Mary and three of their four sons: Edward, William (who had died at the White House), and Thomas. The eldest son, Robert T. Lincoln, is buried in Arlington National Cemetery.

Kodachrome postcard of the cenotaph, surrounded by flags from places where Lincoln's body lay in state.

Kodachrome postcard of the cenotaph, surrounded by flags from places where Lincoln’s body lay in state.

The Oak Ridge Cemetery temporary vault, the scene of President Lincoln’s second burial, is located at the base of a hill north of the Tomb. It is also considered a historical treasure now.

Also located within Oak Ridge Cemetery are several War Memorials. These honor citizens of Illinois who served in World War II and the Wars in Korea and Vietnam.

The 365-acre Oak Ridge Cemetery is also the final resting place of 70 other notable historic figures, including labor leaders, poets, four Illinois governors, and Lincoln’s law partner. An audio tour called “Stories in Stone” provides a guided tour of unique monuments from the 1800s. It’s available from the cemetery office at the Monument Avenue entrance to the cemetery.

Useful links:

Oak Ridge Cemetery’s website

Illinois Historic Preservation Agency’s page on Lincoln’s tomb

The history of Lincoln’s tomb

The National Park Service’s survey of Lincoln’s tomb

Slideshow of events at Lincoln’s tomb

Why is the nose on Lincoln’s bronze bust so shiny?

Information on the other people buried at Oak Ridge

GPS information on CemeteryRegistry.us

Other Presidential grave sites on Cemetery Travel:

George Washington

Ulysses S. Grant

4 responses to “Cemetery of the Week #89: Abraham Lincoln’s monument

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