When Lincoln's body was on display here

Jacques Kelly

February 12, 1993|By Jacques Kelly

As the nation celebrates Abraham Lincoln's birthday today, many Baltimoreans may not know that his body lay in state here -- even if only briefly -- before the 16th president was taken to his final resting place.

The body of Lincoln, who died April 15, 1865, came through Baltimore Friday morning, April 21, certainly one of the most sober days in the city's history.

Lincoln's body was transported by a seven-car Baltimore and Ohio Railroad train. The sound of tolling brass locomotive bells marked its arrival here. The railroad ordered any available locomotives into the yard area south of Camden Station. As the funeral train approached, the steam engines struck their bells.

Lincoln's casket was unloaded at Lee Street, just west of Sharp Street, a location now owned by the state on the harborside of Oriole Park at Camden Yards. This location remains in active CSX railroad service.

The coffin was carried through Camden Street Station as dignitaries looked on. The depot was draped in heavy black crepe and swatches of sable fur to signify the great period of national mourning. Military and civilian brass bands played funeral dirges on Camden, Howard, Eutaw and Pratt streets.

After a few minutes, the coffin was placed in a hearse for the procession up Eutaw Street, then east on Baltimore Street to Gay Street. Here the column of marchers, military units and worthies turned south, toward the harbor, and walked a block to the Merchants' Exchange, a fine old public building at Gay and Water streets. It served as the city's post office, but all its equipment and desks were moved out for the occasion.

Two important Methodist bishops, Daniel Payne and Alexander Wayman, led the black marchers. Henry Benedict Coskery, the Baltimore Archdiocese's vicar general, marched in his robes.

A hush fell over the crowd as they viewed the cortege -- a rosewood hearse pulled by four jet-black horses, each richly caparisoned. The hearse was much talked about. It was rumored to have cost $3,500, a considerable sum in 1865 dollars.

The oval-shaped wagon had French glass side panels so those along the route might glimpse the coffin. It had six upright side plumes on the outside and a pair of silver head lamps. Elisha Cox, a Bank Street livery stable owner, drove it.

Lincoln's body lay in state for only about 90 minutes at the Merchants' Exchange, which had been trimmed in no less than 2,800 yards of black muslin. The city had erected an elaborate catafalque, also upholstered in black and hung with silver fringe. It was banked with evergreens and japonica.

A Sun reporter observed the great man stilled in his casket: "The countenance still preserved the expression it bore in life . . . the lips firmly set but half smiling, and the whole face still indicating the energy and humor which characterized the living man. The beard was shaven close save a tuft on the chin."

It was a highly emotional 90 minutes. The crowd occasionally surged through the building. Some women fainted and more than a few people got scraped by soldiers' bayonets.

Then it was time to put the casket back into the hearse for the trip to the Calvert Street Station, the site of today's Baltimore Sun building.

The cortege moved along Baltimore Street, swung north on Calvert, passed the Battle Monument and entered the station, where the coffin was loaded on a Northern Central Railroad train to Harrisburg, Pa., the next stop on the long trip to Lincoln's home in Springfield, Ill.

Precisely at 3 o'clock, the engine gave a shrill whistle and edged out of the depot. At 3:40, the train reached Lutherville, where seminary students formed a line. Residents of Cockeysville assembled by the tracks. At Monkton, someone held a sign, "Honor to whom honor is due."

Along the route, many "exceedingly plain and poorly dressed" mourners stood by the railroad tracks. Many raised handkerchiefs to their eyes. "The deepest sorrow was expressed in every countenance," The Sun reported.

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