Onlookers moved by re-enactment of Lincoln funeral train

Reenactors carry an authentic replica of Abraham Lincoln's coffin at the B&O Railroad Museum's commemoration this past weekend of the sesquicentennial of Lincoln's funeral.
Reenactors carry an authentic replica of Abraham Lincoln's coffin at the B&O Railroad Museum's commemoration this past weekend of the sesquicentennial of Lincoln's funeral. (Kaitlin Newman, Baltimore Sun)

It was a funeral re-enactment, but the tears that glistened on Cindy King's cheeks were real. The woman from Littlestown, Pa., took part in the retelling of Abraham Lincoln's funeral rites on Saturday at the B&O Railroad Museum, embodying a civilian overcome with emotion at the sight of the assassinated president's remains. And she scarcely wept alone.

Many museum patrons were moved by the "War Came By Train" exhibit, which marked the 150th anniversary of Lincoln's death. The production featured re-enactments of Lincoln's funeral cortege, a replica casket, Civil War soldier re-enactors and funeral music played by the Federal City Brass Band.


As with the War of 1812 events re-enacted through last year, Saturday's exhibit illustrated Baltimore's involvement in events that shaped the nation's history.

"To embody the role you have to a grasp of the history," said King, 67. "The death of Abraham Lincoln, I'm convinced, changed our entire American history."


The funeral cortege lasted about 15 minutes and featured the placing of the coffin at the center of the museum's landmark roundhouse. Inside the coffin was a mannequin that bore a striking resemblance to the president, who was assassinated by one-time Baltimore resident John Wilkes Booth at Ford's Theater in Washington.

After the re-enactors circled the coffin, hundreds of spectators followed.

Guest curator and exhibit designer Daniel Carroll Toomey, who also narrated the event, told the crowd that in 1861 Lincoln had traveled through the northern states en route to his inauguration. Following his death, his remains were sent back to his home state of Illinois along a similar route.

"To plan this elaborate event," Toomey explained, "Secretary of War Edwin Stanton called on his trusted friend John Work Garrett, president of the B&O Railroad, and Governor John Brough of Ohio. The funeral train would travel 1,600 miles over 25 different states and take 13 days to complete its mournful journey."

Toomey said that the first stop for public viewing came in Baltimore, an event held on April 21 at the Merchants' Exchange Building on Market Street.

Although the building was just nine blocks from Camden Station, which was used by the B&O Railroad, the procession took three hours to pass through the city, he said. Lincoln's casket was made of walnut with lead lining, covered with white satin and framed with silver plates, he added.

"Over 7 million people saw Lincoln's funeral train between Washington and Springfield," Toomey said. "Probably a million people viewed Lincoln's casket in procession.

"I believe Lincoln's funeral is the most extensive presidential funeral in the history of the ... United States. A lot of people say, 'What about Kennedy?' Those people watched on television. These 7 million people that watched Lincoln's funeral train go by stood in the rain and stood in the dark."

Those who stood in the viewing procession on Saturday lauded the event.

"The procession by the casket, I thought that was a really good re-enactment," said Tom Williams, 52, of Bowie, who said he also attended the event because of a fascination with trains.

"I wanted to learn more about the role that trains played in the transport of troops and arms during the war," he said. "And the significance of the funeral procession — I wanted to see what that would have been like."

Rob Gutro, 52, of Bowie said he attended the event "to honor the memory of President Lincoln and all the achievements that he made."


Other artifacts on display at the museum included a reproduction of the overcoat Lincoln wore on the night of his assassination and a 2-cent copy of the Philadelphia Inquirer newspaper dated April 17, 1865.

Before the event, museum executive director Courtney Wilson said visitors would be able to understand "the first great American tragedy."

"As I looked around the roundhouse, people were in tears," Wilson, 61, said afterward. "They were visibly moved by being in this experience that was replicating something ... so important here in Baltimore 150 years ago."

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