|Interment Location||Visited||Sequence in Graves I Have Visited|
|Springfield, IL||August 20, 2004||16th President visited|
As a poor, largely self-educated boy, Abraham Lincoln learned about George Washington through Mason Weems’ biography of the fabled Father of His Country. Eventually that boy too made an indelible mark on the United States as he guided it through its most dire crisis, the American Civil War. The person often feted as the greatest U.S. president and mourned as its first to be assassinated, Lincoln’s memory is enshrined — as his memorial on the National Mall proclaims — “in the hearts of the people for whom he saved the Union.” His body, however, is enshrined in a 117-foot tomb in Springfield, Illinois, that serves as an additional testament to where many people have placed him in the annals of history. Perhaps no statement better sums up Lincoln’s metaphorical stature than the phrase carved into the wall in his crypt, uttered at his deathbed by Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton — “Now he belongs to the ages.”
Four exterior staircases lead to the tomb’s second story observation deck. The looming bronze statue of the martyred president — centered with the obelisk — was sculpted by the man who designed the tomb, Larkin Mead. In his left hand, the first Republican commander-in-chief holds the Emancipation Proclamation, one of his most noted works. The terrace appears to have been closed for several years, possibly in response to damage caused to one of the accompanying military unit sculptures by a visitor in fall 2011. I am so grateful the porch was not cordoned off when I made my pilgrimage in 2004, as I had a close facsimile of Bronze Abe’s vantage point surveying Oak Ridge Cemetery.
The tomb has undergone extensive renovations twice. The first occasion was between 1900 and 1901. During that project, Abraham Lincoln’s casket was opened for one final time before it was placed beneath the floor in a steel cage and covered with several tons of cement. During the second overhaul from 1930 to 1931, one of the changes included the addition of miniature sculptures of the former president in the newly-constructed corridors. President Herbert Hoover rededicated the structure on June 17, 1931.
The ornamental sarcophagus is simple in its inscription, bearing only the president’s name, his birth year, and his year of death. The crypt is lined with flags with connections to the Lincolns. Massachusetts, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and Virginia are included because the president’s ancestors hailed from there. Next is the U.S. flag, followed by banners from the three states in which Lincoln himself resided: his birth state (Kentucky), the state of his formative years (Indiana), and the state where he cut his teeth as a lawyer and politician and raised his family (Illinois). The presidential flag is the last in semi-circular assembly.
My attempt at solemnity and decorum in the crypt belied how ecstatic I was to be there, as home video footage of me outside the tomb proves. Coincidentally, Lincoln — the 16th U.S. president — was the 16th commander-in-chief whose final resting place I visited. This remains the only occasion on which the order of my presidential grave visits corresponded with a president’s place in the sequence of executive officeholders.
Born: February 12, 1809 in Hardin County, Kentucky
Spouse: Mary Todd Lincoln (m. 1842-1865)
Highest Military Rank: Captain — Illinois Militia
Primary Political Affiliation: Republican Party
Presidential Term: 1861-1865
Died: April 15, 1865 in Washington, D.C.
Cause of Death: Gunshot Wound
Last Words: “She won’t think anything about it.”
Interment: Oak Ridge Cemetery, Springfield, Illinois
"Fondly do we hope, fervently do we pray, that this mighty scourge of war may speedily pass away. Yet, if God wills that it continue until all the wealth piled by the bondsman’s two hundred and fifty years of unrequited toil shall be sunk, and until every drop of blood drawn with the lash shall be paid by another drawn with the sword, as was said three thousand years ago, so still it must be said 'the judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether.'"
- Abraham Lincoln
March 4, 1865 in his second inaugural address
Sources Consulted and Further Reading
Hill, Nancy. “The Transformation of the Lincoln Tomb.” Journal of the Abraham Lincoln Association 27, no. 1 (2006): 39-56. https://quod.lib.umich.edu/j/jala/2629860.0027.105?view=text;rgn=main.
Hodes, Martha. “Unimaginable Catastrophe: The Nation’s First Presidential Assassination.” In Mourning the Presidents: Loss and Legacy in American Culture, edited by Lindsay M. Chervinsky and Matthew R. Costello, 98-126. Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 2023.
Illinois Historic Preservation Agency. Lincoln Tomb State Historic Site. Springfield, IL: Illinois Historic Preservation Agency, 2011. http://www.lincolntomb.org/files/LincolnTomb.pdf.
Kandarian, Paul E. “Honest Abe returns to Little Rhody.” Boston.com. May 10, 2010. http://archive.boston.com/travel/blog/2010/05/honest_abe_retu.html.
Lincoln, Abraham. “Second Inaugural Address,” March 4, 1865. Transcript. From University of Virginia, Miller Center. https://millercenter.org/the-presidency/presidential-speeches/march-4-1865-second-inaugural-address.
The Lincoln Tomb. “Design & History.” Accessed January 7, 2022. https://lincolntomb.org/ (Broken Link as of September 3, 2022).
Otwell, Rachel. 2012. “Lost, Found and Replaced: Lincoln’s Sword.” Weekend Edition Sunday, NPR. Washington, DC: NPR, May 20. https://www.npr.org/2012/05/20/153132102/lost-found-and-replaced-lincolns-sword.
President Lincoln’s Cottage. “Black Reaction to the Emancipation Proclamation.” Brave Ideas Blog (blog). February 22, 2013. https://www.lincolncottage.org/black-reaction-to-the-emancipation-proclamation/.
Rhode Island Abraham Lincoln Bicentennial Commission. “Final Report.” June 30, 2010. https://www.sos.ri.gov/assets/downloads/documents/abraham-lincoln-RI-bicentennial-report.pdf.