The Land of Lincoln

Our second baseball trip in 2007 took us through the heart of Illinois. We were coming from seeing the Burlington Bees (Iowa) beat the Clinton Lumber Kings (Iowa) 10-7 on our way to see the Joliet Jackhammers (Illinois) play the Gary Southshore Railcats (Indiana). But we had given ourselves extra time to do some sightseeing. And Springfield, IL, is a great place to do that.

First, Springfield is the capital of Illinois, so they have all the grand buildings that house the politics and legal accouterment needed to run a state. Other museums and sites in the city include a restored prairie-style home designed by Frank Lloyd Wright, a natural history museum, a water park and a zoo. And, of course, Lincoln memorabilia and monuments abound here. The original state capitol building, his home and neighborhood, the Presidential library and museum, and, certainly, Lincoln’s tomb are just a few of the sights spread across Springfield.

One of the more interesting tours is the Lincoln home and neighborhood. This is the only house that he ever owned. The family lived there from 1844 until his election to the presidency, when they left for Washington in 1861. The entire four-block neighborhood is registered as a historic sight, not just the Lincoln house, and is a slice of the 19th century. Several restored houses provide exhibits that portray Lincoln’s life as a family man, lawyer and neighbor. It was our misfortune to be visiting the week that they were making repairs to the Lincoln house, so we didn’t get to go inside, but we got some nice pictures of the painters hanging off of ladders.

The Lincoln Presidential Library is also a historian’s dream, with its 12 million artifacts and the most pre-presidential material in the country. However, the Presidential Museum caters best to families with its special effects theater, the gallery with priceless artifacts, special interpretive areas for children and the grand Holavision, providing special insight into Lincoln’s time through talking ghosts of those who were there.

By far, though, the most impact comes from visiting the Lincoln tomb in Oak Ridge cemetery. At the time of his death, the president’s wife, Mary Todd Lincoln, remembered that they both had loved the setting of this cemetery and she insisted that he be buried there. The monument atop the tomb sits on a rise and can be seen through the trees as you drive into the cemetery. It is an imposing , solemn sight and if you can only see one thing in Springfield, this is the one.

The story of the President’s entombment is bizarre to say the least. His body was moved 17 times before it came to rest in its steel reinforced concrete crypt. After the assassination on April 15, 1865, Lincoln’s body traveled by train to Springfield, first stopping at 10 cities along the way in order that thousands of mourners could pay their respects. Along with the President’s remains were also the remains of his son Willie who had died in 1862 and had been buried in Washington D.C. At Oak Ridge cemetery, on May 4, the two caskets were placed into the public receiving vault. At the same time, a temporary vault was being constructed, intended for the President’s sarcophagus until the permanent National Monument could be designed and built. After verifying that the body was truly Lincoln’s, the casket along with Willie’s and another son, Eddie, were moved into the temporary vault.

After major fundraising by the National Lincoln Monument Association tasked to plan and develop the monument and tomb, in 1868 chose the designer, Larkin G. Mead of Vermont to produce the exterior statuary and a local contractor, W. D. Richardson, to construct the monument. By 1871, the tomb was completed enough to accept internment. But that was not the President. Instead, his son Tad died of a fever after returning from Europe. His remains became the first interned in the new tomb. Two months later, the President and his other two sons were moved. In addition, the Association decided to remove Lincoln’s remains from the original wooden casket to a metallic casket that could be better sealed.

Efforts continued by the Association to raise funds for the completion of the monument and tomb. In 1874, to prepare for the dedication of the monument and tomb, the President’s body was once again removed from its metal casket, verified as his remains and placed into a lead-lined, red cedar casket which was then placed into a marble sarcophagus. On the day of dedication, amongst speeches, much fanfare, and music, the Lincoln statue on a pedestal in front of the obelisk was unveiled. The Association’s Vice President, the Honorable Jesse K. Dubois, expressed the hopes of all Lincoln’s family, supporters and fellow Americans when he said, “There may he rest in peace.” This was not to be. Two years after the dedication, a plot to steal Lincoln’s body was devised.

In 1876, an engraver for a Chicago Irish counterfeiter’s ring, Benjamin Boyd, was sentenced to 10 years in Joliet Penitentiary. Big Jim Kennally, boss of the gang, hatched a plot to take the body, bury it in a sand dune on Lake Michigan and ransom it for Boyd’s release and $200,000. After all, the tomb was behind a simple padlocked gate and the seal on the sarcophagus was only plaster of Paris. How hard could it be to steal it?

Kennally recruited Terence Mullen, a saloonkeeper, and Jack Hughes, a counterfeiter of nickels, to do the job. They in turn recruited Lewis Swegles, whom they thought was a grave robber; after all, they knew nothing about robbing graves. But the surprise was on them. Swegles was a paid informant for the Secret Service and he ratted them out, giving up all the details as they were being planned.

When the actual theft was attempted, it was more a matter of how inept could criminals get. First, they didn’t know how to pick the gate lock, so they had to saw through it. Then when they attempted to take the sarcophagus, they couldn’t lift it from its platform. When a detective’s pistol accidentally discharged outside the tomb, the would-be robbers ran for it, but not effectively. They ran back to their saloon in Chicago, where they were picked up by the Secret Service a few days later.

The custodian of the tomb, John Carroll Power, in the meantime, was concerned that if inept criminals could get that close to the casket, what damage professional grave robbers could do. Thus, he and a small group of trusted friends hid the body in the basement of the crypt under a pile of detritus left over from the construction. It simply looked like a wood pile. Two years later, they managed to bury it under a few inches of dirt. The small group of confidants were eventually named “Lincoln Guard of Honor,” and told to never divulge the whereabouts of the casket.

The only person outside of the group of confidants who knew of its location was the President’s only living son, Robert Todd Lincoln. When his mother passed away in 1882, he told the Guard of Honor to bury her with his father. In 1887, the remains of both the Lincolns were encased in a brick vault. Beforehand, the Guard of Honor once again opened the casket to verify the remains as the President’s.

By 1900, the original tomb was in need of repair and Robert Lincoln was unhappy with the disposition of his parents’ remains. He wanted a permanent crypt built. Therefore, in 1901, after major reconstruction had been done on the tomb, the President’s body was once more exhumed and the casket opened for one last viewing.

According to reports, Lincoln still looked like himself in life. His face had a tan complexion from the shooting, but his hair, beard and mole were all the same. Thirty years in the grave had done little to change his visage. Some 23 people were present at the final viewing. Then the President’s casket was placed in a steel cage 10 feet deep and encased in concrete in the floor of the tomb. The empty white marble sarcophagus was placed over top of the location.

A second renovation of the tomb took place in 1930-31, reconfiguring the entrance to the tomb to accommodate more visitors. A red granite sarcophagus replaced the white marble one because, during the reconstruction, the white sarcophagus was placed outside the tomb to make room for the workers and eager souvenir hunters destroyed it.

All of the Lincoln immediate family, except Robert, are buried in the Oak Ridge crypt. Robert and his family are buried in Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia. In the Presidential crypt, names are engraved in the walls over the location of each family member. Lincoln’s sarcophagus stands in the middle of the room. Behind it is a small window, above which are the words of Secretary of War Stanton at the moment of the President’s death: “Now He Belongs To The Ages.” And safely, too.

If you make the trip to the Land of Lincoln, a good place to start with your planning (besides your Baseball American Directory!) is the Looking for Lincoln website <>. This is a coalition of central Illinois historic sites that tell the stories of President Lincoln. It is well worth the telling.

Information about the Lincoln crypt came from:
“A Plot to Steal Lincoln’s Body,”
“Lincoln’s Tomb,” Museum of Funeral Customs leaflet
“Lincoln Tomb State Historic Site” pamphlet
Lincoln Tomb docents

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