After funerals in a dozen or more cities between Washington and Springfield, three weeks after that madman Booth destroyed the nation’s last best hope, the Great Man rolled into town in a special railroad car, gently borne on a million spirits. A million heads bared, a million knees bent, a million arms wrapped in black crape, a million voices mute as they tread past his bier for one last gaze at his craggy face.
After the Springfield viewing, the men carefully placed the coffin lid, set the screws, and silently secured it. Sergeants of the Veterans Reserve Corps carried the coffin out to the hearse, an elaborate rig of gold, silver, and crystal sent all the way from Missouri by the City of St. Louis. Six black horses, polished to a shine as bright as their leather harness, pulled the hearse out here to Oak Ridge Cemetery, followed by Old Bob, the Great Man’s horse, draped in a mourning cloak.
Lilacs cloyed the blistering air that morning, varnished the lungs of man and woman alike with heavy scent, dragged at their breath like a pall. The steady beat of the drums – drums that had beat an endless cadence for sixteen hundred miles all the way from Washington City, drums muffled to an interminable heartbeat – drove the procession inexorably – generals, soldiers, family, government officials, friends and citizens – as if they were all to be interred as well. Indeed, the Great Man’s son Robert, only twenty-one years old, looked ready for the grave himself. Exhausted with the long journey, countless memorial arrangements, the dismal prospect of returning to Washington to bring home his fragile mother Mary – for the rest of his life, Robert would be eaten by a certainty of the infinite loss he had suffered in the death of his father.
Finally, after beautifully wrought speeches and ceremonies had wrung the last dregs of emotion from the survivors of this new, harsher world, it was over. No more elaborate funerals, eloquent elegies, patriotic dirges, drudging processions. The masses disbanded, to find their aimless ways back to town, to try to take in a lungful of life again. All the way back to the railroad depot, the five Camp Butler regiments marched in solemn step to Handel’s doleful “Dead March in Saul.”
[Excerpted from a short story I wrote. The details provided are all recorded facts. – SMC]
[Click here to read the entire short story “The Flag on the Great Man’s Breast.”]
[Click here to read Walt Whitman’s poem: President Lincoln’s Funeral Hymn a/k/a “When Lilacs Last in the Door-yard Bloomed”]