Funeral Car

Click image to enlarge

Funeral Car
c. 1865
Augustus Tholey
23 x 29 in.
Chicago History Museum

In its day, this “car”—actually a carriage with eight horses—would have been very special, and a very unusual sight. Though Abraham Lincoln’s corpse travelled in a train from Washington to his hometown of Springfield, Illinois, his coffin stopped at towns and cities along the way so that he could be viewed by the people. Americans took pride in the respect they showed the body. They believed that nothing was too good for the assassinated President. Local governments spent thousands of dollars draping buildings in black cloth, building complex coverings—called catafalques—for the coffin, and, as we see in this print, preparing funeral carriages to move Lincoln’s body from the train to local funeral ceremonies. Lincoln’s coffin arrived in Philadelphia on April 22, 1865, only a week after his death, and was placed in Independence Hall, where the Continental Congress had met and declared America free from Britain in 1776. The inside of the hall was completely draped in black cloth; twenty-five vases of flowers and over one-hundred candles surrounded the coffin. On April 23, the doors opened at 6 a.m. and stayed open until the next day at 1 a.m. Some 120,000 people came to see Lincoln that day.

This large broadside is an advertisement for E. S. Early, the undertaker who made Lincoln’s funeral car. A lot of visual information can be seen in contemporary ads like this. Look at the men’s hats. Lincoln wore stove-pipe hats like this, which were fashionable in the 1850s and 60s.    

1. Look at the horses. Do they look naturalistic?  Why would the artist have tried to make them look more ideal?   

2. What would be the equivalent kind of car today for special funerals? 

3. Why do you think all the shutters and doors are closed on the buildings in the background? 

Further reading:

Swanson, James L. Bloody Crimes: The Funeral of Abraham Lincoln and the Chase for Jefferson Davis.  New York: William Morrow/HarperCollins, 2011.

Williamson, David Brainerd. Illustrated Life, Services, Martyrdom, and Funeral of Abraham Lincoln. Philadelphia: T. B. Peterson and Brothers, 1865.

© Chicago History Museum
For information about reproducing collection images, please contact Rights and Reproductions at the Chicago History Museum.