Funeral procession outside Cook County Court House, May 1, 1865

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Funeral procession outside Cook County Court House, May 1, 1865
Chicago History Museum, Gift of R. Hamlin Petty, Sr.

Can you see the crowds of people on the right side of this photograph? President Abraham Lincoln's funeral was a huge event that occurred across much of the United States over the course of twelve days. A special train brought the coffin westward from Washington, D.C. back to Lincoln's hometown of Springfield, Illinois. At each stop, mourners turned out to see the funeral train and, in some cities such as Chicago, to view the body itself. Often people would wait hours to pay their respects. For most, it was their first look at the president who had been through so much. Many regarded Lincoln as the last casualty of the Civil War, or as the nation's savior who was sacrificed to end the country's troubles. This photograph shows the hearse carrying Lincoln's coffin standing near the Cook County Courthouse, roughly where the current one stands today. The train carrying the coffin pulled up along the lakeshore that morning, and citizens dressed in black solemnly marched through the streets of Chicago to reach the courthouse. Thirty-six high school girls dressed in white gowns and black headbands put wreaths on the casket—one for each state. The morning had been rainy. Can you see the muddy streets in the photograph? But the day cleared after the train reached Chicago. There were no long speeches, just the slow ringing of the courthouse bell. More than 37,000 people made up the procession from the lakeshore to the courthouse, and in all, about 125,000 mourners—about half the entire population of the city—viewed Lincoln's body before the funeral train took it to its next destination.

1. Can you think of an event where it seemed that the entire city either celebrated or mourned for someone or something?

2. Old photographs like this albumen print are very detailed. Historians can learn a lot from looking at them. Can you see how any of the buildings have been changed to prepare for Lincoln’s funeral?  What is hanging from some of the windows?

3. How did the photographer take this photograph? From where? Remember, cameras at this time were not hand-held; they were big wooden boxes on three-legged stands called tripods. 

Further reading:

The Lincoln Institute. “President Lincoln’s Funeral.” The Lehrman Institute and the Lincoln Institute. Accessed July 22, 2011.

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