SPRINGFIELD, IL— At Abraham Lincoln’s death, Secretary of War Edwin Stanton declared, “Now he belongs to the ages,” but the meticulous, 150th-anniversary funeral procession his hometown presented Saturday proved how profoundly the prairie city still considers the slain president its own.
Thousands of people, including many in period costume, gathered at the Old State Capitol, where the 16th president lay in state, to pay tribute to the simple, country lawyer and thrust the nation toward abolishing slavery.
Lincoln was assassinated just after the American Civil War ended. He is widely considered America’s greatest president by historians for preserving a unified U.S. and declaring that black slaves in southern states would be freed.
Ranks of soldiers in Union blues and pallbearers, including several direct descendants of those who accompanied Lincoln’s casket in 1865, retraced the route from a downtown train station in a replica hearse to the old capitol square, where it rested on a catafalque during opening ceremonies.
Drums pounded out a funeral march and many of the 1,250 Civil War re-enactors strode by while a costumed chorus sang the “Star-Spangled Banner,” and a man in a top hat with a black mourning sash trailing from it ran kid gloves over the coffin in preparation of a bouquet of flowers.
At the Old State Capitol, where Lincoln served in the Legislature and in 1858 riveted a deteriorating union with his “House Divided” speech, Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner opened the weekend’s activities, declaring that Lincoln returned to Springfield a hero for saving the nation and setting its future course.
“His legacy has withstood the test of 150 years, and our love for him has only grown stronger,” the Republican said.
The re-enactment brought onlookers from far and wide, including many men donning top hats and women in hoop skirts carrying parasols. Even a century-and-a-half later, some felt compelled to attend.
It was a natural place to be for Noah Vaughn, a Springfield native steeped in Lincoln from childhood visits to the Civil War battlefield at Gettysburg National Park and Ford’s Theater in Washington, D.C. where Lincoln was fatally shot.
“Lincoln is just a big part of our lives,” said Vaughn, who was at the train station with his wife, Megan, and daughters Klaire, 8, and Kennedy, 5. “This is about his legacy and honoring everything he meant to our country and what he means to Springfield.”
The nation lost a leader, while in Springfield, Bishop Thomas Paprocki of the Catholic Diocese of Springfield said in his opening-ceremony invocation, residents grieved for “not only an esteemed and respected statesman, but their beloved friend and neighbor.”
The period pageantry was juxtaposed with bottled-water sales, onlookers sipping gourmet coffee, and a sea of camera phones stretched above heads to catch glimpses of the action. Before presenting to Rauner a ceremonial coin his country minted for the occasion, Paolo Rondelli, ambassador from San Marino to the U.S., even turned his camera phone on the throng to send home to the southern European country.
The Great Emancipator’s hometown has a checkered history on race. A 1908 race riot spawned the birth of the NAACP, the nation’s oldest civil-rights organization and, 99 years later, on this same capitol square, another little-known former state legislator, Barack Obama, announced his intention to become the nation’s first black president.
Lincoln scholar Michael Burlingame noted in his keynote address that on April 11, 1865, two days after the Confederate surrender, John Wilkes Booth made up his mind to kill Lincoln after he heard the president say blacks should have at least limited voting rights.
As much as Martin Luther King and others who were slain during the 1960s push for equality, Burlingame said, “It is appropriate for us in the 21st Century to regard Abraham Lincoln as a martyr to black civil rights.”
JOHN O’CONNOR, Associated Press___
Lincoln Funeral Coalition: http://lincolnfuneraltrain.org/
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