Abraham Lincoln's Assassination
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23 People Viewed the Remains and Identified Them as Mr. Lincoln's
In 1900 the Lincoln Tomb located in Oak Ridge Cemetery in Springfield, Illinois, was in need of repair and underwent a reconstruction. Construction of the present tomb took 15 months, and during that time Mr. Lincoln's coffin was in a temporary grave a few feet away. The photograph to the left shows the temporary grave after being opened, and the pine box holding Mr. Lincoln's coffin is clearly visible. In May 1901 Robert Lincoln visited the tomb and decided things needed to be changed again. In 1876 thieves had failed in an attempt to steal Mr. Lincoln's corpse and hold it for ransom. Robert didn't want a repeat of that possibility. This time the coffin would be buried in a huge cage ten feet deep and then encased in concrete. In the photograph below, Mr. Lincoln's coffin is in the center. The outer pine box that had been broken away lies to the right of the coffin. Many of the men removed their hats out of respect.
Both the cage and the coffin would be hardened forever in a solid block of rock. Robert's idea for this had come from the burial procedure employed for George M. Pullman (inventor of the Pullman sleeping car).

Finally, on September 26, 1901, all was ready. Because of the permanency of this burial, a discussion arose among those present as to whether the coffin should be opened. Some people argued that the remains should be identified due to rumors around the country that Mr. Lincoln was not the body in the box. Other people thought opening the casket would be a violation of privacy. In the end, it was decided to open the coffin.

Two plumbers, Leon P. Hopkins and his nephew, Charles L. Willey, chiseled an oblong piece out of the top of the lead-lined coffin. The piece these two men cut out was just over Mr. Lincoln's head and shoulders. When the casket was opened, a harsh, choking smell arose. 23 people slowly walked forward and peered down. Mr. Lincoln's features were totally recognizable. His face had a melancholy expression, but his black chin whiskers hadn't changed at all. The wart on his cheek and the coarse black hair were obvious characteristics of Mr. Lincoln's. The biggest change was that the eyebrows had vanished. The president was wearing the same suit he wore at his second inauguration, but it was covered with yellow mold. Additionally there were some bits of red fabric (possibly the remnants of an American flag buried with Mr. Lincoln). All 23 people were unanimous in their agreement that the remains were indeed those of Abraham Lincoln.

After the viewing of the body, the oblong piece was then soldered back into place. The coffin was lowered into the cage. 4,000 pounds of cement were then poured down covering the cage and casket. For various reasons, Mr. Lincoln's remains had been moved 17 times since his original burial. They would be moved no more. Mr. Lincoln lies buried 10 feet beneath the floor of his tomb that is visited by more than 1,000,000 people a year.

One of the people who viewed the body was a man named J.C. Thompson. In 1928 Mr. Thompson said, "As I came up I saw that top-knot of Mr. Lincoln's - his hair was course and thick, 'like a horse's,' he used to say - and it stood up high in front. When I saw that, I knew that it was Mr. Lincoln. Anyone who had ever seen his pictures would have known it was him. His features had not decayed. He looked just like a statue of himself lying there."

All 23 of the people who viewed the remains of Mr. Lincoln have long since passed away. The last one was Fleetwood Lindley who died on January 31, 1963. Three days before he died, Mr. Lindley was interviewed. He said, "Yes, his face was chalky white. His clothes were mildewed. And I was allowed to hold one of the leather straps as we lowered the casket for the concrete to be poured. I was not scared at the time but I slept with Lincoln for the next six months." Mr. Lindley was 75 when he died and 13 when he had viewed the body. He had been the only child to do so. Mr. Lindley was buried in Oak Ridge Cemetery not far from Lincoln's Tomb. The photograph to the left depicts the youthful Mr. Lindley at age 13. The one to the right depicts him when he was 75.

Over the years there has been some confusion over who was the last living person to view Abraham Lincoln's remains. Was it Fleetwood Lindley or George Cashman? Cashman's wife, Dorothy M. Cashman, wrote a pamphlet entitled The Lincoln Tomb. Her husband, George L. Cashman, was (at the time of her writing) curator of the tomb. The couple actually lived on the grounds of the Lincoln Tomb. Mrs. Cashman dedicated her pamphlet to her husband. On page 14 of The Lincoln Tomb Mrs. Cashman wrote, "At the time of his death in 1963 Fleetwood Lindley was the last living person to have looked upon Mr. Lincoln's face." It seems highly logical to me that Cashman would have told his wife had he actually been present in 1901. Thus, based on Mrs. Cashman's own word, I feel Fleetwood Lindley was indeed the last living person to have viewed the remains.

The information on this page was taken mostly from an article by Dorothy Meserve Kunhardt in the February 15, 1963, edition of Life magazine (pictured at top). Also, I consulted The Assassination of Lincoln: History and Myth by Lloyd Lewis. The Life article includes photographs (the source of those on this page). Also, please see chapter 8 (pp. 181-197) of Thomas J. Craughwell's 2007 publication entitled Stealing Lincoln's Body.

The photographs on this page were taken in the spring of 1901 when Mr. Lincoln's casket was moved from the temporary grave into the rebuilt Lincoln Tomb. No photographs of the viewing of the remains (September 26, 1901) exist. However, a photograph of Mr. Lincoln in an open coffin that was taken in New York City in 1865 does exist. Click here to view it.

Abraham Lincoln's coffin has been moved 17 times, mostly due to numerous reconstructions of the Lincoln Tomb and fears for the safety of the president’s remains. The coffin itself has been opened five times: December 21, 1865, September 19, 1871, October 9, 1874, April 14, 1887, and September 26, 1901. (SOURCE: p. 61 of the Abraham Lincoln Fact Book and Teacher’s Guide by Gerald Sanders.)

LEFT: The derrick is poised to lift the coffins of the Lincoln family from the ground. RIGHT: When the protecting outer box was broken away and Abraham Lincoln's red cedar coffin revealed, six construction company workmen carried it into the monument chamber and placed it in the white marble sarcophagus.

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