Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Being A Part of History by Reliving It: Mourning for Lincoln

~I would like to begin this post by noting that I did not attend the Mourning for Lincoln event in Springfield, Illinois the first weekend in May 2015. Unfortunately, the lack of finances reared its ugly head and, therefore, it wasn't meant to be for me or my wife to go. 
But, rather than wallow and whine about it, I found myself, instead, thoroughly enjoying all of the pictures taken by my friends who had gone. And because of their great, great photos, stories, and their willingness to allow me to post them here (along with some of their thoughts of the remembrance), I have been able to vicariously witness the ceremony through them (in a small way).
And now you can, too!
So won't you join me in this time-travel moment and see, through the eyes and lens of some very good friends, the 150th reenactment of the Mourning for Lincoln? ~
Would you say that we, as reenactors, "relive history"? 
That we, in a way, become a part of history?
Or is it presumptuous for me to even say "to become a part of history"?
But as living historians, isn't that what we do?
Isn't that what visitors expect to see at a reenactment...history come to life?
I ask these questions because, once again, it seems that living historians and reenactors brought the past to life vividly, and what could have been a bland, boring heavy speech-laden 'remembrance' (ala C-span) turned into something very special - one of which non-living historian witnesses will remember for years to come - because of the presence and participation of the living historians and know, the folks who study the past deeper than most and know how to act and fully understand how to bring the past to life. From what I've seen and heard, it was those who practice this 'time-travel' art that made it such a success.
And I believe they may finally be receiving the credit they so deserve!
On the weekend of May 1, 2, and 3, 2015, a thousand or so reenactors showed the country the power of reenacting at a very special event - one that I would have loved to have attended and participated in, for it was a once in a lifetime opportunity: the 150th anniversary of the Mourning for Lincoln in Springfield, Illinois. Billed as an "accurate and dignified reenactment of the historic anniversary of Abraham Lincoln's funeral procession," it was the one event out of all of the 150th anniversaries that I had hoped to be a part of.
But since I could not, I would like to thank my good friends Larissa Fleishman, Vickie St. John, Samantha Mansfield, Sally VanderArk, and Sheri Giffin for seizing the opportunity and "reporting back" in words and pictures.
I do appreciate it!
First, let's begin by seeing the extremes the promoters went to for historical accuracy:
Here is an 1865 photograph of the original funeral train car that carried the body of President Lincoln on the journey home to Springfield, Illinois from Washington City (D.C.) in April 1865.
Here is the exact replica of the Lincoln funeral train car you see in the above photograph that was on display in Springfield for the 150th anniversary. If it's not an exact replica then it's very close. (Courtesy of Vickie St. John)

From April 1865, an image of Lincoln laying in state. Note the extravagance of the casket.
Here is an exact replica of the Lincoln coffin as seen at the 150th remembrance. (Courtesy of Vickie St. John)
Here's a photograph that I took of the Lincoln casket when it was part of an exhibit at the Plymouth Historical Museum in Plymouth, Michigan in April 2009.
I wonder if this is the same one that was at the 150th?

And now for the hearse: another original 1865 photograph...
...and the replica of the original. These folks really went all out to mark the 150th anniversary! (Courtesy of Sally VanderArk)

And then there were the mourners...the living historians who brought this very important and sad time in our Nation's history to life through pomp, circumstance, and ceremony in a very honorable and moving remembrance.
As was written on the Mourning for Lincoln web site:
"2015 will be an extraordinary year for re-enactors, individuals and organizations that are steeped in Civil War history. This year not only brings to a close the 150th anniversary of the Civil War, it will remind the world of the 150th anniversary that changed the course of American History – the death of President Abraham Lincoln.
For the first time since 1865, re-enactors, period carriages, visitors and dignitaries will, on MAY 1 – 3, 2015, convene in Springfield, Illinois, to pay tribute to our 16th President with superb events and the unparalleled historic and solemn re-creation of the funeral procession to Oak Ridge Cemetery.
(Although MONDAY, MAY 4, 2015 is the official anniversary date of President Lincoln’s burial, the above dates were selected to preclude weekday business disruption.)"

As you will see, the promoters and reenactors alike really pulled out all the stops to make it as historically accurate as they could. 

Here we have 21st Michigan members Larissa and her mother, Violet, posing in front of Lincoln's casket. (Courtesy of Larissa Fleishman)
“It was weird how random & instant the tears fell.  They would just stream down my face.”
“The choir sounded like angels wafting over the tops of the building. It was amazing how silent the city was - it blew my mind. The 1/2 mast flag was another.” (Photo courtesy of Larissa Fleidhman)
Paying last respects to our 16th President:
“It felt somber, and reflective. I never cried, but it made me do a lot of thinking about the reaction then and how our society is today. I agree that it was a reflective time. I loved the respect and silence.” (Photo courtesy of Samantha Mansfield)
According to my friends, the tears shed were real. (Courtesy of Samantha Mansfield)
Surprisingly, the line up to pay last respects wasn't too bad, and it was mainly the period-dressed reenactors who walked up to pay respects - very little modern folk did this.
(Courtesy of Samantha Mansfield)
“It was great to be a part of that. Even the spectators were playing their part by remaining quiet. It was somber, but I also felt a bit of celebration for such a great man.” (Photo courtesy of Samantha Mansfield)

The throngs of people, including over 500 civilians and over 400 Civil War military, crowded into the street, just as was done 150 years ago.
 “It was totally different in nature. There were a good number of really beautifully dressed civilians, and that tells me people who take this hobby seriously wanted to be there. It was very special to be there, and it may rank in my top couple of events ever. It made me respect what we do even more.”  (Photo courtesy of Vickie St. John)

“We were amazed at the silence, too. Even the spectators (were silent). That was incredible!!!” (Photo courtesy of Vickie St. John)

“This event was well organized, authentic and passionate for everyone present. It was very cool to be a part of it.” (Photo courtesy of Vickie St. John)

And then the final procession as part of the 150th anniversary of Lincoln's funeral took place on Sunday May 3. The hearse pulled by a team of horses carrying the replica silver-bedecked coffin of the slain president followed a close historical route of the original funeral in 1865. Highlights of the journey included passing in front of Lincoln's home on S. 7th St., Edwards Place, as well as the original entrance to Oak Ridge Cemetery on N. First St. with the final stop at the original Lincoln receiving vault on the cemetery grounds where a ceremony and final farewell took place. 
The replica ostrich-plumed Hearse (Photo courtesy of Larissa Fleishman)

“I think a lot of us were reflecting in our own little world as we marched. That's how it was for me, at least. The silence is something that I will never forget.” 
“It was surprisingly quiet during the whole procession, and I saw both reenactors and the public crying, too. It was a very somber event.” (Photo courtesy Allie Tomkie)

“I had my emotional moments while walking in the procession. We were surrounded by people dressed so great, and we were just marching in silence. Then when we got near the old Capitol and heard the choir singing....everyone around us was wiping tears away. One of my reenacting career highlights for sure.” (Photo courtesy Amanda Fross)
As spectators, I saw part of the funeral going down the street-right before we left. It was quite moving - I felt a pride in something deeper than I've known.”

My friends who attended this event took advantage of their time in "The Land of Lincoln" and played 19th century tourists. One stop was Lincoln's home on S. 7th Street:
"To this place, and the kindness of these people, I owe everything. Here I have lived a quarter of a century and have passed from a young to an old man. Here my children have been born and one is buried."-Lincoln's farewell address to the people of Springfield on his departure for Washington in 1861

For 17 years, Abraham Lincoln, the 16th president of the United States, called this simple comfortable house at the corner of 8th and Jackson Streets home, from the time he purchased it in 1844 until he left Springfield in 1861 to face the ordeals of secession and civil war in Washington, DC.  The only house he ever owned, it saw his transformation from a small town lawyer to a figure of national importance, and witnessed some of the most important events in his life prior to his inauguration as president. (From the Lincoln Home national Historic Site)
(Photo courtesy of Larissa Fleishman)

Sheri, from the 24th Michigan, poses in front of the Lincoln Home.

The ladies of the 24th Michigan and the Michigan Soldiers Aid Society pose in front of the Lincoln home.
“This event was near the top for me. For civilians I would say it is #1.” (Photo courtesy of Sally VanderArk)

The lovely Miss Violet & Miss Larissa attended the 1st Presbyterian Church, the same one the Lincoln's attended for 11 years. It was a very somber service. (Photo courtesy of Larissa Fleishman)

21st Michigan members Amanda and Vickie stand near the hearse. Vickie, who has been reenacting longer than I believe anyone I know, said this was one of the best she's ever attended. (Photo courtesy of Vickie St. John)
Then there is the 19th century "selfie" of Vickie, Amanda, and Larissa. (Courtesy of Vickie St. John)

My friend, Kristen (from The Victorian Needle), also attended this special event, only she went as a sutler. She makes period-correct jewelry for women and brings documentation of what she sells at events. Though she's always been interested in period jewelry, she only begun selling what she makes for a couple of years. And because she sells such high quality historically-accurate merchandise, she was approved to sell at the Mourning for Lincoln event. As her "reenacting father," I couldn't be more proud!
Oh! By the way - she'll be selling her wares at Greenfield Village's Civil War Remembrance Weekend later this month, so for those participating or just attending, won't you come and see her?
(She does offer a small line of RevWar-era jewelry as well, just in case you were wondering.)

So, there you have it.
Even though I wasn't there, I felt the need to publish a posting about the 150th Lincoln mourning reenactment. As I stated at the beginning, reenactors and living historians not only relive history, but they become a part of history as well.
Whether it's realized or not, all who reenact are looked upon by the average person as experts. And those who practice the historical "art" of living history in its truest form become, in almost every sense, actual people from the past, and take historical presentation even further. That's why it's so important to understand that once you put on period-accurate clothing and step into the public, all eyes are on you. You have become a time-traveler. An expert.
And those who attended Mourning for Lincoln certainly accomplished this.
Til next time, see you in time.  

Premier Night of the Movie "Lincoln"
The Last Mourner for Lincoln
Lincoln at Gettysburg - First-Hand Accounts
The Lincoln Rocker
Lincoln's Birthday Celebration




Autumn Artist said...

I was in that crowd somewhere...

Ann@A Sentimental Life said...

Enjoyed your post. We were fortunate to have the Lincoln Train Car come to Charleston IL where I helped with the tours. It is simply amazing!

Elaine said...

Ken, thank you. As one of the civilian coordinators, feedback like this is very appreciated. We had more than 500 civilians registered for the event, which gave us a substantial "crowd." One of my favorite moments was looking backwards from the head of the civilian procession and seeing a long line that stretched around the corner.

I can give you some information: the coffin was specially made for this event. And all the tears were real - people, both reenactors and spectators, found themselves sobbing.

My husband, who was one of the pallbearers, and I will be at Greenfield Village CW days. I hope we can get together! I will be presenting some of my research on both Sunday and Monday as well. I'd love to see you!

Historical Ken said...

Thank you for your comments Elaine. I could only go by what my friends who attended told me and they all gave it two thumbs up.
I'm very glad you like this posting.
Please come and see me at Greenfield Village - we'll be camped in the grove of trees near Hank's Silk Mill.
Where will you be at?

Elaine said...

I present on Sunday and Monday at 1 pm. We are camping as guests of the 4th Michigan, so I am thinking that we'll be near the Edison factory again.

Gary Alexander's said...

Thanks for posting this Ken, my husband and I had the honor of participating in this event. The best comment that I overheard a spectator say was "That must of been what it really looked like" There is no better praise that a reenactor can receive than hearing we helped people feel like they are really getting to see history as it was.