Mary’s death and funeral

Mary’s Death and Funeral

Donna McCreary


Since her husband’s assassination in 1865, Mary often wrote her thoughts on death and dying.  “My belief is so assured, that Death, is only a blessed transition, to the pure in heart, that a very slight veil separates us, from the loved and lost, and to me, there is comfort in the thought that though unseen by us, they are very near.”


For Mary, death would be a relief and a blessing, but her family was surprised when it came.  She was 63 years old, and until the afternoon before her last day, she was able to move about her room.  In the afternoon of July 15, 1882, Mary became weak and immobile.  Then, she collapsed.   The Edward’s family doctor reported nothing could be done – and Mary expressed no concern about dying or the future.  She communicated with her family until that evening.  Her last words were, “I am dying.”  After losing the ability to use her vocal chords, she answered questions by blinking her eyes. At 1:00 am on July 16th, Mary slipped into a coma.  She died at 8:15 pm without any signs of pain.


The family sent for Mary’s only surviving son, Robert Todd Lincoln who was in Washington D.C. serving as the Secretary of War.  He arrived in Springfield on July 18th.   He gave his final approval for the funeral plans made by his mother’s sister; Mary’s funeral was held the following day.


Mary lay in view in the Edward’s north parlor – the same parlor where she had married Abraham Lincoln.  She appeared to be smiling, and her hands were visible.  Several mourners noticed she wore her wedding ring. Surrounding her casket were floral emblems, expressions of love and esteem from many kind friends.  Her casket was “a plain but substantial coffin.”  It was made of wood and covered in black velvet with almost no relief.  The handles were massive bars of gilt, attached to the wood by large plates of oxidized silver, and were thus strong because of the heavy lining of lead which the casket contained.


After the viewing, the casket was taken to the First Presbyterian Church.  Mayor Crook issued a proclamation for all Springfield businesses to close during the hours of the funeral. Federal, State, city, and county offices were closed.  State officials and their employees attend the funeral.  Mary’s pall bearers included close friends and political allies of her husband.


The church altar was draped with folds of black making a somber background for the ornate white floral tributes to Mary.  Across the casket’s lid was a floral cross containing a single snow-white lily.   Between the casket and the altar stood a three-foot high floral representation of “the Pearly Gates Ajar.”  Visible through the opened gates of the arch was the bust of Abraham Lincoln draped in fresh greenery.  To the right was a floral cross and anchor, five feet in height, surmounted by a cross and crown.  White carnations were used to design the shape of an open book, on which “Mary Lincoln” was written in forget-me-nots. This and a floral pillow inscribed “From the Citizens of Springfield” were tokens of expression from the people.  At the foot of her coffin was a broken column with the representation of a snow white dove perched upon it.  Another snowy pillow was present on which had “Lincoln” written in purple letters and above the name a star and crescent.  Displayed around the church on various tables were other floral arrangements of different sizes and variety.


Mary had requested no eulogy be given. The services began at 10 am with an anthem by the choir.  The Reverend R. O. Post, pastor of the First Congregational Church read a scripture passage and offered an opening prayer.  The choir then sang “Nearer My God to Thee,” and the Rev. James A. Reed of the First Presbyterian Church gave a brief sermon. He spoke of Mary Lincoln’s ancestory and the contributions the Todd family made to American society.  He introduced his subject by describing two pine trees that he had observed growing in the Alleghany Mountains. They had grown on the same rocky crevice, taking their nourishment from the same soil.  Over the years, their roots became so intertwined and the trees stood so close together that their trunks appeared almost joined at the base. One had been blasted by a storm and died.  And as if in sympathy, the remaining tree began to whither until years later, it too wasted away and died as well – same cause – just more slowly and painfully.  So had been the lives of Abraham and Mary.


Reverend Post spoke of Mary as a true and loving wife and mother and dwelt on her womanly traits and characteristics.  Following the sermon, a closing solo was sung by Mrs. T. C. Henkle and a closing prayer was read by Reverend T. A. Parker of the First Methodist Church. The congregation remained seated until the procession had passed from the sanctuary.


A long procession of carriages made its way to the Lincoln Tomb. There they were met by a large assembly of people who had not attended the funeral but wanted to pay their respects as well.


The crypt intended to hold Mrs. Lincoln’s remains was opened and lined with fresh evergreens.  Over it hung a lone star made of white flowers.  Abraham’s sarcophagus was strewed over with cut flowers, and the various floral designs that had been exhibited at the church were now placed in appropriate locations inside the tomb.  The body was conveyed from the hearse into the vestibule, and rested side by side the body of Abraham. Relatives gathered into the little room and listened to a solemn and brief prayer given by Reverend Reed.  Mary was finally laid to rest with her husband and three of her sons.  Springfield said ‘good-bye’ to its First Lady and the procession of carriages began to return to the city.  Only after the hearse return did the businessmen and shop keepers return to their daily tasks. Later in the afternoon, the lid was removed from Mary’s casket the lead lining was sealed. It was then placed in the crypt to be walled up, hidden from view, but not forgotten.

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