Sunday, February 22, 2015

Sesquicentennial of the Lincoln Funeral Train

There is an article in today's Register-Star about the plans underway to commemorate the sesquicentennial of the events surrounding Abraham Lincoln's assassination on Good Friday in 1865: "Lincoln funeral train needs a helping financial hand." Since I am quoted in that article, I thought it would be useful to elaborate on the part of the commemoration with which I am directly involved: the re-creation of what happened in Hudson when the Lincoln funeral train stopped here on the night of April 25, 1865.

Edward Davis Townsend, then Assistant Adjutant General, was the commander of the funeral train that bore the coffin of Lincoln and that of his son Willie from Washington, D.C., to Springfield, Illinois, in the spring of 1865--a journey that began on April 21 and lasted until May 3. 

Two years ago, Jamison Teale alerted Gossips to the description from Townsend's journal of what transpired in Hudson when the funeral train stopped here on April 25, 1865. The passage is quoted in James L. Swanson's book Bloody Crimes: The Funeral of Abraham Lincoln and the Chase for Jefferson Davis, which is where he had discovered it. The following is that account:
At Hudson . . . elaborate preparations had been made. Beneath an arch hung with black and white drapery and evergreen wreaths, was a tableau representing a coffin resting upon a dais; a female figure in white, mourning over the coffin; a soldier standing at one end and a sailor at the other. While a band of young women dressed in white sang a dirge, two others in black entered the funeral-car, placed a floral device on the President’s coffin, then knelt for a moment of silence, and quietly withdrew. This whole scene was one of the most weird ever witnessed, its solemnity being intensified by the somber light of the torches at that dead hour of night. 
On April 25, 1865, the train arrived in Hudson at 9:45 p.m. Daylight Saving Time wasn't introduced until 1918, so 9:45 p.m. in 1865 translates to 8:45 p.m. in 2015, and on April 25 this year, at 8:45 p.m., the scene that Townsend called "one of the most weird ever witnessed" by be re-created down by the train station.

Using Townsend's description, supplemented by other historic accounts, a team, which so far includes Jamison Teale, Windle Davis, Stephanie Monseu of Bindlestiff Family Cirkus, Mary Deyerle Hack of Diamond Opera Theater, and Melissa Auf der Maur of Basilica Hudson, is working to re-create what happened in Hudson when the funeral train stopped here. Very soon, auditions will be held for the "band of young women dressed in white" who will sing dirges of the period. Although Townsend doesn't tell the number of women who made up the band in Hudson, other sources indicate that such choruses were often made up of thirty-five young women, to represent the number of states in the newly restored Union. Hence, we are seeking thirty-five young women to make up our "band." Monseu has designed a wonderful costume for the choristers, inspired by period images, so spread the word that female singers are sought. When it has been determined when and where the auditions will be held, it will be announced on Gossips and by fliers distributed around town. 

And save the date! Plan to be down by the station on April 25 (it's a Saturday) to witness history re-created.

1 comment:

  1. Absolutely stunning that Hudson now has this wealth of interest and talent to recreate such an event.

    This never would have happened in 1990.

    What an amazing city we are becoming .