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Lincoln's Coffin

A replica of the coffin in which President Abraham Lincoln is buried was on display at Ellsworth Funeral Home August 24, 2012, during their Open House celebrating 100 Years of Service.

It is one of five replicas made 10 years ago by the Batesville Casket Company of Indiana. The coffin was built on the only known surviving 1865 photograph of the one in which President Lincoln is shown lying in state.

Four of the five coffin replicas travel the nation for display at funeral homes and the fifth remains as part of the permanent collection at the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum in Springfield, Illinois.

Custom For Lincoln

President Lincoln’s coffin was the most elaborate of that time. His coffin was constructed of solid walnut, lined with lead and completely covered in expensive black cloth. It was 6 feet, 6 inches long and was decorated with sterling silver handles and sterling silver studs extending the entire length of its sides. Though the coffin appears austere compared to modern caskets, the original was custom made for the president and featured a removable two-part top and a lead lining. The replica does not contain lead. The distinction between a coffin and a casket is that a coffin has six sides (diamond shaped) and a casket has four sides.

Revenge, greed & curiosity

The coffin played prominently in a plot by thieves to steal the president’s body. In 1876, when a counterfeiting ring’s top engraver was imprisoned, his gang decided to break into the tomb and steal the body. They planned to hold Lincoln for a ransom of $200,000 in gold and the freedom of the engraver. As the coffin was being removed from the tomb, the plot was foiled when lawmen made their move.

In 1900, President Lincoln’s son, Robert, was afraid that more attempts to steal the President’s body would be made. He decided that the new burial chamber was inadequate and plans were made to permanently protect the President from any future attempts to enter the grave. It was during this time of construction that the coffin of President Lincoln was opened. A select few had the opportunity to view the body of President Lincoln one last time. The reasoning for this was to ensure that previous attempts to steal the body of the President were not successful. It was determined that the body in the coffin was indeed that of the President. His appearance had not changed much since that of his original burial in 1865.

On September 26, 1901, President Lincoln was then permanently buried. The coffin was placed in a cage 10 feet deep and encased in 4,000 pounds of concrete. At last, President Lincoln was at rest.

A Nation Mourns

It is estimated that one million people viewed President Lincoln’s body from the time of his death until his burial in Springfield, Illinois. His coffin was the most elaborate of that time. President Lincoln also had the distinction of having the largest funeral throughout the world, until President John F. Kennedy’s death in 1963.

It could be said that Abraham Lincoln’s death triggered the beginning of modern day funeral service. President Lincoln was the first public figure to be embalmed and put on view for almost three weeks. The embalming technique used on President Lincoln was primarily used on soldiers who died during the Civil War and needed to be transported home for burial. Being able to view the body for extended periods of time without being iced was the precursor for modern day funeral service. People at that time thought embalming was a barbaric violation of the body, but Lincoln’s funeral had changed that perception. President Lincoln’s public viewing introduced the population to the benefits of embalming. Mourners were able to see the late president for twenty days and embalming made it possible.

Additional Information

Lincoln historian Jeff Gould gave an outstanding presentation, which can be viewed at: 

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