Lincoln never road alive in rail care built for him
June 1, 1995
By Pamela Cressey
Excerpts from Miss Isabel Emerson’s diary, Alexandria, 1861-65:
- March 1861: “Went to Washington to the inauguration. … The President’s carriage was strongly guarded as it was feared he might be assassinated.”
- April 1861: “There is such excitement. The southern states are all seceding. I don’t know whether I am a Secessionist or not. …”
- May 1861: “We are just like prisoners, not allowed to go outside the gates as Yankee soldiers are everywhere.”
- December 1864: “Mr. Lincoln has been re-elected. I wonder if he is not sorry. Such a weight of responsibility. I should think he would feel dreadful about this great sacrifice of human life.”
- January 1865: “Funerals of the Federal soldiers are constantly passing en route to the military cemetery. The sound of the Dead march will ring in my ears long after this war is over.”
- April 1865: “Thank God the war is over! … The cause so bravely fought for is lost. … ”
- April 15, 1865: “A sad, sad sequel to the war has occurred. Last night President Lincoln was assassinated while sitting in his box at Ford’s theatre by someone unknown. … Every house is draped in black by order of the government. … There is a spirit of gloom everywhere.”
Miss Emerson’s diary is dealt with in much greater detail in “Pen Portraits” by T. Michael Miller. The diary excerpts were first published in the Alexandria Gazette in 1924. They provide a vivid sense of being an Alexandrian during the Civil War and the effect of Lincoln’s assassination.
The personnel in the United States Military Railroad Station must have been stunned when they learned that their new rail car made for the president required conversion to a hearse. They were awaiting Lincoln’s reply to an invitation for a trial ride on April 15. Instead, he died the night before.
A pyramid-shaped catafalque was built by Myron H. Lamson to hold the silver-mounted coffin in the center of the rail car’s stateroom. Heavy black drapes, cords and tassels now adorned the room where rich red and green plush had once awaited the president.
For more information about the Lincoln car, see Bob Slusser’s paper published by the Alexandria Historical Society and call the Alexandria Archaeology museum at 838-4399.
While we do not expect to find an artifact as large as a rail car, the city archaeology excavation has begun on the grounds of the George Washington Masonic National Memorial. Call for information about Public Dig Days for the whole family.
Pamela Cressey is the Alexandria city archaeologist.