Remembering Lincoln as a Local and a Friend

Editor’s Note: The Museum of the Grand Prairie has participated in the Remembering Lincoln Digital Collection by contributing pieces from its own collections, and those of local Lincolniana collector Kent Tucker.  Located in Champaign County, Illinois, the museum is in one of the counties of the 8th Judicial Circuit, where Lincoln practiced law for 20 years before his presidency.

Though eventually held up as a national icon, Abraham Lincoln particularly endeared himself to the state of Illinois during the time before his presidency. In the wake of his death, an enormous wave of grief rushed across the state.

Mourning Lincoln in Champaign County

Legends of Lincoln’s presence in Champaign County abound, from his time spent at the Ohio/Nine Gal Tavern, to fording rivers in the middle of the night, to traveling down the Sangamon River.

Lincoln was a beloved member of the community, and area residents felt his loss acutely.

In reflecting on Lincoln’s life and death, some wrote to local newspapers sharing their memories of Lincoln in his youth that highlighted his unassuming nature and intelligence. Others told of Lincoln’s early political career in Illinois, particularly his untiring talent for engaging crowds. They also emphasized his compassion and humanity during the war.

One Collector’s Archive

The museum has not only contributed local Illinois reactions to Remembering Lincoln, but also pieces from a personal collection of Champaign County resident Kent Tucker. A 40-year collector of Lincoln-related items, Tucker has a collection that spans the nation and beyond. Perspectives are wide-ranging: from soldiers to citizens, personal letters to official reports; all of them illustrating grief and societal turmoil in the wake of Lincoln’s assassination and death.

News clippings come from the United States and as far away as Italy and Argentina.

Some letters in Tucker’s collection feature rumors and conjecture surrounding the fate of the others who were attacked on the night of Lincoln’s assassination. Several express concern over the future of the country and strong sentiments regarding Booth’s demise. In one letter to his cousin, a man named W.C. Colly writes:

I am sorry that in our town there was some Copperheads who have the rebel cause distilled into their hearts so deep that they expressed joy on hearing the sad news. Even their southern brethren have lost their best friend if they did but know it. The report is they have shot Booth. Shooting is too good for him, he ought to be burnt over a slow fire. It does not look quite so clear for peace as it did before the assassination of Lincoln.

Lincoln’s Funereal Return to Springfield

One of the most interesting pieces in the collection is a photo of Lincoln’s funeral train stationed outside of Chicago. The train, after leaving Washington, D.C., carried Lincoln’s body on an extensive tour of the eastern United States, making its way through Illinois until reaching its final destination of Springfield, Ill.

The Lincoln family home in Springfield awaited the president’s at the end of the long funeral train ride. The home was draped in mourning cloth, and mourners surrounded the house, posing in large groups for pictures.

Reflected again and again through the recollections and antique memorabilia of mourners of the era is the idea that Lincoln was a friend to all—soldiers, civilians, Union, the rest of the world, and even vanquished Confederates.

Explore the full Remembering Lincoln collection for yourself online.

Megan McCoy is the registrar at the Museum of the Grand Prairie. She is finishing her Master’s degree in Anthropology: Museum and Heritage Studies from the University of Denver and has a BA in Anthropology from the University of Washington.