SPRINGFIELD, ILLINOIS —
Over the last four years, commemorative events to mark the 150th anniversary of the U.S. Civil War have brought thousands of visitors to battlefields and historic landmarks across the country. In Illinois, the final event in the Civil War's sesquicentennial honors the final journey home of the slain American President, Abraham Lincoln.
150 years ago on a wind-swept spot near Lake Michigan in Chicago, the coffin holding the remains of assassinated President Abraham Lincoln began a somber return to his hometown of Springfield.
Dan Weinberg, of the Abraham Lincoln Book Shop in Chicago, says a concerted effort was made to remain faithful to the past while planning the 150th anniversary commemoration.
"There were 36 states in the Union, and they had one young woman [for each state] dressed in white with a crepe around a white dress, each with a lily, that stood at the side of the hearse, then at the appointed moment, placed the lily on the coffin," said Weinberg.
Equally faithful to the events that unfolded 150 years ago was the carefully choreographed re-enactment of the procession of Lincoln's body as it arrived in Springfield May 3rd, 1865.
"It was total silence, and they took the coffin out of the train and through the large gothic arch 40 feet tall," said Weinberg.
The replicated coffin and hearse that traveled through Springfield's downtown streets drew thousands of onlookers young and old, many who dressed in ornately-designed period military uniforms and costumes, like Diane and Charles Sanders.
"This is a very special occasion. Lincoln was an Illinoisan. He was one of our favorite sons as well as a renowned national figure," said Charles Sanders.
Sanders said the massive turnout for this event 150 years later is a testament to Lincoln's lasting legacy as "The Great Emancipator" who ended slavery in the United States.
"People of all races, people of all persuasions, identify with what Lincoln stood for. We are trying to reconnect today, we are coming back to that, we are trying to reconnect for what Lincoln stood for and what he did," he said.
Pemon Rami of the DuSable Museum of African American History says Abraham Lincoln's assassination on April 15, 1865, at the close of the Civil War, elevated the 16th President's status in America's collective memory.
"He is more of a myth than a man," he said. "It's by no accident that we remember the fact that he was murdered. It was Frederick Douglass who said, had he maybe lived to be an old man, our appreciation might have been different. I think people will always look back and be questioning the impact that he had."
But in the crowd of history enthusiasts who gathered in Springfield, the lens of time focuses on the legacy of one of the most well-known and respected figures in American history.