Mount Pulaski Courthouse remembers the Lincoln Assassination all of April

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[April 12, 2019] 

On the evening of April 14, 1865, President Abraham Lincoln and his wife Mary were looking forward to a relaxing evening at the theater. They dressed for the evening and made their way to the Ford Theater in Washington D.C. They planned to take in a play with some special friends by their sides. It should have been a wonderful evening.

The Civil War had reached its climax. General Lee had surrendered his confederate troops at Appomattox on April 9th and that began the end of the war. A war that had taken its toll on the President was coming to an end, and he should have been happy and content. Perhaps he was. But that night would not end on the happy note that he and Mary had anticipated.

As the couple enjoyed the play, John Wilkes Booth delivered a fatal wound to the President. Lincoln was shot, but did not die instantly. He was rushed across the street to a hotel where he was tended to by a doctor but to no avail. Lincoln lingered through the night, with his wife and fellow statesmen by his side and at 7:22 a.m. on April 15th his life ended.

It was a tragedy that would never be forgotten. Lincoln was loved by many, heralded as a hero and a humanitarian who cared for all living souls regardless of the color of their skin. While Lincoln claimed his goal was never to stop slavery, it was the end result of all his efforts.

On April 21st, a train carrying the body of the beloved President left Washington and proceeded to Springfield where he would be laid to rest. The train traveled slowly and thousands of people lined the tracks in communities along the route mourning and showing respect for the man who has since been dubbed as the greatest President the Union has ever seen.

The train arrived in Springfield on May 4th, 1865. Lincoln’s body was transferred to a horse drawn hearse and was taken to the state capital. The body lay in state for 24 hours and it is reported that during that time, 75,000 people passed the coffin to pay their respects.

This year at Mount Pulaski Courthouse, the month of April has been set aside to remember President Lincoln on the anniversary of his assassination. The courthouse has a number of special displays set up for the month and visitors are encouraged to stop in and take a look around the historic courthouse where Lincoln practiced law prior to being elected President.

A special feature of the display is a replica of the Lincoln hearse created by Eugene Letterly of Latham. Letterly is well known in the Latham and Mount Pulaski areas for his ability to re-create small versions of a number of things. In addition to the hearse, many will remember the carnival scene he has created that has been featured at the Mount Pulaski parades on many occasion. Letterly has also made things such as toy tractors and a bicycle built for four.

On Saturday, April 6th the courthouse hosted a reception with cookies and punch and Letterly as the guest of honor. Letterly was given a room on the ground floor of the courthouse where he visited with folks who came in and shared photos of some of his projects.

The replica of the Lincoln funeral hearse is displayed in the main entry of the courthouse.

Courthouse site manager Barbara Stroud-Borth and volunteers Dorene Smith and Barbara Morrow also visited with guests as they came in and shared information about the numerous displays set up for the anniversary month.

Barbara Morrow spent a great deal of her time with Letterly as the two are good friends who belonged to an antique tractor club together. Morrow and late husband Arland were active in the club with Letterly and Morrow still attends the club meetings. Morrow was also the one who suggested that Letterly’s hearse should be put on display.

Dorene Smith spent a good part of her day assuring that guests visited each room. She enjoyed showing off the hearse as well as a special collection of pennies that were on display in another of the side rooms.

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The Lincoln head penny came about on the President’s 100th birthday year - 1909. The collection of pennies on display included pre-1909 Indian Head pennies and post 1909 pennies with Lincoln on the front and a variety of images on the back. And even a few wartime coins that are made of steel rather than copper (circa 1943).

Over the years, there have been on a few changes to the backs of the pennies. The penny has featured the “Wheat” on the back, as well as the nation’s capital, and the E. Pluribus Unum Shield. There have also been a few special reverse or flip sides produced including the commemorative coins produced on Lincoln’s 200th birthday.

In 2009 the U.S. Mint produced four commemorative coin backs depicting different stages of the President’s life. Those backs included Lincoln the Railsplitter, Lincoln the state legislator and Lincoln the President in addition to a coin of the Lincoln Birthplace.

In yet another room a display is set up featuring what would have been the mourning clothes of women in the 1860’s. The black dress with a black cape or wrap would have been typical of what Mary Lincoln and others close to the Lincolns would have worn during the days after Lincoln’s death.

In the main hallway of the courthouse, a poster featuring poetry written in tribute to the President is on display along with many other displays and pictures/posters related to the Lincoln funeral as well as the funeral reenactment that was held in Springfield in 2015.

Among the items in the poetry display are tributes to the President by world famous poet Walt Whitman.

HUSH'D be the camps to-day,
And soldiers let us drape our war-worn weapons,
And each with musing soul retire to celebrate,
Our dear commander's death.

No more for him life's stormy conflicts,
Nor victory, nor defeat—no more time's dark events,
Charging like ceaseless clouds across the sky.

But sing poet in our name,
Sing of the love we bore him—because you, dweller in camps,
know it truly.

As they invault the coffin there,
Sing—as they close the doors of earth upon him—one verse,
For the heavy hearts of soldiers.

- Walt Whitman, May 4, 1865

In addition to the items specifically related to Lincoln’s death, there are a number of other special displays including items from one of Mount Pulaski most beloved re-enactors of the president – Harry Hahn. Included among the Hahn collection are photos and write-ups about the Lincoln reenactor. Harry Hahn bore a remarkable resemblance to Lincoln, he stood tall and thin and with his carved features and beard, he took on the persona of the president at various events throughout the community for a total of 39 years.

Hahn was also honored to perform at the White House in front of President Jimmy Carter.

On display from Hahn is the stove pipe hat that was given to him by Larry Henrischmeyer of Mount Pulaski. It was Hahn’s first such hat and it is reported that he wore it for at least 20 of the 39 years. In 2018, 18 years after the passing of Hahn in 2000, his family gave the hat to the courthouse. It is now carefully preserved and displayed inside a plexiglas box.

The many displays commemorating the death of President Lincoln will be available for viewing at the Mount Pulaski Courthouse throughout the month of April. The courthouse is open noon to 4 p.m., Tuesday through Saturday.

[Nila Smith]

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