Nation Still Mourns Abraham Lincoln

USA TODAY, July 2013 | Go to article overview

Nation Still Mourns Abraham Lincoln


A trove of information exists about Abraham Lincoln's funeral, which drew millions of mourners during a two-week railway procession across the northern states but, until now, the precise color of the President's railcar had been lost to history.

With the 2015 sesquicentennial of Lincoln's death approaching, interest in it is rising and, with new tools, researchers at the University of Arizona, Tucson, have turned their attention to one of the last remaining mysteries about what was "perhaps the largest funeral in American history," says Wayne Wesolowski, a chemist and model train maker who was director of the Lincoln Train Project at Benedictine University near Chicago for 10 years.

In 1995, he completed a years-long project of building a scale model of Lincoln's car, the locomotive and hearse and horses, all together measuring nearly 15 feet in length.

A Chicago group known as the Lincoln Funeral Car Project approached Wesolowski to consult on their efforts to build a full-size version of Lincoln's funeral car, intending to trace as closely as possible the funeral route for the 150th anniversary. An obvious question: what color to paint the new replica? However, no color photographs, lithographs, or contemporary paintings exist of Lincoln's private car, named The United States. Newspaper accounts from the time describe the color as both "rich chocolate brown" and "claret red," but "chocolate" in 1865 strictly was a drink, very different from the milk chocolate we know today, so the two descriptions are compatible.

The car burned in a fire in 1911, having been sold at auction to Union Pacific after the funeral and passing through several private hands afterward. …

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