Mary Lincoln funeral, 1882

The funeral scene at First Presbyterian Church (Frank Leslie’s Illustrated magazine, 1882, via Wikipedia)

Thousands of people viewed Abraham Lincoln’s body between the time of his assassination on April 14, 1865, and his burial two weeks later. By contrast, only relatives and friends were given access to a private viewing following the death of Mary Lincoln.

Mrs. Lincoln, born in 1818, died of a stroke (possibly complicated by untreated diabetes) at the home of her sister, Elizabeth Edwards, on July 16, 1882. (The house, which was south of the state Capitol, was demolished in 1918 to make way for today’s Howlett Building.) The viewing was held at the Edwards home.

Mary Lincoln, 1861 (Wikipedia)

“It had not been publicly announced that the remains could be seen, as such an announcement would undoubtedly have led to a large and continuous flow of people who would gladly have availed themselves of the opportunity to take a last look at the face of one so long known and honored in this community,” the Illinois State Journal reported on July 20, the day after Mary Lincoln’s funeral.

“An audience so large as to be uncomfortable” attended the funeral itself, which was conducted by the Rev. James Reed (1830-90) at First Presbyterian Church, Seventh Street and Capitol Avenue, the newspaper said.

As the procession neared the church, the doors were thrown open and the large crowds which had been waiting about the entrance for hours filed in and secured the best available seats. The throng, however, was so great that many were unable to gain even an entrance.

Mrs. Lincoln’s lead-lined, hermetically sealed coffin was covered in “black velvet and costly trimmings,” the newspaper said, and adorned with a “very elegant” flower cross and crown of rosebuds, carnations and tuberoses.

Not surprisingly, Reed’s eulogy focused on Mrs. Lincoln’s personal losses and struggles – the assassination of her husband and the deaths of three of her four sons. The Journal published the entire text.

“(A)ll that remains of a princely woman lies before us,” Reed said. “A poor, desolate, heart-broken woman, whose sorrows have been too great for utterance, then, has at last yielded to the withering hand of death. …

“So it seems to me today that we are only looking at death placing his seal upon the lingering victim of a past calamity.”

Mrs. Lincoln’s remains were carried by horse-drawn hearse to Oak Ridge Cemetery, where another crowd had gathered – “many having gone out,” the Journal said, “by private conveyances and by the street railways, in advance of the funeral procession, to avoid the dust and to secure favorable positions.”

The hearse was driven up to the side of Lincoln’s Tomb while friends and relatives went around to the tomb’s entrance, which at the time was on the north side of the monument. (In today’s burial chamber, a stained-glass window sits in place of the original entrance.)

The Journal’s story concluded:

The coffin was taken from the hearse, carefully borne within, and placed at the side of the sarcophagus containing the remains of the martyr President, and without further ceremony the friends and the large concourse of people departed, having, in all decency and with deep respect, paid the last sad rites to the remains of Mary Lincoln.


  • According to a ledger discovered in 2016, Mary Lincoln’s funeral expenses came to $278.75. The ledger surfaced after Springfield’s Butler Funeral Homes purchased the Boardman-Smith Funeral Home. Undertaker Thomas C. Smith (1830-93) handled local funeral arrangements for both Abraham and Mary Lincoln.
  •  Mary Lincoln’s physician, who determined she had died of a stroke, was Dr. Thomas Dresser (1837-1907). He was a son of the Rev. Charles Dresser, who conducted Abraham and Mary Lincoln’s wedding and later sold them what today is the Lincoln Home National Historic Site. Oddly, Dr. Dresser was a veteran of the Confederate Army – he attended Louisiana Medical College, which apparently led to him serving three months with a Louisiana Confederate regiment in 1860.
  • Eight prominent men were designated as Mary Lincoln’s pallbearers: Shelby M. Cullom, Judge Samuel Treat, James C. Conkling, Milton Hay, Jacob Bunn, O.M. Hatch, John Williams and Capt. John S. Bradford.
  • The Journal, July 18, 1882:
    “There having been less or more curiosity as to the value of Mrs. Lincoln’s estate, it is probably not improper to say now that the United States bonds belonging thereto amount to $74,000. This is apart from whatever personal effects she may have.” According to one inflation calculator, $74,000 in 1882 was equivalent to $2.4 million in 2024.

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