Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Last to see Lincoln

This man, who died the year I was born, was the last person alive to have viewed the face of American president Abraham Lincoln (1809-1865). Fleetwood Lindley (pictured in 1963 and as a young boy) remembered the day clearly and recounted it many times.

When Lincoln's sarcophagus was to be permanently interred in a newly-built tomb in Springfield, Illinois, in 1901, Lindley's father – a friend of the president and one of a team of men who had taken it upon themselves to safeguard his remains after they had almost been stolen – pulled the 13-year-old boy out of school with instructions to ride his bicycle quickly and secretly to Oak Ridge Cemetery. Lindley hurried to the tomb and was ushered into a chamber that contained 22 people, including several members of the so-called Guard of Honor. The room contained a fan, a lamp, and the exhumed casket on a pair of sawhorses. The windows had been covered over so that no one could see inside. The same two plumbers who had sealed the casket in 1884 used chisels to reopen it, releasing a pungent, choking smell. Lincoln's face was revealed, and Linwood realized at the time that it was a lifetime experience. White chalk had been applied by an embalmer to the president's dark brown face, the headrest had fallen so that his neck was thrown back, and his eyebrows were missing, but the mole on his cheek and the coarse black hair were easily recognizable. Though his clothing had mildewed, Lincoln was dressed elegantly in a black broadcloth suit, a small black bow tie, and a pair of kid gloves. The casket lid was resoldered and Linwood was allowed to hold one of the leather straps as it was lowered beneath the tomb floor and sealed with concrete.

Lindley died at the age of 75 and was buried in the same cemetery as Lincoln's tomb. He had told his story in person to California professor Ronald Rietveld - who had been a boy of about the same age when he discovered the only existing photograph of Lincoln in his casket.

1 comment:

  1. This is a fascinating story, as is the link to the discovery of the Lincoln photograph. Thank you!


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