It was late the night of April 26, 1865 when President Abraham Lincoln’s funeral train made a brief stop in Syracuse on it’s way to the president’s final resting place in his home state of Illinois. Onondaga Historical Association Curator of History Dennis Connors says that spring, many families were reeling from the civil war. Thousands of men from Onondaga County had volunteered to fight.
"People, obviously, because of the deaths and the injuries were anxious for the war to be over. They get this very good news earlier in April of Lee finally surrendering. They knew that was really the beginning of the end."
But then came the news five days later that President Lincoln was assassinated. Even those who didn’t support his policies couldn’t comprehend what happened.
"Things really shifted into a real sense of mourning and shock. You get the impression that people were sort of walking around stunned for awhile. But certainly, still happy that the war was really winding to a close."
Connors says patriotic displays celebrating Robert E. Lee’s surrender gave way to black banners and arm bands mourning Lincoln’s death. Syracuse and other cities across the country held memorial services. A eulogy was given by former congressman Charles B. Sedgwick.
"Every square inch of Hanover Square was just packed with people. Thousands turned out for that memorial service. That was kind of the main local event, if you will, that was done as a reaction to Lincoln's assassination. They knew that eventually the funeral train would be coming, but was not going to stay for very long."
Late on April 26th, Lincoln’s funeral train arrived at Vanderbilt station on Washington Street between Warren and Salina.
"Pulled into the station, and had about a 15 minute stop. The station was crowded with people. People had been gathering there for hours trying to get a good view."
One of the mourners was Ansel Judd Northrup, a young lawyer who campaigned for Lincoln and kept a very detailed diary.
President Lincoln had actually made the same trip through Syracuse four years earlier enroute to Washington D.C. for his inauguration.
There’s an effort to bring a replica of the funeral car to Syracuse, perhaps this fall. Dennis Connors says the car would likely travel on a flatbed truck instead of the railroad, and roughly follow the funeral train’s path from Washington to Springfield, Illinois…only in reverse.
"Our plans were, if it's coming to Syracuse, would be to bring it right to Clinton Square. It's very accessible for people. And, of course the big Civil War monument is right there in Clinton Square. We would have some events, we would have some Civil War re-enactors."
Connors says it wouldn’t be with muskets and cannon-fire, but rather with a group that plays period musical instruments. He says the Coronet Excelsior band has researched the funeral music of the time, and is willing to come to Syracuse as part of a commemoration. Connors says details and logistics of the event are still being worked out.