Drawing of a group of people gathered around a square gazebo in a park.
Photo courtesy of Library of Congress.

Cleveland, Ohio, and Lincoln’s Assassination and Funeral

5 min read

This is the first in a series of posts by Remembering Lincoln Digital Collection partner institutions, discussing the items they are contributing to the project and the impact of the Lincoln assassination in their localities.

Abraham Lincoln died at 7:22 a.m. on Saturday, April 15, 1865. The telegraph carried news of the President’s death almost instantaneously across the nation, following the previous night’s reports of John Wilkes Booth’s attack at Ford’s Theatre. In Cleveland, Ohio, Mayor George Senter, alerted to the telegraph news, issued a broadside at 9 a.m. that day, calling for businesses in the city to close and for the citizens of Cleveland to gather at 3 p.m. in Public Square, the ceremonial center of the city.

A large crowd gathered in Public Square on the afternoon of Saturday, April 15. The mood was subdued, for the citizens were in shock at the loss of the President. But not all the citizens of Cleveland were grief-stricken. The city had its share of Democrats, enough so that one of its newspapers, the Plain Dealer (not in publication during a change in ownership at that time) had been a consistent opponent of  the abolition of slavery and a strong anti-Lincoln voice in the 1860 election. The paper generally encouraged giving into Southern states’ demands in order to maintain the union.

One individual in the crowd that Saturday afternoon was apparently like-minded. J.J. Husband, an architect and the designer of the third Cuyahoga County Courthouse (erected in 1858 on the northwest corner of Public Square), was heard to say, “Lincoln’s death was a damned small loss;” “While you have had your day of rejoicing, now I have mine;” and further, “This is a good day for me!”

The crowd’s immediate reaction caused him to reconsider his remarks. He left Public Square and headed for the newspaper offices of the Morning Leader to deny that he said any such things and then walked to his own office to hide. The crowd chased him there to find him hiding on the roof. The mob assaulted him, throwing him through the skylight into his office! After further assaults, some prominent citizens took Husband to the county courthouse for safekeeping. But he fled from there the next day, leaving the city.

Vowing that his name would never be spoken again, the citizens of Cleveland took chisel and hammer to the cornerstone, removing Husband’s name forever. The courthouse was replaced in 1875 with a larger structure around the corner, but the 1858 building was not demolished until the 1930s. At that time the County Archives saved the cornerstone and conveyed it to the Western Reserve Historical Society for safekeeping, where it resides today.

Cleveland played an important role in the formation of the Republican Party in the 1860 election and helped carry Ohio for Lincoln. In appreciation for the city’s political support, Lincoln stopped overnight in 1861 when traveling from his home in Springfield, Illinois, to Washington for his inauguration.

Two weeks after his death, Lincoln’s body returned to Cleveland as his funeral train reversed its 1861 journey. The train stopped in Cleveland on Friday, April 28. While the train stopped in several cities to allow citizens to view the embalmed body of Lincoln, its visit to Cleveland was unique: This was the only time that Lincoln’s body was on view outside. The public viewing took place on Public Square, where two weeks prior the people of Cleveland had gathered to mourn Lincoln’s death.

For 12 hours, Clevelanders lined up on Public Square under umbrellas in a cold, dreary rain to view the slain president. Estimates of the number of mourners who viewed the body vary, but the likely number was around 60,000—about the size of the city’s population in 1865. The city’s Republican-leaning paper, the Cleveland Morning Leader, devoted its Saturday edition the next day to detailed coverage of the funeral train and public mourning of Abraham Lincoln. The paper included a brief description of the face of the embalmed body, noting that the embalming had retained much of the president’s countenance.

The funeral train that brought Lincoln back to Cleveland was powered by more than 40 different locomotives. When the train left Cleveland at midnight Saturday, the Cleveland-built locomotive “Old Nashville” carried the train south to Columbus, Ohio.

Of all the various locomotives used for Lincoln’s funeral train, the ”Old Nashville” is the only one for which a clear, detailed photograph exists. Most, if not all, models and recreations of Lincoln’s funeral train are based on the Cleveland engine. Two views of this engine were taken at the same time at the Willson Avenue railroad station in Cleveland (located then at the city’s eastern limit, now East 55th Street and Euclid Avenue).

Edward J. Pershey, Ph.D., is Director of Special Projects and Exhibits at the Western Reserve Historical Society in Cleveland, Ohio, a partner institution for the Remembering Lincoln Digital Collection. He joined WRHS in 1995 as Director of Education and Curator of Urban & Industrial History. He previously served as the founding Director of the Tsongas Industrial History Center and Supervisory Museum Curator at the Thomas Edison National Historical Park. He holds a doctorate in the History of Technology from Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, where he also served briefly as Associate Curator at the Dittrick Museum of Medical History. Dr. Pershey has taught at the New Jersey Institute of Technology, Rutgers the State University of New Jersey, the University of Massachusetts, Cooper Union in New York City and Case Western Reserve University.

Editor’s note: An earlier edition on this post included an image (left) identified as a horse-drawn catafalque carrying Lincoln’s body from the train station to Public Square. Warren Doyle of the Cleveland Soldiers and Sailors Monument contacted Ford’s Theatre to question that identification. Dr. Edward Pershey (author of this post) and Dr. John Grabowski of the Western Reserve Historical Society (WRHS) looked into the question and found that the original image from WRHS’s collections was marked on the back as being from Lincoln’s funeral—but that there had been some question. They compared this image with that of President James A. Garfield’s funeral in Cleveland—also held in Public Square—and found that the catafalque more closely matched that of Garfield’s catafalque than that of Lincoln. As such, the image has been removed from the Remembering Lincoln digital collection. This instance shows the ever-changing nature of historical knowledge. Thanks to Mr. Doyle for pointing out this discrepancy.

The Ford's Theatre Logo

Edward J. Pershey, Ph.D. is Director of Special Projects and Exhibits at the Western Reserve Historical Society in Cleveland, Ohio.


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