National Geographic : 2015 Apr
36 national geographic • April 2015 murdered president’s casket in the building’s Rotunda; its dark cloth conceals the rough pine boards they hastily nailed together. Since then, it has been brought out each time a national mar- tyr or hero lies in state: James Garfield, William McKinley, John F. Kennedy, Douglas MacAr- thur. The rest of the time it sits in a niche of the Capitol Visitor Center, passed without a glance by most of the tourist throngs as it awaits the next great American death. Abraham Lincoln’s assassination, 150 years ago this month, has been recounted and reen- acted innumerable times: The fateful trip to the theater, the pistol shot in the presidential box, the actor-assassin’s melodramatic leap to the stage, and death’s arrival at last in the back room By Adam Goodheart Photographs by Eugene Richards of a cheap boardinghouse. Much less known is the story of what followed. The nation mourned Lincoln as it had never mourned before. In the process, it not only defined the legacy of an American hero, it also established a new ritual of American citizenship: the shared moment of national tragedy, when a restless Republic’s busy life falls silent. During the weeks after Lincoln’s death, as his funeral train made a circuitous journey from Washington, D.C., back to his hometown of Springfield, Illinois, perhaps a million Ameri- cans filed past the open coffin to glimpse their fallen leader’s face. Millions more—as much as one-third of the North’s population—watched the procession pass. That history isn’t so very far away: A 70- something friend of mine recalls hearing his grandfather talk about seeing the funeral cortege as a young boy in New York City. And even today, T he black box nestles deep beneath the U.S. Capitol, encased behind thick glass, caged by a metal grille, as if it were a dangerous object, a ticking bomb primed for its inevitable explosion. Perhaps in a sense it is. In April 1865 carpenters constructed this velvet-draped bier, known as the Lincoln catafalque, to display the Adam Goodheart is the author of 1861: The Civil War Awakening. Eugene Richards photographed “The New Oil Landscape” in the March 2013 issue.