Mercantile lends medallion from Lincoln’s hearse for 150th anniversary of president’s death

Julie Dunn-Morton

Julie Dunn-Morton, curator of the St. Louis Mercantile Library’s Fine Arts Collection at UMSL, holds the framed silver medallion, one of two that adorned the hearse that carried President Abraham Lincoln’s body in the spring of 1865. (Photo by Evie Hemphill)

Among the solemn arrangements following the assassination of the United States’ 16th president in 1865 was the preparation of an ornamented hearse – including two silver medallions engraved with the letters “A. L.”

Shortly after Abraham Lincoln’s burial in Springfield, Ill., one of the medallions was donated to the St. Louis Mercantile Library, now located at the University of Missouri–St. Louis.

“It makes sense that a person dealing with the funeral of a beloved president would not just leave these,” said Julie Dunn-Morton, curator of the library’s Fine Arts Collection. “They would recognize the significance of objects made for this occasion.”

Silver medallion from President Lincoln's hearse

(Photo courtesy the St. Louis Mercantile Library. Click the image to enlarge.)

Dunn-Morton added that with 19th-century libraries including the Mercantile – the oldest such institution west of the Mississippi – regarded as “education centers in a broader sense,” the Mercantile was a fitting destination for such a symbolic item.

The story that came down to the present-day curators was that the medallion was given by a Mercantile board member shortly after the funeral. Further light was shed on its history when researchers with the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum tracked down some clues while preparing for an exhibit marking the 150th anniversary of Lincoln’s death.

One of those is a note found enclosed with the other medallion, from the other side of Lincoln’s hearse, now held by a private collector in Texas.

“This plate is one of a pair used in the decoration of the hearse on the occasion of the burial of President Lincoln, Springfield Ills May 4th 1865,” the note, apparently written by Thomas Lynch, reads. “The other one I presented to the St Louis Mercantile Library, and is in their possession. They were the centre pieces, one on each side – The hearse was decorated by me for the occasion.”

The hearse itself was later lost in a fire in 1887. But researchers believe the medallions were removed, and one of them donated to the Mercantile Library, by June 1865.

A detailed description of Lincoln’s “hearse and six horses” appears in an April 1865 issue of the Daily Missouri Republican, giving a sense of the occasion and what the hearse looked like.

“The hearse is one that would seem to be appropriate for a funeral occasion of national interest,” the paper reads. “It was made in Philadelphia, eight years ago, for Messrs. Lynch & Arnot, at a cost of about $6,000, and has seldom been used. It is longer and larger generally than the ordinary size. The decorations are plain but elegant, and very tasteful and becoming. The sides are ornamented with large panes of colored glass. Mr. G. N. Lynch, in devising ornaments for the centre panels on each side, has furnished a silver plate engraving of the letters ‘A. L.,’ around which is a silver wreath, with two inverted silver torches and thirty-five stars representing the different States.”

From April to early July, both medallions will be on public display at the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum in Springfield, Ill.

Media Coverage:
The Associated Press (via Chicago Tribune)
The Edwarsdville Intelligencer

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