“The Happy Union of the Sturgeon and the Codfish …”

The cod and pumpkin weathervane atop Albany Academy.
The cod and pumpkin weathervane atop Albany Academy.

The Western Railroad, better known as the Boston & Albany Railroad, was essentially completed in the fall of 1841, after five years of construction. Difficulties in financing, the Panic of 1837, political intrigues, and engineering challenges (especially the bridging of the Connecticut River) had all contributed to the delay. But its completion was hailed as a major achievement which brought about a ‘new and permanent union’ of the States of New York and Massachusetts.

Springfield Depot, 1841
Springfield Depot, 1841

To commemorate the event, the company invited the executive officers and legislators of both states to a celebration in Springfield, Massachusetts. Springfield was the ‘midpoint’ of the line and the location of a major depot and yard. On March 4, 1842, special trains arrived at the Springfield depot from Boston and Albany (actually, Greenbush) carrying the invited dignitaries. They then moved to the Masonic lodge, where speeches were given by Governor Davis of Massachusetts and Governor Seward of New York. The party then moved to the Springfield Town Hall for a sumptuous dinner.

After dinner, as was customary at formal gatherings such as these, a series of toasts were raised to the company, the success of the railroad, to the prosperity of the two states. But the final word was given to ‘General’ Erastus Root, a Senator from Delaware County, New York, who had spent the previous forty years of his life in one legislative seat or another, and who was referred to as the ‘father of the Senate.’ He raised a glass and gave the following memorable toast: “The happy union of the Sturgeon and the Codfish: may their joyous nuptials efface the melancholy recollection of the departure of the Connecticut river Salmon!”

Erastus Root, 1823
Erastus Root, 1823

OK, so General Root’s toast may seem obscure to some, so a note of explanation: Ever since the first English colonists landed at Plymouth, the codfish had been a New England staple. And sturgeon was, until the turn of the 20th century, so abundant in the Hudson River that the fish was sometimes known as ‘Albany beef.’ Finally, the Connecticut River had been the largest salmon spawning area on the Atlantic coast, until the damming of the river in 1798 led to the extinction of Connecticut River salmon just a few years later. So, just a piscatorial metaphor describing the clasping of three bodies of water with a band of iron!

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Albany and the Book of Mormon

Joseph Smith and the Golden Plates
Joseph Smith and the Golden Plates

Joseph Smith founded in 1830 what he initially called the Church of Christ.  Later it would  become known as the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (LDS), or more commonly, the Mormons.  Smith and the Church got their start in Palmyra, New York, some 200 miles west of Albany, and a short distance from the Erie Canal.  By 1831, the fledgling religious community had moved to Kirtland, Ohio.  Although there were a few Mormon converts in the Albany area in the 1830’s and 1840’s, nearly all migrated west to follow the rest of the ‘Saints.’  Hence, it was not until 1978 that an LDS Stake or ‘parish’ was established in Albany.

But Albany has some interesting connections with the foundation of the Latter Day Saints. One such has to do with the foundational LDS scripture, the Book of Mormon. Joseph Smith claimed that in 1823, on the Hill Cumorah, outside of Palmyra, the angel Moroni revealed to him a series of golden tablets which the angel told Smith to copy.  In 1827, Smith showed the copy he had made to his friend and neighbor Martin Harris.  Smith told Harris that the markings were in ‘reformed Egyptian.’  A somewhat skeptical Harris insisted on taking the manuscript with its strange writing to some ‘experts’ to verify its authenticity.

So-called 'Anthon Manuscript' Martin Harris showed to Luther Bradish
So-called ‘Anthon Manuscript’ Martin Harris showed to Luther Bradish

The first ‘expert’ Harris approached was Luther Bradish, a first term Assemblyman from Franklin County.  Before beginning his political career, Bradish had served for several years as a special agent in Constantinople for the Monroe Administration.  In that capacity, Bradish had travelled widely through the Middle East and Egypt, where he gained a reputation as an amateur linguist and Egyptologist.  Harris did not choose Bradish as a man to visit out of thin air.  Bradish’s parents lived at that time in Palmyra, and were known to Harris.

Luther Bradish ca. 1860
Luther Bradish ca. 1860

Martin Harris met Bradish in Albany in January or February 1828.  Bradish may have been staying at the Temperance Hotel on Broadway (it would be his temporary residence in a later year).  Bradish thought he recognized some of the markings on Smith’s manuscript, but referred Harris to two men with more expertise than himself, Dr. Charles Anthon, professor of Latin and Greek at Columbia College in New York City, and Dr. Samuel Mitchill, said to be a ‘living encyclopedia.’  Bradish would later remark that he believed Harris was being duped by Smith, and hoped that Anthon and Mitchill would be able to dissuade Harris from being taken in.  They did not, and Harris returned to Palmyra and became one of Smith’s leading disciples, putting up the money for the first publication of the Book of Mormon.

Bradish would serve in the NYS Assembly for a total of six years, including two years as Speaker.  He served as Lieutenant Governor for two terms under Governor Seward.  A strange aside for Luther Bradish: while in Egypt, he, like so many others through the ages, left a graffito on an ancient structure.  He wrote: “L. BRADISH 1821 OF NY US”.  The structure was the Temple of Dendur, which was transported in its entirety in 1978 and deposited at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York.  Little did Bradish suspect that his small act of vandalism would be put on display for all to see in his adopted home of New York City. An added irony: Bradish was the president of the New York Historical Society!

Luther Bradish's graffiti on the Temple of Dendur.
Luther Bradish’s graffiti on the Temple of Dendur.

The Laughing Gas That Won the West

Albany Argus, October 14, 1833
Albany Argus, October 14, 1833

I stumbled quite by accident upon this ad in an October 1833 number of the Albany Argus. It describes a coming visit of one ‘Dr. Coult’ to the Albany Museum to give live demonstrations of nitrous oxide gas – laughing gas! For three nights only, Albany patrons would be able to witness the ‘extraordinary powers’ of this ‘exhilarating gas’ on live human subjects, who, the readers were told, were liable to laugh, sing, dance and attempt fantastic feats of strength. Ladies were assured that ‘not a shadow of impropriety’ would attend the exhibition. And all were assured that ‘Dr. C.,’ being a ‘practical chemist,’ would not deliver any impure ‘gases.’ Admission was 25 cents.

1840 wood engraving
1840 wood engraving

The ad mentions Sir Humphrey Davey as the English chemist who first discovered the effects of nitrous oxide on the ‘animal system.’ In fact, Davey nearly died from testing the gas on himself. But while Davey noted in 1800 the potential of nitrous oxide to serve as an anesthetic, it would be another 44 years before anyone actually used the gas for this purpose. In the meantime, the primary use of nitrous oxide was as a form of entertainment, especially among the English upper classes. The fad spread, and by the 1830’s there were quite a few travelling exhibitionists offering to give the masses a whiff of the pleasurable stuff – all in the name of scientific inquiry, of course. ‘Dr. Coult’ was, apparently, one such nitrous oxide exhibitioner.

But when I Googled ‘Dr. Coult,’ to see if his travels took him elsewhere than Albany, I made an interesting discovery. ‘Dr. Coult’ was a pseudonym for none other than Samuel Colt, of Hartford, Connecticut, the future inventor of the Colt Revolver, the ‘Gun That Won the West!’ So how was it that Sam Colt became a purveyor of laughing gas?

Samuel Colt
Samuel Colt

Colt was a prodigy. As a young boy at his father’s textile mill, he was fascinated with the workings of the machinery. He became particularly interested in the idea of a pistol that could fire multiple rounds in sequence. When he was seventeen, he went to sea, and, as he later related in his memoirs, his observation of the ship’s wheel gave him the inspiration for his new pistol design, with a rotating chamber. He even carved a model out of wood. When he returned to Hartford, his father commissioned two metal models of his son’s design, but both models failed. Lacking the capital to have further prototypes made, Sam Colt decided to raise some money. How he chose to become a pitch man for nitrous oxide is not clear, but in 1832, at the age of eighteen, ‘Dr. Coult of London, New York, and Calcutta’ (he had actually been to Calcutta during his sea journey) set out from city to city demonstrating the effects of laughing gas.

Colt’s pretensions of being a doctor nearly got him into serious trouble. He was once on a Mississippi river boat whose passengers were suddenly stricken with yellow fever. Not allowed to land, the people turned to ‘Dr. Coult’ for a remedy. Colt said he liberally prescribed the various purgatives kept in the boat’s medicine chest and offered the nitrous oxide gas to all the sufferers. To his great astonishment, all on board recovered, which caused Colt to conclude (more astutely than many medical men of his time), that the passengers probably never had yellow fever in the first place.

Colt Armory, Hartford, Connecticut (1857)
Colt Armory, Hartford, Connecticut (1857)

In any event, after four years, Colt had raised enough money to have high quality working models and engineering drawings produced. In 1836, Colt patented his revolutionary revolver design in London, Paris, and Washington, D.C. and began producing them in the same year. The most famous version – the Colt 45 ‘Peacemaker,’ the so-called ‘Gun That Won the West,’ – was not produced until after Colt’s death. But those Albanians who flocked to the Museum that October in 1833 in search of laughing gas, helped to propel Samuel Colt to glory and riches, and, in some small way, to win the west!

Adam & Eve in Albany

Adam + Eve 1827
Adam & Eve, Dubufe (1827)

The exhibition of masterpieces of European art was a popular and lucrative form of entertainment in 19th century America.  An early and noteworthy example of this was the American tour of two massive paintings by French painter Claude-Marie Dubufe in 1833 – known together as “Adam and Eve and the Expulsion from the Garden of Eden,” depicting scenes from John Milton’s Paradise Lost.

King Charles X of France had commissioned the paintings from Dubufe in 1827, but with the King’s abdication in 1830 during the July Revolution, Dubufe ended up selling them in 1832 to two London art dealers, the Brette Brothers, who, together with one James Creighton, planned for the paintings to make a three year American tour.

Paradise Lost, Dubufe (1827)
Paradise Lost, Dubufe (1827)

The paintings began their tour in May 1832 in Boston.  By January 1833, they were in New York City.  They were displayed at the court house in Troy during the month of August 1833.  In September, they were in Rochester.  They arrived in Albany on September 29, 1833, where they were displayed in the rotunda of the new City Hall until November 2 of the same year.

Albany City Hall, 1832
Albany City Hall, 1832

Wherever they went, the paintings excited debate as to their propriety.  The New York Evening Post insisted that “… the delicacy of the spectator will not be wounded by an uncalled for exposure of persons.  Clergymen of reputation and ladies and gentlemen of the best families, both here and at Boston, have expressed their unqualified admiration of these pictures which have with no small degree of propriety been called moral paintings.”  But the New York Mirror countered that they were “splendid in their licentious character” and “an offense to public morals.”  Closer to home, the Troy Budget declared that the paintings elicited “one sentiment of admiration and approbation”

Albany Evening Journal, October 14, 1833
Albany Evening Journal, October 14, 1833

The paintings were huge – each was 12 ½ feet by 8 ½ feet.  They were available for viewing from 8 am until 10 pm.  Single admission was 25 cents, with 50 cents getting you a ‘season’ ticket.  During the evening, the paintings were ‘brilliantly illuminated.’  Profits from one day’s exhibition were set aside for charitable purposes, and that day, $38.00 was turned over to the Common Council for distribution to the poor.  Ads for the exhibit stayed away from controversy, instead emphasizing the ‘chaste feeling,’ ‘charm,’ and ‘poetic power’ of the paintings, which would ‘make a lasting impression on the mind of every beholder.’  During a later tour in 1849, the organizers of the exhibit offered free admission to Sunday School classes.  More proof that clever marketing did not begin in the 20th century.

The paintings were considered lost until they appeared in an auction in Stockholm in 1991.  In 2008, they were purchased by the Musee des Beaux-Arts in Nantes, France, where they can be seen today.

Much credit to the Fultonhistory website for all the old newspaper reports.

“… Our Peculiar Friend and Benefactor.”

The first National Colored Convention in Washington, D.C.  To give an impression of what the assembly at Israel A.M.E. Church might have appeared.
The first National Colored Convention in Washington, D.C. To give an impression of how the assembly at Israel A.M.E. Church might have appeared.

On Monday, April 17, 1865, the “colored citizens of the city and county of Albany” gathered at the African Methodist Episcopal Church at 381 Hamilton Street to mourn the loss of Abraham Lincoln, whose death, they wrote, filled them “with sorrow unspeakable.”  In a series of resolutions passed by that assembly, they acknowledged the magnitude of this “unparalleled disaster” for the nation as a whole.  But they also “deem[ed] it our right to claim his death as our more peculiar loss and affliction, because he has been the instrument of good in striking off the chains from so many millions of our brethren, and because he has ever stood forth as our peculiar friend and benefactor, whose memory will be cherished by and us and our children for generations to come.”

Israel AME ChurchThat sentiment was surely felt poignantly by the small African-American community in Albany.  Slavery had been finally abolished in New York State only in 1827.  Some of the elders gathered that day might have been enslaved at one time themselves, or would have been the children of slaves.  Perhaps some in the congregation had escaped from slavery in the South.  The image of ‘striking off chains’ was not mere rhetoric; it described quite literally what Lincoln’s actions had done for blacks, some of whom would become citizens of Albany.

Most of those gathered at the ‘First’ or ‘Israel’ A.M.E. church that Monday would have remembered a similar gathering back on January 5, 1863, when, in honor of the Emancipation Proclamation, a “Mass Convention” was held in Albany.  An afternoon meeting was held at the the A.M.E. church, and an evening meeting at the African Baptist Church further down Hamilton Street, between Fulton and Grand.  Frederick Douglass attended both meetings, giving a speech entitled ‘The President and Emancipation’ at the Baptist Church.  “The ladies” prepared a “Festival Extraordinary” for the occasion.  It was a joyous, even ecstatic moment – “A Moses is found who will lead the Children of Africa out of American bondage,” as a broadside for the convention declared.

Emancipation Proclamation Convention in Albany.
Emancipation Proclamation Convention in Albany.

But now that new Moses was dead.  And the African-American community seemed to struggle to find words adequate to describe the depth of their sorrow.  They had “heard with profound awe and grief of the death of the Chief Magistrate of the Nation in the height of his renown.”  And they were filled with “unspeakable sorrow” that “he should fall victim to the hate and vengeance of that dark malignant foe which the Nation has so desperately struggled for its life…”  Yet for all its anguish, Albany’s black community was sustained by hope:  “[Y]et we acknowledge the goodness that preserved us through manifold perils, that good and wise ruler, by whose proclamation the chains of the oppressed have been broken, and liberty proclaimed to the captives.”  Finally, they resolved “with renewed vigor and unwavering zeal, in our humble manner, [to] aid the Government in putting down treason in all its forms.”

These resolutions were signed by the president and secretary of the meeting, William H. Anthony and Reuben W. Harris, respectively.  In the 1865 City Directory, Mr. Anthony is listed as being a barber at 27 Maiden Lane, which was also the hairdressing establishment of William H. Johnson, a well-known black abolitionist (whose story is told here:  http://www.hoxsie.org/2013/02/the-autobiography-of-william-henry-johnson.html ).  Anthony lived at 257 Elm Street.  Mr. Harris was listed as waiter, living at 20 Fayette (Lafayette) Street.

The full text of these resolutions was published in the Albany Evening Journal of April 26, 1865.

Albany Man Defies Death on the Lusitania

lusitania-on-fire

On May 7, 1915, the ocean liner R.M.S Lusitania was torpedoed and sunk by a German U-boat, causing the loss of nearly 1,200 passengers and crew. There were 767 survivors. No Albany residents seem to have been aboard, although several were from the Capital region. But the Albany Evening Journal reported at length on a man named Martin Mannion (or Manion), who had at least a tangential Albany connection.

Martin Mannion
Martin Mannion

Mr. Mannion, a native of County Kildare, Ireland, had come to the United States in 1911 to work as a jockey and horse trainer. He had spent time in St. Louis, Missouri before coming to New York State. During the 1914 racing season, Mannion was in Long Island, caring for thoroughbreds from the stables of Richard Croker, the infamous Tammany Hall ‘boss.’ While there, Mannion was injured in a railroad accident. One foot had been amputated, but he was still having trouble. Friends recommended that he see Dr. Marcus T. Cronin, surgical resident at St. Peter’s Hospital in Albany (then located at Broadway and North Ferry Street).

On April 23, 1915, Dr. Cronin performed a re-amputation of Mr. Mannion’s foot. Mr. Mannion had been boarding at 800 Broadway (just a couple of blocks from St. Peter’s), and by April 30, had already purchased a ticket on the Lusitania from the H.J. Curtis agency in the Douw Building, and was on his way to New York City for its departure to England. He had told Henry Glatz, the proprietor of the rooming house he was staying at, of his intention to return to Ireland and take up work at the famous Curragh Racecourse.

Second Class Smoking Lounge, where Mannion was playing cards when the torpedo struck.
Second Class Smoking Lounge, where Mannion was playing cards when the torpedo struck.

Mr. Mannion was in the second class smoking cabin playing poker on the afternoon when his ship was struck by the torpedo. He feared he was doomed because he was wearing an artificial leg, and at first he began going down with the ship. But he somehow surfaced, and being a good swimmer, was able to stay afloat for four hours, until he and another man were rescued by a small boat. While trying to stay afloat, he encountered a crowd of two hundred men and women, clutching each other and thrashing in the water, crying for help; Mannion feared they all drowned and considered himself fortunate to have kept out of their way.

Mannion later told the Cork Examiner that the sinking was “sorrowful in every way.” He continued: “I am thanking God for my escape and do not think that I can ever be sufficiently grateful. When we struck the Irish land again you can imagine our joy. I need scarcely say that we Irish, with the other survivors bid the old land with an added blessing. “The top of the morning” in such a heartful manner that perhaps very few Irishmen ever did before.”

Lincoln in Albany: The Final Passage

Lincoln

This April 26 and 27 marked the 150th anniversary of the passage of Abraham Lincoln’s funeral train through Albany, en route to his final resting place in Springfield, Illinois.  Many have written on this portion of Lincoln’s final journey (as many have written on every aspect of the 16th president’s life, death and burial), but I’m going to mainly present what was reported by Albany’s leading newspapers of the day, the Albany Evening Journal and the Albany Argus, with some other supplemental materials, according to my own particular (and peculiar) interests.

The visit of Lincoln’s mortal remains to Albany was unusual in that it involved a night-time arrival.  The timetable for what was officially designated the ‘Lincoln Special’ called for the pilot locomotive to arrive on Tuesday, April 26th, at 10:55 p.m. at the Hudson River Rail Road depot in East Albany.  In anticipation of its arrival, the officers and members of both houses of the Legislature gathered cross the river, in the Capitol’s Assembly Chamber at 10:00 pm.  They were then escorted by three companies of New York State militia to the Hudson River RR ferry landing at the foot of Maiden Lane.  Crowds had already filled State Street as the dignitaries made their way down to the waterfront.

The Hudson River Railroad Ferry landing at the foot of Maiden Lane
The Hudson River Railroad Ferry landing at the foot of Maiden Lane

On their arrival at the ferry landing, the presiding officers of the Legislature, together with the military escort, the members of the Albany Common Council, and members of the Committee on Arrangements, took a ferry across the Hudson to the East Albany station.  A crowd of people from that side of the Hudson was also awaiting the President’s arrival. The pilot locomotive, the Hudson River RR’s Constitution, arrived about fifteen minutes late, giving the signal that the Presidential train would be following in ten minutes.  The train of nine cars was pulled by the Hudson River RR locomotive Union (appropriately enough – it was the same engine that took Lincoln from Albany to New York City back in 1861 during his pre-Inauguration tour).  On the front of the locomotive was a large portrait of Lincoln, covered in black bunting and illuminated with lanterns.  The car containing the casket had only recently been built and had been originally intended as a special Presidential travelling car, a kind of ‘Air Force One’ for the Steam Age.  This would be Lincoln’s only occasion to use it.

Upon the train’s arrival at the East Albany depot, Captain Harris Parr, Keeper of the State Arsenal in Albany commenced the firing of a minute gun – an artillery piece that would fire a blank charge every minute until Lincoln’s body arrived at the Capitol.  This was also the signal for Albany’s many church bells to begin tolling.  As word of the arrival spread, the crowds along State Street grew.

Members of the military escort removed the coffin from the train car and placed it on the hearse, drawn by four grey horses, which carried the remains to the ferry.  The civilian and military escort accompanying the train, in all more than one hundred passengers, also got on board the ferry.  The Evening Journal gave a moving description of that short trip across the Hudson:

“The hush of death prevailed on the ferryboat, as it crossed the river.  The great chieftain, who had conquered the enemies of Union and Freedom, in the very hour of victory had been called to stand among the enshrined departed, to receive the full rewards which were awaiting the accomplishment of his glorious mission – and there, on that boat, civilians and chieftains, legislators and people, governors and governed, alike stood in mute awe around his cold remains.”

Albany Zouave Cadet, Private
Albany Zouave Cadet, Private

On the ferry’s arrival at the Maiden Lane landing, a procession quickly formed.  A detachment of police in advance, followed by a drum corps of boys, then by Schreiber’s and Eastman’s College bands.  The three militia companies (including the Albany Zouave Cadets, who were then designated Company A, 10th Regiment New York State National Guard) under the command of Gen. John F. Rathbone (cousin of Maj. Henry Rathbone) followed.  Then came the hearse with its guard of honor.  Behind came the Common Council, State officers, and the Legislature, all flanked by 100 firemen carrying torches.  Additional light would have been provided by the many mourning displays in office and shop windows, many of which were illuminated for the occasion.  Despite the huge crowds, already unusual for such a late hour, all remarked on the profound silence that prevailed during that midnight funeral procession.

At the top of State Street, the coffin was removed from the hearse and carried through the front gate of the Capitol park on Eagle Street and on into the Capitol itself and the Assembly Chamber.  The Chamber had been specially prepared to receive the remains.  All the desks and chairs had been removed and a large dais, draped with mournful bunting, was erected in the center of the room.  Over the Speaker’s chair was draped a banner with a quote from Lincoln’s First Inaugural Address:  “I have an oath registered in Heaven to preserve, protect and defend the Government.”  The Chamber had been decorated by B.W. Wooster, a popular Albany upholsterer and undertaker!

Old State Capitol, Assembly Chamber
Old State Capitol, Assembly Chamber

The Guard of Honor and members of the Veteran Reserve Corps (disabled veterans who were still capable of limited service) took their places around the dais while the embalmer and undertaker prepared Lincoln’s body for viewing.  The Guard of Honor consisted of a group of six senior officers, changed every three hours.  Gen. Rathbone was the senior officer for the first watch.  Col. Frederick Townsend was senior officer for the fourth watch.  When all was ready, the militia companies took up positions around the Capitol and its environs, the Capitol doors were opened, and the mourners were admitted to pay their respects.  It was about 1:15 in the morning.

Front view
Old State Capitol entrance

Two double file lines, four abreast, were formed which passed through the Eagle Street gate, up the front steps to the portico, and on into the Assembly Chamber.  The line split, passing either side of the dais, the one line leaving by the north door, the other by the south door of the Capitol, then through the gates to either State Street or Washington Street.  The line extended all the way down State Street, turning northward up Broadway.  All throughout the night, the procession of mourners would continue, passing the President’s coffin at an estimated rate of 60 per minute.  The huge numbers of mourners in every city had come as something of a surprise to organizers.  One historian has written: “The pushing and hauling of so many people straining to get in at that unusual hour and for the somber purpose was wholly unexpected. Police and militia were present in small details only.”

The civilian and military guests accompanying the Lincoln Special were escorted to the Delavan House and Congress Hall.  The funeral party was said to be in a state of exhaustion, practically in a daze from the stunning crowds which had met them at every stop.  The Illinois delegation, overwhelmed by it all, sent a member on ahead to warn the people of Springfield to get ready.  All that previous afternoon, crowds had arrived by train and boat, from all over New York and New England, far outstripping the city’s ability to accommodate them.  Hundreds milled about the street all night, having no place to stay.  Some were provided shelter in a schoolhouse.  Many restaurants remained open all night to provide for the masses of strangers.

The railroad men would also have been busy that night.  Getting the President’s train from the Hudson River RR depot in East Albany to the New York Central RR tracks in Albany required a series of complex maneuvers in the days before the Livingston Avenue bridge, which was completed the following year.  The train would have continued north on the Hudson River RR tracks to Troy.  Perhaps in Troy, it would have switched engines and continued on the tracks of the Troy & Schenectady RR, crossing over the Green Island railroad bridge to West Troy, switching to the Albany & Rutland RR tracks, then proceeding south to Albany.  At Albany, it was switched to the tracks of the New York Central and fitted out with a NYCRR locomotive and pilot engine in time for the continuation of the ‘Lincoln Special’ westward.

Lincoln's Funeral Car
Lincoln’s Funeral Car

One passenger of the ‘Lincoln Special’ who did not disembark the train was President Lincoln’s deceased son Willie, who had died of typhoid fever in 1862.  Willie’s remains had been disinterred and placed on the train, in a plain white casket, so that he might be buried with his father in Springfield.  His body was kept in the same compartment of the hearse car that carried the elder Lincoln’s remains.

The day was clear and bright, pleasantly warm – a contrast to the rains of the day before.  All through the morning the anxious crowds kept coming without let up.  With such crowds, some chaos was inevitable.  One eyewitness, in describing the scene at the narrow gate outside the Capitol, on Eagle Street, through which all the mourners had to pass, noted: “[We] found there a crush and a crowd almost uncontrollable in its impatience after so long a wait.  The gateway was not wide, and the police could not prevent frequent jams and small panics.  Women screamed and fainted, hats and articles of wearing apparel were lost, and at times men fought for a place.”  And then, there were the pickpockets.  At least one visitor from a rural area lost $100 in U.S. bonds to a pickpocket.

But far more remarked upon was the silence that prevailed.  The Argus described it aptly: “Aside from the slow tread of the procession, not a sound was to be heard in the streets.  Every place of business remained closed, not a vehicle was to be seen passing through the streets, and never upon a Sabbath morning did the city present a stillness so complete.”  “Many were in tears and conversation was carried on in hushed tones,” said another eyewitness.

Controversy existed then and now over what the mourners would have seen of Lincoln.  The science of embalming was still in its infancy and the task before the official embalmers was daunting – preserve a body (and especially a face) for a two week trip involving multiple open air viewings over many hours and a long and bumpy train ride.  No one had ever done that before.  In Philadelphia, eyewitnesses found him looking “quite natural.” So did the Philadelphia Inquirer, which observed “a natural, placid, peaceful expression.”  But after the 23 hour viewing marathon in New York City, doubts began to arise.  The New York Times reported that his face had changed several shades darker than it had been and that, with his jaw dropping and teeth visible, “it was not a pleasant sight.”  In Albany, embalmer Charles Brown and undertaker Frank Sands handed a firm denial to the press: “No perceptible change has taken place in the body of the late President since it left Washington.”  But reporters in Albany noted that Lincoln was “evidently growing yet darker in spite of the chemicals used as preservatives.”  One Albany eyewitness, who had been a child at the time remembered “in three or four places, perhaps, small dark-blue spots.”  But most ordinary citizens seemed to see the man rather than the blemishes.  Louise Coffin Smith of Troy recalled “The tired worn face of our President had a look of peace.”  She also remembered “an old colored woman [who] attempted to kiss him, saying between her sobs, ‘We have lost our best friend.’”

Catafalque used to carry Lincoln's casket in Albany procession
Catafalque used to carry Lincoln’s casket in Albany procession

At 10 a.m., the members of the Legislature and State officers assembled in the State Library, and proceeded in a body to view the remains.  Finally, at noon, the doors of the Capitol were closed and preparations for the procession to the train were begun.  There was still a line of many thousands extending all the way to Broadway when the viewing was ended.  Estimates were that more than 50,000 had viewed Lincoln’s body.

The procession began at about 2:00 p.m.  Detachments of police led the cortege, followed by General Rathbone and his brigade –  the three regiments of New York National Guard, the 10th and 25th regiments from Albany, the 24th Regiment from Troy, and the Troy Light Horse Artillery Battery.  The hearse followed, pulled this time by six white horses.  Then came the State and local officials, civic associations – St. Andrew’s Society, Hibernians, Fenians, Masons, Odd Fellows, Druids, German Turnvereins – the ever-present Albany Burgesses Corps, followed by firemen from Albany and surrounding communities.  The procession wended its way up Washington Avenue, south along Dove Street, then back toward downtown on State Street.

Procession on Broadway, moving toward the photographer
Procession on Broadway, moving toward the photographer

Church bells tolled as the solemn procession moved through the city.  It moved quickly.  Though several thousands marched, it took only 30 minutes for it to pass a given point, in contrast to the four hours required for the procession in New York City.  80,000 were said to be lining the route of the procession.  Four bands accompanied the marchers, playing, it was reported, “Love Not,” “Auld Lang Syne,” and “Come and Let Us Worship,” and other funereal songs.  All marchers were on foot, including the governor and mayor.  No carriages, banners or floats were permitted.  Even more remarkably, there was not a single speech given by anyone.

Lincoln Funeral Car
Lincoln Funeral Car

At the foot of State Street, the cortege turned up Broadway and went, not to the NY Central depot, but to a place known as ‘the Crossing,’ where the railroad tracks intersected Broadway, just beyond Lumber Street (later Livingston Avenue).  There the ‘Lincoln Special’ was waiting, already under steam.  The Edward H. Jones was the locomotive, with the Chauncey Vibbard serving as the pilot engine.  The elaborate hearse car had itself been an attraction during the day, with thousands of people passing through it.1  Without ceremony, Lincoln’s coffin was placed on board.  It took another fifteen minutes for the large military and civilian escort to board the cars.  And then, right on schedule, at 4:00 in the afternoon, the ‘Lincoln Special’ steamed out of the capital city of the Empire State and on toward Lincoln’s final resting place.

1           The hearse car, which had been originally built for the living President, was variously described as being of black, brown, chocolate, maroon, or red in color.  In 2013, scientific analysis of paint chips from a surviving window frame from the car showed the color to have been a deep maroon – four parts black and one part red.

I’m grateful to the Albany Group Archive on Flickr for some of the photos.  Also to Fultonhistory.com for the relevant newspaper pages.  Additional information came from Mrlincolnandnewyork.org , Abrahamlincolnsclassroom.org , and from an article on Lincoln’s body, found in Slate.com by Richard Wightman Fox.