ANTIOCH – The coffin was 6 feet, 6 inches long in what was originally intended to be the presidential office.
In 1865, the cloying, sweet scent of lilacs would have flooded the room to mask death’s more unpleasant aromas. A black veil covered a mirror on the far wall.
The plaque on the coffin reads: “Abraham Lincoln, 16th President, United States. Born February 12, 1809; Died April 15th, 1865.”
Today, there are no lilacs and the coffin was empty, but the historical magnitude of the replica Lincoln Funeral Car weighed heavy on guests shuffling through the 48-foot-long train car installed on Skidmoore Drive in Antioch.
David Kloke built the steel-framed train car in 2015 to honor the sesquicentennial anniversary of Lincoln’s death.
The original train car was built as a 19th-century version of Air Force One; Lincoln intended to use it to travel throughout the country and reunite the states after the Civil War, although he never had the opportunity to do so.
Instead, it became his funeral car, transporting his body nearly 1,600 miles to its final resting place in Springfield. The journey took 11 days and made several stops along the way for mourners to pay their respects to their martyred president. The train also transported the body of Willie Lincoln, the president’s 11-year-old son, who passed away in 1862. His body was disinterred to be buried with his father in Springfield.
The replica funeral car was installed in Antioch on Aug. 25 and will remain there until Sept. 9. This is the first time the car has traveled since it was installed at the Duluth Union Depot – a railroad museum in Duluth, Minn., where it had been on display since 2015.
Its installment in Antioch is a temporary layover as it travels to its permanent home in Elizabethtown, Pa.
“The Civil War fascinates a lot of people from all walks of life, but this fascinates the Lincoln fans, the train people,” said Ainsley Brooks Wonderling, director of the Lakes Regional Historical Society.
Indeed, she added, train enthusiasts immediately point out the three concessions Kloke had to make while constructing the funeral car.
In a serendipitous series of events, Wonderling and her husband found themselves players in the construction of the funeral car three years prior and helped ensure the replica was as historically accurate as possible to the surviving photographs and firsthand descriptions of the original train car, which was destroyed in a prairie fire in Minnesota in 1911.
Wonderling’s husband, Bob, served as one of the tour guides on board and proffered a copy of the only known photograph of Lincoln’s body in his coffin.
“There were not to be any pictures of the president after death,” he said. “This one ended up in an archive file, probably 15 years ago now. It shows the president in the coffin – in one of the coffins. Very interesting. It was just found by accident in some boxes of files.”
It is believed there were a minimum of three coffins used to transport the president: One on the train, one used for the 11 prearranged public viewings en route to Springfield, and the one used to bury him.
The rest of the furniture in the replica funeral car is all period furniture, although not necessarily exact replicas of the original car’s furnishings.
Despite the weather, 400 people visited the funeral car on Labor Day alone to view the funeral car and enjoy an appearance by known Lincoln actor Fritz Klein. Klein also performed the one-man, one-act play “The Last Full Measure” by Ken Bradbury on Sunday and Monday evenings during Labor Day Weekend, “a moving perspective from Lincoln’s point of view, on what may have transpired in the president’s mind while he lay dying that fateful night of April 14, 1865.”
Lake Zurich resident Grace Frizane snapped a photo of her husband, Kenneth, in front of the funeral car once they completed their tour and studied it for several moments longer.
“I’ve always enjoyed [Civil War history],” she said. “We just found out about this through a friend who came yesterday and I said we have to come to this.”
Her husband, a rail enthusiast, nodded at the car.
“It was very period, very accurate,” he said.