Friday, September 24, 2010

Fort Wayne and Lincoln's Assassination

The assassination of Abraham Lincoln on April 15, 1865 plunged the nation into a period of unprecedented public mourning. Throughout America, clergy gave funeral orations in memory of the fallen president. Charities raised money in tribute, and a variety of clubs and government entitites passed resolutions of praise and eulogy. Thousands of people draped their doorways in black and turned out to see his funeral train as it wended its way from Washington, D.C. to Springfield, Illinois.

The outpouring of grief in Fort Wayne over Lincoln's death is difficult to document. Except for a copy of a local newspaper announcing the assassination in the Lincoln Collection (now at the Allen County Public Library), the newspapers for the first half of 1865 are lost. We don't really know what sermons were preached in our local churches, nor do we have a clear idea of the reaction of local citizens to the news.

Recently, an artifact has come to light from that time - a silk ribbon, now a part of the History Center's collection. Preserved for generations by descendants of Fort Wayne mayor Franklin Randall, it contains the text of a resolution passed at a special bipartisan public meeting, expressing the "profound sorrow of the untimely decease" of Lincoln. Further, it praised "his untiring devotion to the arduous and responsible duties" of the presidency, his sincerity of purpose and virtues that "endeared himself to the national heart."

Randall, a Democrat, was joined by a bipartisan group of local leaders, including Jesse Williams, James Borden, Christian Tresselt, Charles Case., and Byron Oakley, in drafting a resolution of sympathy to the president's family. It also instructed the local churches to toll their bells and the local railroad artillery to fire guns in salute as part of a public memorial service. Perhaps the ribbon was distributed to mourners to be worn on that occasion.

Whatever its purpose, the ribbon sheds a small ray of light on the largely unknown events surrounding the period of public mourning in our city in April 1865 and represents an important addition to the Museum's collection.

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