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150 years ago, Lincoln's body arrived in Chicago

An honor guard in Union Army attire was in place for a ceremony marking the 150th anniversary of the arrival of LIncoln's funeral train in Chicago. | Stefano Esposito/Sun-Times

As a small crowd gathered on a patch of concrete at the south end of Grant Park Friday, joggers, moms with strollers and Divvy bike riders passed without stopping.

A few feet away — the clatter and scrape from a skate park.

Did any of the youth on skateboards know why people in rumpled Civil War-era clothing had begun gathering in that spot?

“Probably not a one. The humanities are not being taught in school these days,” lamented Chicago bookstore owner Daniel Weinberg.

One hundred and fifty years ago Friday, people climbed up trees, lampposts, stood on roofs to catch a glimpse of President Abraham Lincoln’s body as it arrived in the city at that exact Grant Park spot, before heading to Springfield for burial.

Chicago was the second to last stop on an 11-city funeral tour, said Weinberg, who led a commemoration ceremony Friday.

By then, Lincoln had been dead for 16 days.

“He had an embalmer with him, and they tried to do the best they could,” Weinberg said. “By the time he came to Chicago he was getting blackened.”

Thousands of soldiers, dignitaries, trade union members and ordinary people lined the funeral procession to City Hall, where Lincoln lay in state for one day.

“There was a heavy stillness of death reigning over the onlooking mourners,” said Weinberg, who owns Abraham Lincoln Book Shop on West Chicago Avenue.

Thirty-six high school girls dressed in white placed lilies on top of Lincoln’s casket.

The little gathering Friday put lilies beneath a portrait of America’s 16th president.

Civil War enthusiast Gerald Buldak played taps. Ald. Bob Fioretti [2nd] spoke of the importance of the occasion.

And skateboards banged and scraped the concrete in the park below.

What did South Side skater Juan Zaragoza, 15, know about the importance of May 1, 1865 in American history?

Quite a lot, actually.

“It was an open casket,” said Zaragoza, an avid reader, “and they used the flowers not only as a memorial, but to cover the scent of the corpse itself.”

A visitor places lilies below a portrait of Lincoln at the Grant Park ceremony. | Stefano Esposito/Sun-Times