Dr. Charles Brown was called to the White House to embalm Lincoln's body. The preservation of Lincoln's corpse promoted this new commercial process, revolutionizing American funeral practices.
Embalming was an exotic procedure in the mid-nineteenth century, primarily known as an ancient Egyptian custom. American doctors began embalming casualties on Civil War battlefields for shipment to distant family burial grounds, using a technique patented by Dr. Brown. The Chicago Tribune reported in amazement that "the Doctor claims to be able absolutely to arrest the process of dissolution."
"President Lincoln's Funeral--Citizens Viewing the Body at City Hall, New York," Harper's Weekly, May 6, 1865 (ICHi-30935).
Chicago's memorial services were among the most elaborate in the nation. The president lay in state in Chicago's courthouse, where 125,000 viewed the remains at a rate of 7,000 an hour. Dr. Brown and undertaker Frank Sands accompanied the body on the long train journey to Springfield, reembalming the body several times en route.
Mourners in line to view Lincoln's remains at the Chicago Courthouse, May 1865 (ICHi-22122).
Three years ago, when little Willie Lincoln died, Doctors Brown and Alexander, the embalmers or injectors, prepared his body so handsomely that the President had it twice disinterred to look upon it. The same men, in the same way, have made perpetual these beloved lineaments. There is now no blood in the body; it was drained by the jugular vein and sacredly preserved, and through a cutting on the inside of the thigh the empty blood vessels were charged with a chemical preparation which soon hardened to the consistence of stone. The long and bony body is now hard and stiff, so that beyond its present position it cannot be moved any more than the arms or legs of a statue... He lies in sleep, but it is the sleep of marble. (TOWNSEND 14)"
The Coffin of A. Lincoln," The Trial and Execution of the Assassins and Conspirators at Washington City, DC, May & June, 1865, for the Murder of President Abraham Lincoln, 1865.
We sang "Happy are They'"... and Geo. F. Root's new song, "Farewell Patriot, Friend, & Brother"...The thousands and thousands who marched through were disappointed in not seeing the remains. They were not quite ready for view and so the whole mass went off dissatisfied. We staid till the embalmers had prepared it, and so had a good view of it before the crowd came in. It looks better than I supposed Mr. Lincoln looked. The light shines on his face through silver stars... [my young student] Mary Brown said she did like to look at dead folks so much. She wished she was the embalmer, so she could look at him all she wanted to. (OWENS)
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