Posts Tagged With: Funeral

A Coming Storm

In April of 1865, New York City was awaiting the opening of a brand new palace for the visual arts, the National Academy of Design. The cornerstone of this new building to art and sculpture had been laid in 1863, in the midst of the Civil War. Despite the difficulties in sourcing materials and labor for the institution, work had managed to continue on the edifice. The design of the building was unique in Manhattan, taking inspiration from the Venetian Gothic style in order to create a truly eye catching spectacle. The interior of the structure contained galleries, a library, and a grand staircase supported by beautiful marble columns. The total cost to build this palace to the arts during wartime was $220,000. Among the subscribers to the Academy’s fellowship fund was Edwin Booth, who donated $100.

Even as the building was being completed, arrangements were made regarding the first exhibition to grace the new gallery’s walls. Paintings were requested from notable artists and collectors for the grand opening exhibition. This was meant to be an exhibit of contemporary art showing the works of current and up-and-coming artists. By early April, the edifice and exhibition were ready to go and it was announced that the National Academy of Design was to open on Monday, April 17.

On Friday, April 14, three days before the art gallery was to open in New York, Abraham Lincoln was assassinated in Washington, D.C. by John Wilkes Booth. This tragic event, coming just days after the surrender of Confederate General Robert E. Lee to Union General Ulysses S. Grant, plunged the entire country into deep despair. On April 15, the governing council of the National Academy of Design voted to postpone the building’s opening in light of the national calamity that had occurred, and, like many other organizations, published the record of their grief in the newspaper.

“Resolved, That the council of the National Academy of Design hear with profound grief of the assassination of Abraham Lincoln, the late beloved President of the United States.

Resolved, That we cherish a deep reverence for his great character and inestimable services to our country and the cause of freedom throughout the world.

Resolved, That we devoutly pray Almighty God to save out country from disaster while suffering from the affliction of this base and cowardly murder, the natural fruit of treason and slavery.

Resolved, That, in respect for the memory of our late honored chief magistrate, the ceremony of the inauguration of the academy building, and the opening of the exhibition, be postponed.

Published by order, T. Addison Richards Con. Sec., N.A.”

Like countless other buildings across the country, the Academy building was draped in black mourning bunting. In addition, a red, white, and blue shield was covered in crape and hung over the doorway of the building.

On April 24, Lincoln’s remains arrived in New York City as part of his nationwide funeral train procession. No doubt members of the National Academy of Design were among the around 120,000 people who gazed upon the face of the President as he lay in state at the city hall. The only known photograph of Lincoln in death was taken during this stop:

The Lincoln funeral train departed New York City on the morning of April 25, en route to Albany and then points west, on its long journey home to Springfield, IL.

Two days later, on April 27, The National Academy of Design, feeling that it was in bad taste to have a big grand opening celebration, opted instead for a soft launch of sorts. The invited guests for the debut were a large, but select group who became the first to tour the new palace to the arts and enjoy the inaugural exhibition. The opening was done so quickly, and so closely to the President’s funeral in the city, that some members of the press didn’t have time to write up their reviews for lack of space. Interestingly, the weekly New York Atlas newspaper briefly discussed the opening of the National Academy of Design while, in the same story, lamenting the seizure of photographs from the Lincoln funeral by the War Department.

Despite the reporter’s hope to see photographer Gurney’s “completed pictures” of the Lincoln funeral, the one picture of Lincoln lying in state shown above would not be publicly seen until 1952. After hearing that a photograph had been taken of Lincoln’s body, Secretary of War Edwin Stanton order the glass plate negative destroyed. This was done, but not before a single print was made and sent to Stanton. This print was later found after Stanton’s death by his son Lewis. Lewis Stanton sent the print to John Nicolay, one of Lincoln’s personal secretaries who was working on a series of biographies about Lincoln with fellow secretary John Hay. Nicolay and Hay never used the photograph in their books. In 1952, the photograph was rediscovered by 14 year-old Ron Rietveld who was looking through a collection of Nicolay-Hay papers donated to the Illinois State Historical Library. It was quite the discovery.

But back to National Academy of Design.

The debut exhibition was a great success and first the next few months visitors continued to visit and remark about the impressive contemporary paintings. Some of the paintings on display were:

North and South by Constant Mayer

The Hill of Alhambra, Granada by Samuel Colman

Christmas-Time by Eastman Johnson

A Picnic on the Hudson by Thomas Rossiter

Looking Down the Yosemite Valley by Albert Bierstadt

The Antiquary by Charles Coleman

There was even a painting of Edwin Booth in the exhibition. It was painted by John Pope in celebration of Booth’s 100 nights of Hamlet which he had just completed in New York City on March 22. Below is an engraving of the painting.

Even the painting of Edwin could draw in an audience. In one reporter’s visit to the Academy he noted that, “Here a lady with deep Italian eyes forgets herself to the marble before Pope’s portrait of ‘Edwin Booth as Hamlet,’ fascinated by the memory of his magnetic beauty…”


Among the patrons of the Academy’s first few week of operation was the noted novelist, Herman Melville.

The author of Moby Dick lived not far from the newly erected Academy and while visiting the new exhibition, he found himself transfixed by a particular painting. It was an 1863 piece by Sanford Gifford called A Coming Storm.

A Coming Storm by Sanford Gifford (click to enlarge)

The painting shows a forested lake in the Catskill mountains on an autumn day. A group of Native Americans sit, almost camouflaged, with their teepees near a large rock on one side of the lake. On the other side, a black thunder cloud is breaking over a mountain though it has not yet has not yet blotted out the sun. Melville was not the only one impressed by Gifford’s painting. According to one reporter, “As a landscape there is nothing finer in the exhibition.”

Yet, it was more than artistic beauty that drew Melville’s eye. The exhibition’s catalog noted that while Sanford Gifford was the painter, he had not loaned the piece to the Academy himself. Gifford had already sold the painting to a friend of his who allowed it to be borrowed for the exhibit. That friend was Edwin Booth.

Edwin had been introduced to Sanford in 1862 by their shared acquaintances Richard and Elizabeth Stoddard. Richard was a literary reviewer while his wife Elizabeth was a novelist and poet. The Stoddards were the center of an artistic circle in New York City which included artists of all type. Edwin Booth’s talents on the stage were acknowledged and celebrated in this group of writers, poets, painters, and sculptors. Edwin gained many friends in this group and, in his later years, Edwin attempted to recreate this shared comradery with the creation of The Players Club. It was in this way that Edwin had come to meet Sanford Gifford and subsequently purchase his beautiful painting, A Coming Storm.

Herman Melville found himself struck by the symbolism and irony of it all. The left side of the painting, filled with its gorgeous golden colors, symbolized the light that had emerged with the end of the Civil War while the dark cloud creeping over the mountain about to blot out the sun represented the murder of Lincoln so shortly thereafter. It was a coming storm of darkness that enveloped the whole country in a massive downpour of tumult and grief. But more than the storm itself, Melville was fascinated that Edwin Booth, of all people, had been moved by this painting enough to purchase it. Edwin had somehow felt his own fate in this painting long before the storm that now drenched them all was on the horizon. To Melville, the only explanation of how Edwin Booth could have reconciled himself to an unknown storm and was, at that moment, weathering it despite unbearable personal agony, was due to his complete devotion to Shakespeare and his tragedies. John Pope’s painting hanging nearby was a testament that Edwin Booth was Hamlet and knew the deepest and darkest of grief. This training was the only thing that could give Edwin the strength to survive the storm that currently ravaged his heart.

Melville, who had spent the last few years composing poetry rather than writing novels, found himself compelled to write the following poem about his experience with Edwin Booth’s Coming Storm:

“The Coming Storm:”

A Picture by S. R. Gifford, and owned by E.B. Included in the N. A. Exhibition, April 1865.

All feeling hearts must feel for him
Who felt this picture. Presage dim-
Dim inklings from the shadowy sphere
Fixed him and fascinated here.

A demon-cloud like the mountain one
Burst on a spirit as mild
As thus urned lake, the home of shades.
But Shakspeare’s pensive child

Never the lines had lightly scanned,
Steeped in fable, steeped in fate;
The Hamlet in his heart was ‘ware,
Such hearts can antedate.

No utter surprise can come to him
Who reaches Shakspeare’s core;
That which we seek and shun is there-
Man’s final lore.

Melville published “The Coming Storm” in 1866 in his collection of Civil War related poetry called, Battle-Pieces and Aspects of the War. Reviews of Melville’s foray into poetry were mixed. Richard Stoddard, Edwin’s friend, was one of the kinder reviewers but still wrote that, “The collection of battle-pieces exemplifies the fact that the poetic nature and the technical faculty of poetry writing are not identical.” Stoddard enjoyed the poetic nature of Melville’s collection, but found his rhythm and rhyming to be lacking. The book sold poorly with less than 500 copies being sold within two years.

A century later, however, Melville’s collection found greater appreciation as an example of Civil War poetry. The poem that just precedes “The Coming Storm” in the book is called “The Martyr” and, rather than focusing on the grief of Lincoln’s death as so many other period poems did, Melville, instead expresses the anger of the people.

The Martyr

Indicative of the passion of the people on the 15th of April, 1865

Good Friday was the day
Of the prodigy and crime,
When they killed him in his pity,
When they killed him in his prime
Of clemency and calm—
When with yearning he was filled
To redeem the evil-willed,
And, though conqueror, be kind;
But they killed him in his kindness,
In their madness and their blindness,
And they killed him from behind.

There is sobbing of the strong,
And a pall upon the land;
But the People in their weeping
Bare the iron hand:
Beware the People weeping
When they bare the iron hand.

He lieth in his blood—
The father in his face;
They have killed him, the Forgiver—
The Avenger takes his place,
The Avenger wisely stern,
Who in righteousness shall do
What heavens call him to,
And the parricides remand;
For they killed him in his kindness,
In their madness and their blindness.
And his blood is on their hand.

There is sobbing of the strong,
And a pall upon the land;
But the People in their weeping
Bare the iron hand:
Beware the People weeping
When they bare the iron hand.

From a lyrical standpoint, The Martyr reads a bit better than “The Coming Storm”. Yet the two still contrast each other nicely. The Martyr is overt in its anger while “The Coming Storm” is perplexing in its acceptance of fate. The poems, next to each other in the volume, provide strikingly different interpretations of the same tragic event. The Martyr is the voice of the public at large while “The Coming Storm” considers the personal torment of the Booth family.

After the National Academy of Design’s debut exhibition closed in 1866, A Coming Storm was returned to Edwin Booth. The actor held onto it as he spent a fortune in the creation of his own theater in New York City. Construction on Booth’s Theatre started in 1868 and the first performance in his state of the art theater occurred on February 3, 1869.

Edwin had spared no expense on his dream playhouse and for the first few years he found success. Soon however a Coming Storm of a different nature appeared on the horizon. A severe financial panic swept the nation in 1873, decreasing the number of patrons visiting theaters and plunging Edwin severely into debt. With the mortgage on his beautiful theater due and the banks unwilling to negotiate, Edwin was forced to sell all interests in his namesake theater and declared bankruptcy. To help pay some of his creditors, much of Edwin’s personal theatrical wardrobe, props, library, and paintings were seized for auction. It was during this time that A Coming Storm left Booth’s possession as it was necessarily auctioned off.

In 1876, the then owner of A Coming Storm once again exhibited it in a public gallery. This time it was displayed by the Brooklyn Art Association where it was noted as being one of “the most effective” landscapes in the exhibition. In 1880, Sanford Gifford, the artist of the piece, bought his own painting back and did a little retouching on it. He also re-dated it from 1863 to 1880. Sanford Gifford died in 1881 and the painting went back into private hands. Eventually it was loaned to, and then purchased by, the Philadelphia Museum of Art.

Today the 28 x 42 inch painting formerly belonging to Edwin Booth is on display in the museum’s American Gallery, continuing to impress and inspire others to ponder the coming storm in their own lives.

Categories: History | Tags: , , , , , , | 4 Comments

A Buffalo Resident and Lincoln’s Assassination

On Saturday, April 15, the news of Lincoln’s assassination in Washington, D.C. reached the residents of Buffalo, New York. The entire city followed the rest of the nation with massive demonstrations of mourning. Black crepe was draped over public buildings and the residents wore black armbands and cockades. Many private homes in the city choose to mimic their public counterparts by similarly displaying mourning emblems and decorations. In Niagara Square, an affluent residential neighborhood in Buffalo, every single house was draped in black crepe and flying the American flag with the exception of one. As of Monday, April 17, this home was still without mourning decorations, much to the chagrin of other residences who thought the lack of adornment demonstrated disrespect to the fallen President and the grieving nation. That evening a group of residents decided to take matters into their own hands. According to newspaper reports, a small group of men threw either ink or mud on the front of the offending home. This blackened the front of the home, effectively forcing it into a display of mourning.

This incident would seem a minor and insignificant occurrence had it not been for the well-known nature of the house’s owner. The Buffalo resident who had his house blackened by his neighbors for failing to demonstrate an appropriate amount of mourning over Lincoln’s death was ex-President Millard Fillmore.

Fillmore was the 13th President of the United States, having inherited the office after the death of Zachary Taylor in 1850. Fillmore served out the remainder of Taylor’s term before he was replaced by President Franklin Pierce in 1853. During the Civil War, Fillmore had initially been supportive of President Lincoln’s efforts and the ex-President even commanded a corps of above 45 years-old home guardsmen named the Union Continentals. These guardsmen, too old for regular army service, trained to defend the Buffalo area in case of Confederate attack. As the war went on, however, Fillmore became less support of Lincoln’s administration and the ongoing costs of war. In 1864, he spoke out against the continuing bloodshed and endorsed the Democratic candidate George McClellan, hoping the democrats would end the war and return the Southern states into the Union even with slavery still intact. This betrayal of Lincoln turned Fillmore into a Copperhead and greatly diminished his influence thereafter. The Republican papers in Buffalo never forgave Fillmore for this and recalled his own administration’s commitment to enforcing the Fugitive Slave Act.

This is the reason why there was so much backlash to Fillmore’s lack of mourning decoration on his home on April 17, 1865. In papers nationwide, Fillmore was attacked for his impropriety, with many papers taking jabs at his politics.

To Fillmore’s credit, he was quick to rectify the situation. An acquaintance in Buffalo, on Wednesday, April 19, two days after the blackening, described the scene as follows:

“I passed the residence of ex-President Fillmore. It was heavily and appropriately draped, a large American flag forming part of the drapery. Moreover, I met and conversed with Mr. Fillmore on the streets. He wore a badge of mourning on his person. He mentioned his gratification at the solemn and universal observance of the day, in the way of funeral obsequies to the illustrious dead; and in speaking of the event of Mr. Lincoln’s death, he pronounced it ‘a great national calamity.’” – The Wheeling Daily Register, April 28, 1865

In addition to adding the appropriate displays of mourning to his house, some sympathetic newspapers also published Fillmore’s reasoning for having not adorned his abode earlier:

“We have ample reason to know that this omission was not for want of sincere respect for the deceased, or of a heartfelt sorrow at his death. But private dwellings were not generally draped, and no notice was given that they would be, and Mrs. F[illmore] being out of health, Mr. Fillmore – as we are informed – did not leave his house after going to the post office in the morning, and therefore was not aware that any private dwellings were draped, and naturally thought an ostentatious show of grief might be misunderstood.” – Philadelphia Press, April 25, 1865

In the end, there is no evidence to show that Millard Fillmore meant any disrespect toward’s Lincoln’s memory. Even strongly Republican newspapers, when hearing of the circumstances regarding the vandalism and Fillmore’s response, condemned the actions of the mob.

Despite this, many still believed that Fillmore’s crime was of having the reputation of being a Copperhead and failing to publicly mourn Lincoln’s assassination quickly enough. A similar situation to this occurred with another living ex-President, Franklin Pierce.

Unlike Fillmore who had been supportive of Lincoln’s actions in the beginning of the war, Franklin Pierce had been an outspoken critic of Lincoln from the beginning. Pierce publicly spoke out against the war and sought to bring about peace talks to end the fighting and restore the Union with slavery intact. He was also a rightful critic of some of Lincoln’s more controversial acts such as the suspension of the writ of habeas corpus and the draft. It was well known that Pierce had no love for the actions of Lincoln’s administration. Upon the news of Lincoln’s death, an angry mob descended on Pierce’s home in Concord, New Hampshire. While Fillmore was either unaware, or ignored, the crowd at his home, Pierce went out to greet them. “Fellow-Townsmen,” Pierce said addressing the crowd, “I come to ascertain the motives of this call. What is your desire?” Someone in the crowd then replied, “We wish to hear some words from you on this sad occasion.” Then, using his powers of oration, the 60 year-old former President was able to nullify the crowd:

“I wish I could address you words of solace. But that can hardly be done. The magnitude of the calamity, in all aspects, is overwhelming. If your hearts are oppressed by events more calculated to awaken profound sorrow and regret than any which have hitherto occurred in our history, mine mingles its deepest sorrow with yours…”

After talking for a bit about their shared sense of mourning, a voice from the crowd shouted out, “Where is your flag?” echoing the lack of patriotic adornment that so condemned Fillmore’s home. Pierce countered this point expertly:

“It is not necessary for me to show my devotion for the stars and stripes by any special exhibition, or upon the demand of any man or body of men…If the period during which I have served our State and country in various situations, commencing more than thirty-five years ago, have left any question of my devotion to the flag, the Constitution and Union, in doubt, it is too late now to remove it by any such exhibition as the inquiry suggests…”

After only a few minutes of talking, Franklin Pierce was able to disperse the angry crowd and prevent any vandalism such as was suffered by Fillmore.

Fillmore, himself, did not appear to make any public speeches of grief until May 9th. During the interim, however, he did take part in the funeral proceedings for the late President. When Lincoln’s funeral train arrived in Batavia, NY at 5:18 am on April 27, 1865, Millard Fillmore was at the station to board it. He was on board along with other dignitaries, who had previously been picked up in Rochester, when the funeral trained arrived in Buffalo at 7:00 am.

Lincoln’s funeral cortege in Buffalo, NY, April 27, 1865

During the course of that day, Millard Fillmore was part of the funerary cortege and events. Fillmore took part in viewing Lincoln’s body as it laid in St. James Hall until 8:00 pm when the coffin was closed and the procession returned to the railway depot. At 10:00 pm, the funeral train departed, with Fillmore remaining in his hometown. An estimated 40,000 – 50,000 people viewed Lincoln’s remains in Buffalo that day including 28 year old future President Grover Cleveland.

It isn’t until May 9, 1865, that we have the first recorded sentiments from Millard Fillmore regarding the assassination of Lincoln. The remarks come from the minutes of the Buffalo Historical Society a group that Fillmore took a vested interest in. Like many other organizations at the time, the Buffalo Historical Society enacted a resolution in their minutes expressing their grief at the national tragedy. Before the BHS adopted their resolution, Fillmore asked to say a few words on the record. In his statement, which is recorded in full below, Fillmore expresses his sense of loss at Lincoln’s death but spends more words speaking hopefully of President Andrew Johnson, a man who had ascended to the Presidency through the death of another – a situation well known to Fillmore.

“As this resolution offered by Mr. Allen, is entertained by the society, and as he has been pleased to refer to me in his remarks, I trust that I shall be pardoned for saying a few words before the question is taken on its adoption. Perhaps no member of this society appreciates more fully than I do, the difficult task which President Lincoln had to perform, and I am sure none can deplore his death more sincerely than I do.

It is well known that I have not approved of all acts which have been done in his name during his Administration, but I am happy to say that his recent course met my approbation, and I had looked forward with confident expectation that he would soon be able to end the war, and by his kind, conciliatory manner win back our erring and repentant brethren and restore the Union. His assassination has sent a thrill of horror through every heart, depriving the Chief Magistrate of his life at a moment when party hostility was subsiding, and his life was doubly dear to his countrymen, and it has plunged a nation into mourning.

The chief assassin has already been summoned to the bar of a just God to answer for his crime, and I hope and trust that every one who participated in this awful tragedy will be legally tried, before the constitutional courts of the country, and if found guilty, will meet the punishment which the law prescribes for his offence; and that no innocent person will suffer from prejudice or passion. I need hardly add that I cordially concur in this resolution as a just tribute of respect to the memory of the deceased.

But while I express my sense of the great loss which this country has sustained in the death of President Lincoln at this particular juncture, I would not be understood as implying a want of confidence in his successor. I can sympathize with him in the embarrassments with which he is surrounded, and the difficulties which he has to encounter in being thus suddenly called to the helm of state amid the perilous storm of an unparalleled rebellion. It appears to me that the storm has nearly spent its fury, and the angry waves are gradually subsiding, and gleams of sunshine already illumine many a dark spot. This fact greatly adds to the labors and responsibilities of the Government. Statesmanship must now take the place of arms. But yet I have hope. From all that I know of President Johnson I think he has talent and integrity; and if he will hear and then follow the dictates of his own good sense and calm judgment, without prejudice or passion, he will succeed. But I must say that I am pained to see so little consideration manifested even by well-intentioned friends, as to rush upon him at this time with addresses, requiring a response from him, thus engrossing his valuable time and distracting his mind, when every consideration of friendship, patriotism and propriety should forbid it.

The first caution he has to observe is to steer clear of the factions that are trying to get possession of him for their own selfish purposes — to carry out some favorite theory of reconstruction, or to gratify some feeling of revenge.

I am happy to see that he receives all politely but keeps his own counsel, and has the prudence and good sense not to commit himself in offhand speeches as to his future policy; but leaves himself at liberty, after due consideration, to take advantage of circumstances as they arise.

In my humble opinion, he who controls the destinies of a nation, especially at a time like this, should never indicate his future policy until it is fully matured in Cabinet council, and he is ready to put it in operation; nor should he promise an office until he is ready to confer it.

While, therefore, we justly deplore the loss of President Lincoln, let us never despair of the Republic; but rally around his successor, regardless of past differences or party prejudices, and do all we can to sustain him, so long as he maintains the Constitution and laws of our common country. Let us remember amidst all our grief and disappointments that there is an unerring Providence that governs this world, and that no man is indispensable to a nation’s life; and let us look hopefully for the rainbow of peace that will surely succeed the storm if we do our own duty. I hope the resolution will be adopted.”

Fillmore would become an ally for Andrew Johnson and supported the 17th President’s Reconstruction policies. This support likely had some roots in Fillmore’s own difficulties in succeeding a deceased President. When President Johnson visited Buffalo on September 3, 1866, Millard Fillmore was selected to be the lead dignitary to greet him and welcome him to the city.

In the aftermath of Abraham Lincoln’s assassination, grief gripped the country. This grief manifested in a variety of ways. While many sought solace through individual and group demonstrations of mourning, other were so filled with confusion and conflict at the loss of the President that they struck out in anger. The forceful blackening of the 13th President’s home was as much an expression of grief as was the Lincoln funeral train itself. Saddened and confused residents around the nation lashed out at those in their communities who they knew to be critical of Lincoln in the past. For a time, many faced severe punishment for a lack of appropriate grief at Lincoln’s death, whether warranted or not. The blackening of Fillmore’s house may be regrettable but it perfectly demonstrates one manner in which the country attempted to cope with the loss of Lincoln.

References:
Millard Fillmore: Biography of a President by Robert J. Rayback
President Lincoln Assassinated!! The Firsthand Story of the Murder, Manhunt, Trial and Mourning edited by Harold Holzer
Lincoln’s Funeral Train: The Epic Journey from Washington to Springfield by Robert M. Reed
Millard Fillmore Papers, Volume Two edited by Frank H. Severance
Newspaper extracts come from GenealogyBank.com and the Library of Congress
The inspiration for this post comes from the wonderfully done, Railsplitter Podcast. Each week, the Railsplitter Podcast delves into the life of Abraham Lincoln. The three hosts are able to make Abraham Lincoln accessible to all with the use of knowledge and a good dose of humor. In that vein, one of the hosts of the podcast, Railsplitter Nick, has an ongoing “feud” with President Millard Fillmore. Why Nick dislikes Fillmore so much, I don’t really remember. However, he manages to find a way to diss Fillmore in almost every episode of the podcast. In preparation for an upcoming appearance on an assassination related episode of the Railsplitter Podcast, I wanted to find a way to connect Fillmore to Lincoln’s death. That is what led me to research and compose this post. I hope you enjoyed and/or hated it, Nick!

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