June 14--ELSAH -- Historian Tim Tomlinson is leading three Riverbend historical societies in one role in the 2015 Lincoln Funeral Coalition that will commemorate the 150th anniversary of Abraham Lincoln's assassination April 15, 1865.
In the developing vision of the event culminating May 2 and 3, 2015, in Springfield, the Historic Elsah Foundation, the Chautauqua Historical Society, and the Grafton Historical Society embarked on a project for the 2015 event to make a coffin as accurately as possible to Lincoln's original elaborate coffin to arrive in and remain in Springfield next May 2. Tomlinson, who is the president of the Historic Elsah Foundation, came up with a plan to find the exact dimensions of the original coffin by acquiring a replica of the "great coat" Lincoln wore the night he was fatally shot by John Wilkes Booth at the Ford's Theatre in Washington, D.C.
The original coat tailored by Brooks Brothers in New York City has been replicated twice, with Lincoln's original coat as part of the Ford's Theatre Museum's permanent exhibition program in Washington, D.C.Brooks Brothers' replica garment came to Tomlinson via Federal Express last Wednesday giving the historical society members less than one week to measure the coat and send it back to Brooks Brothers.
The Tomlinsons, along with Historic Elsah Foundation Treasurer George Provenzano, Grafton Historical Society member Mary Lillesve and seamstress Sandra Stack, of Elsah, who is a retired Principia College textiles instructor, handled the historic artifact with white gloves last Thursday as they measured the great coat at Farley's Music Hall in Elsah.
According to Tim's research, Lincoln had been a Brooks Brothers client for years prior to becoming president and then being re-elected as president Nov. 8, 1864. In support of his presidency and his loyal customer standing, the New York clothier made Lincoln a special great coat, now known as an overcoat, presented as a gift to be worn at his second inaugural.
"Three-quarters length, the coat looked rich and handsome, made of wool finer than cashmere, an example of extraordinary craftsmanship, truly worthy of a sitting president," Tomlinson said.
He arranged delivery of the great coat through Brooks Brothers' corporate historian, Kelly Stuart, who noted the significance of the coat's lining when she talked to Tomlinson.
Company seamstresses quilted an elaborate design into the silk lining of the coat that depicts an American bald eagle, wings spread, with a banner in its beak that reads "One Country, One Destiny."
"They spent hours and hours embroidering the design," Tomlinson said. "'One Country, One Destiny' summarizes Lincoln's presidency and what he did for this country."
In 1990, to honor the 100th anniversary of the Ford's Theatre National Historic Site, Brooks Brothers made two reproductions of the Lincoln coat they made for the second inaugural, with one being for use as a display substitute for the original coat when it is out of the museum for curatorial reasons, rotating with the second replica coat, which is the one Tomlinson received for measurement purposes.
Tomlinson's wife, Rose, who is the past president of the Chautauqua Historical Society, began to ponder who or what organization might have Lincoln's measurements and prompted Tim to contact Jerry McKenna, who created life-size bronze statues of senatorial candidates Lincoln and Steven Douglas standing on the exact spot of their seventh and last debate on Oct. 15, 1858, at Alton'sLincoln-Douglas Square at Landmarks Boulevard and Broadway. This contact led Tim to Brooks Brothers in search of Lincoln's measurements and they offered to send the second 1990 coat.
"It's like a mystery story, one thing led to another," Rose said at Farley's last Thursday.
The 2015 Lincoln Funeral Coalition event will bring re-enactors, individuals and organizations that are steeped in Civil War history together in the Illinois capital as 2015 not only brings to a close the 150th anniversary of the Civil War but also will commemorate the death of Lincoln and how it changed history.
For the first time since 1865, thousands of re-enactors, civilians, period carriages, visitors and dignitaries will, on May 2 and 3, 2015, convene in Springfield to pay tribute to the 16th president with the unparalleled historic and solemn recreation of the funeral procession to Oak Ridge Cemetery, in Springfield, where Lincoln finally came to rest.
Jill Moon can be reached at (618) 208-6448 and Twitter @jill_moon.
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