History

Mourning Papers

First hand accounts of how the people of New York city reacted to the assassination of Abraham Lincoln.

The-Mourning-Papers

In the days following the assassination of Abraham Lincoln on 14 April, 1865, New York papers gave comprehensive and detailed coverage of a city that seemed spontaneously and instantaneously to clad itself in mourning – mostly meaning endless festoons of black crepe.

In his diary, George Templeton Strong (the Samuel Pepys of 19th century America) witnessed this scene when walking to Trinity Church on Easter Morning:

Nearly every building in Broadway and in all the side streets, as far as one could see, festooned lavishly with black and white muslin. Columns swathed in the same material. Rosettes pinned to window curtains. Flags at half-mast and tied up with crepe. I hear that even in second and third class quarters, people who could afford to do no more have generally displayed at least a little twenty-five cent flag with a little scrap of crepe annexed. Never was a public mourning more spontaneous and general. [1]

In fact, by Sunday the 16th, merchants had totally run out of black muslin and dealers in dry goods began taking orders for prompt delivery. The public outpouring of grief also lent individuals the opportunity to cash-in on proceedings as these advertisements from Frank Leslie’s Illustrated Newspaper for Lincoln merchandise, May 1865, attest.

Despite this pervasive display of genuine shock and grief, dissidents did not entirely disappear, at least not directly, and the press reported the fate of many. Two instances recorded in the New York Herald include a passenger aboard a Brooklyn ferryboat expressing ‘obnoxious opinions’, resulting in bystanders heaving him overboard (a small passing craft rescued him); while an anti-Lincoln socialite woman observed that a nearby house, ‘having not been put in mourning, was tarred.’ [2]

Perhaps the most evocative reaction to the death of Lincoln in New York though were the makeshift shrines erected in countless windows and store-fronts. Amazingly, following the news of Lincoln’s assassination, an anonymous New Yorker travelled the city on 15 April, sketching in his diary the shrines that had popped-up over the city.

Below, we are very pleased to share with you some of the pages, dated April 15 1865, which are held at the McLellan Lincoln Collection, John Hay Library, Brown University. Underneath the pictures you will find transcripts to spare you from squinting.

Morning Ribbons

6

Over the Astor House door:

‘Only the actions of the just smell sweet and blossom in the dust.’

‘If misfortune comes she brings along the bravest virtues.’

‘Heaven but tries our virtues, by afflictions and of the clouds, which wraps the present hour, serves to brighten all our future days.’

‘A man and a statesman. A Coward’s device has robbed us of a nation’s friend. And as a nation we mourn his loss.’

‘Justice to traitors is mercy to the people.’

281 Broadway:

‘A glorious career of a service and devotion is crowned with a Martyr’s death.’

843 Broadway:

‘The tear that we shed / Though in secret it rolls / Shall long keep his memory / Green in our souls.’

663 Broadway:

‘Woe to the hand that shed this costly blood.’

65-4 Broadway:

‘A time for weeping but vengeance is not sleeping.’ ■

Lincoln and New YorkSelected images and text for this post have come from  Michael Kammen’s essay ‘Mourning For a Lost Captain’, taken from our book Lincoln and New York, which accompanied a 2009 New York Historical Society’s exhibition celebrating Abraham Lincoln’s bicentenary. 

Top image: Peter Kramer (1823–1907). [Lincoln’s Deathbed], 1865. Lithograph, A. Brett & Co., printer, Jones & Clark, publisher.

Bibliography:

[1] New York World, April 20, 1865; Allan Nevins and Milton Halsey Thomas, eds., The Diary of George Templeton Strong (New York: Macmillan, 1952), 3:585.

[2] New York Herald, April 16 and April 17, 1865; Harold Earl Hammond, ed., Diary of a Union
Lady, 1861–1865 (New York: Funk & Wagnalls, 1962), 357.

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