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Mourning Papers

In the aftermath of the assassination of Abraham Lincoln on April 14, 1865, New York newspapers extensively covered the city’s swift and spontaneous transition into mourning attire, primarily marked by abundant displays of black crepe.

George Templeton Strong, often likened to the Samuel Pepys of 19th-century America, documented this somber atmosphere in his diary as he made his way to Trinity Church on Easter Morning:

Almost every building along Broadway and its adjacent streets, as far as the eye could reach, was adorned profusely with black and white muslin. Columns draped in the same fabric. Window curtains adorned with rosettes.

Flags lowered to half-mast and draped with crepe. Even in less affluent areas, individuals who could afford little else typically exhibited at least a small twenty-five-cent flag with a fragment of crepe attached. Public mourning had never been more spontaneous and widespread.

By Sunday, the 16th, merchants had completely depleted their stocks of black muslin, prompting dry goods dealers to begin accepting orders for immediate delivery.

The surge of grief also presented entrepreneurial opportunities, as evidenced by advertisements in Frank Leslie’s Illustrated Newspaper promoting Lincoln-related merchandise in May 1865.

Despite the prevailing atmosphere of genuine sorrow and shock, dissenting voices persisted, albeit indirectly, with their fates duly noted in the press.

The New York Herald recounted two incidents: one involving a passenger on a Brooklyn ferryboat voicing unpopular opinions, leading to bystanders tossing him overboard (he was eventually rescued by a passing vessel), and another where an anti-Lincoln socialite remarked on the absence of mourning in a nearby residence, resulting in the house being tarred.

Among the most poignant responses to Lincoln’s death in New York were the impromptu memorials erected in numerous windows and storefronts. Remarkably, following news of Lincoln’s assassination, an anonymous New Yorker traversed the city on April 15, sketching the spontaneous shrines that had emerged throughout the urban landscape.

We are delighted to present some of these diary pages, dated April 15, 1865, from the McLellan Lincoln Collection at the John Hay Library, Brown University. Transcripts are provided below the images for ease of reading.

assassination of Abraham Lincoln assassination of Abraham Lincoln

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.’ 

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Lincoln and newyork

Selected 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. 

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