A single delicate dried flower that lay on Abraham Lincoln’s bier has been discovered in the archives of a historical society in Will County (founded on January 12, 1836) in the city of Lockport, Illinois. At first glance, it appears to be just another dried flower, a carefully preserved memory from a wedding, prom, or similar special occasion.
|Abraham Lincoln's casket was placed in the Ohio Statehouse rotunda in Columbus on April 29, 1865, where he laid in state. The president’s coffin rested on a flower-covered catafalque bearing the word “Lincoln” in silver letters.|
Sandy Vasko, president of the Will County Historical Society discovered the single white rose in January of 2018 while looking through some old boxes stored in the attic at the Will County Historical Museum and Research Center.
Beautifully preserved in a modest display case with a glass lid, the rose was identified by a handwritten label on the back as having performed the solemn duty of adorning the slain president’s coffin when it lay in state in the Capitol Rotunda in Washington, D.C., on April 20, 1865. According to the label note, the rose was given to Lincoln’s good friend General Isham Haynie of Illinois who in turn gifted it to Mrs. James Elwood of Joliet.
|This rose picture is a visual aid.|
James Gavion Elwood (1839-1917) was a Civil War veteran, former Postmaster, and Mayor of Joilet and a prominent citizen. Boxes of his belongings were donated to the Will County Historical Society in the 1970s. The 13 boxes of the Elwood collection were stashed in the building, nine in closets, four in the attic, and remained there for decades before Vasko started going through them. The rose and its all-important label was in one of them.
|A pressed flower bouquet from an Abraham Lincoln’s bier on display at Ford's Theatre National Historic Site in Washington D.C. Photo courtesy the Library of Congress.|
The discovery of this one precious dried white rose might as well be the holy grail for the Society. “For a museum director to find this kind of incredible artifact, it is so lucky,” Vasko said. “When I was touching it and handling it, it was like electricity. It was just so amazing.”
There are very few pictures of the multiple funerals and public viewings of the coffin that were held along the long, slow, sad journey of Lincoln’s body from Washington, D.C. to Springfield, Illinois. This was deliberate. Edwin McMasters Stanton, secretary to Lincoln, devastated by President Lincoln’s assassination was adamantly opposed to any hint of commercializing the horrific event. Grieving widow Mary Todd Lincoln agreed with him, and he ordered General Townsend, who was delegated to accompany the cortege, to prohibit all photographs. When he failed to do so in New York, Stanton was enraged and had every negative plate confiscated and destroyed.
The photograph (above) of Lincoln lying in state in the Ohio Statehouse rotunda is the only known picture that escaped General Townsend's watchful eye and that of his staff. The flowers themselves are extremely rare. As far as we know, the only other ones are in the Ford’s Theatre National Historic Site in Washington D.C., and it’s not clear whether they came from the funeral in the East Room of the White House, the one in the Rotunda, or from when he lay in state the next day. This find is historically significant because it’s such a rare survival, because of its involvement in an iconic tragedy in American history, and because it’s in Illinois, President Lincoln’s home state.
There are still no public photographs available of the Lincoln funeral rose from the Will County Historical Museum and Research Center.
Compiled by Neil Gale, Ph.D.
 Bier: [Pronunciation] A movable frame on which a coffin is placed before burial or on which it is carried to the grave and remains in place during the funeral.
 Catafalque: [Pronunciation] A raised bier, box, or similar platform, often movable, that is used to support the casket of the deceased during a Christian funeral or memorial service.