Abraham Lincoln in Illinois
A Selection of Documents from the Illinois State Archives

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May 20, 1901

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Following Lincoln's assassination in 1865, the citizens of Illinois organized the National Lincoln Monument Association to plan a fitting monument for the late president's tomb. The committee agreed upon Oak Ridge Cemetery in Springfield as the appropriate place.

Lincoln's body arrived in Springfield on May 3, 1865. After lying in state overnight at the Old State Capitol, Lincoln was brought to Oak Ridge and placed in the public receiving vault. His body was interred there until December 21, 1865, when it was moved to a temporary vault that had been built at the cemetery.

The Lincoln Monument Association chose Larkin G. Mead to design the tomb and it was completed in 1874. In 1871, Lincoln's body was moved to the still unfinished monument. Placed with him in the tomb were three of his sons: Eddie, who died in 1850, Willie, who died in 1862, and Tad, who died in 1871. Mary Lincoln was placed in the tomb following her death in 1882. By the late 1890s the tomb was in need of repair. The State of Illinois had taken possession of the tomb in 1895 and in 1901 began rebuilding it.

This letter from Robert Todd Lincoln, Abraham Lincoln's only child who survived into adulthood, discusses his impending review of the reconstruction efforts. Those efforts included temporarily removing Lincoln's body from the tomb. From 1865 to 1901, Lincoln's coffin was moved 17 times due to construction and fears for the safety of the president's remains. There was actually a plot in 1876 to steal the body and hold it for ransom. The coffin itself was opened on five separate occasions. Abraham Lincoln was re-interred in the tomb in September 1901 under tons of reinforced cement. It was the last time the body was seen or moved.

Robert Lincoln addressed the letter to Illinois Governor Richard Yates, Jr. who served as governor from 1901-1905. His father, Richard Yates, Sr., was a political ally of Lincoln and served as governor during the Civil War (1861-1865) and as a United States senator.

Today, the Lincoln tomb is open to the public as a fitting memorial to our sixteenth president. Robert Lincoln, who served as Secretary of War under President James Garfield, is buried at Arlington National Cemetery in Washington, D.C.

Points to Consider

Why would Robert Todd Lincoln want his visit kept a secret?

Why would the State Archives have this letter in its holdings?

Robert Todd Lincoln died in Vermont on July 26, 1926. What are some possible reasons for him not wanting to be buried in the Lincoln Tomb?

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