Abraham Lincoln’s hearse found its way to our capital city. Or maybe it didn’t‘There’s a Story to Be Told’The Tale Behind DeVoe Moore’s Hearse – That Might Just Be Lincoln’s
By Jason Dehart
DeVoe Moore has a love affair with the unusual, the unexpected, the bizarre – even the morbid.
The unusual: a Batmobile collection that is the envy of every comic book geek in town. The unexpected: a fancifully engraved Austrian musket said to have belonged to Buffalo Bill Cody. The bizarre: a “vampire killing kit” complete with flintlock pistol, silver bullets, holy water and a stake. Finally, the morbid: an 1860s-era, horse-drawn hearse said to have carried President Abraham Lincoln to his final resting place in Springfield, Ill.
It’s the history behind these pieces that compelled Moore to gather them for his Tallahassee Automobile Museum, a collection of Americana that extends well beyond whitewalls and sparkplugs.
“If these pieces could talk,” Moore says wistfully, thinking about why these relics attract him. “There’s real history there. Not that I was a history major, I certainly wasn’t, but I think it’s the history that lies behind it. If (the hearse in particular) was reported to have been Abraham Lincoln’s hearse and I (own) a museum, then there’s a story to be told.”
The story behind the Lincoln hearse is shrouded in mystery. Unlike the 1893 Duryea automobile in his collection that has its own documentation etched in the floorboards, there is no proof positive that Moore has, indeed, one of the elaborate funeral carriages used during Lincoln’s 14-city funeral procession.
“No, there’s no paperwork,” Moore says. “But the Smithsonian did their best to get this hearse.”
Moore bought the common-looking artifact about 10 years ago when the massive antique car collection of Georgia carpet mogul Ed Weaver went up for auction. One item at the auction was a somber black 19th-century hearse from Illinois.
“Ed Weaver was somebody about like me, a car nut, and he had or was fixin’ to build a museum in Dalton, Ga., on the interstate,” Moore says. “He wanted the hearse for his centerpiece, and the Smithsonian wanted it, and they tried to get it from him and he put a price tag of a million dollars on it because he didn’t want to get rid of it. But the Smithsonian’s not in the habit of paying big bucks for something. They want it donated.”
Whatever plans Weaver had for displaying the hearse were cut short when he himself suddenly needed one, Moore says.
“Ed Weaver had the largest private-owned carpet-building company in the United States, out of Chatsworth, Ga., up close to Dalton,” Moore says. “And it’s my understanding that he lived a fast life and at the age of 49 fell over dead for whatever reason. To clear up any debt he had, they had to auction off his cars and private collection to pay off the IRS.”
That’s where Moore came along. He beat a bidder from Memphis, Tenn., for the hearse and, to learn more about his new prize, started digging into the back story of Lincoln’s funeral.
Moore went to the Abraham Lincoln Library in Illinois for answers.
“I think I read where there were 16 different hearses,” he says. “But this is – supposedly – the hearse that carried him to his final resting place. I know that as long as the hearse has been out here, that if it wasn’t one of his, that somebody would have come up and had some information. So I feel comfortable that it was used.”
However, he does hedge his bets.
“I never tell anybody that it was, I say that it is reported to have been,” Moore says.
‘Thus Shall It Be for Tyrants’
Lincoln was assassinated at Ford’s Theatre on April 14, 1865 – a week after the surrender at Appomattox – by John Wilkes Booth, a Southern patriot and stage actor with a flair for the dramatic.
Lincoln, his wife and U.S. Army Maj. Henry Rathbone were watching from the presidential box a production of “Our American Cousin” when Booth sneaked in unnoticed, with a small but powerful .44-caliber single-shot pistol in one hand and a large knife in the other. Booth had been planning this tragic act for months, ever since an initial plot to kidnap the president had fizzled. Now, he was the tip of a new conspiracy, and everything seemed to be going according to plan – the guard outside the president’s box had inexplicably allowed him access, and nothing stood in Booth’s way.
Inside the president’s box, Booth put the muzzle of his small pistol to the back of Lincoln’s head and fired, sending the lead ball crashing through his skull.
Rathbone shot up, and he and Booth grappled until Booth slashed him with his knife. Booth then leapt to the stage below – but he didn’t make a clean getaway. A boot spur caught on a flag draped over the railing; he lost his balance and broke his leg when he hit the stage.
Despite the injury and true to his acting roots, Booth was determined that the show must go on. Defiantly, he shouted to the audience, “Sic semper tyrannis!,” which translates to “Thus shall it be for tyrants” – also the state motto of Virginia. Then, according to noted Civil War historian Bruce Catton, “He was out through the wings and making his escape on a horse waiting in the alley.”
Meanwhile, Booth’s fellow conspirators also had been busy. Former Live Oak, Fla., resident Lewis Paine attacked and repeatedly stabbed Secretary of State William Seward while the Cabinet member lay sick in bed. George Andrew Atzerodt – assigned the task of rubbing out Vice President Andrew Johnson – instead got drunk and lost his nerve.
Mortally wounded, Lincoln was moved to a house across the street from the theater.
“Through the night doctors did what they could to save the President’s life, but at 7:22 a.m. the following morning Abraham Lincoln died,” Catton wrote in “The American Heritage Picture History of The Civil War,” published in 1960.
At the moment of Lincoln’s death, Secretary of War Edwin Stanton uttered the words, “Now he belongs to the ages.”
The historic moment set into motion a flurry of emotional drama and action on two fronts, simultaneously. A funeral for an assassinated U.S. president had to be planned and conducted, and the search for his killer and anybody connected to the plot had to be swiftly carried out.
Lincoln’s body would lie in state at the U.S. Capitol rotunda on April 19; thousands of mourners filed past his coffin. Two days later, it was placed aboard a seven-car funeral train and began its 1,700-mile route to Springfield, Ill., “virtually retracing the route he had taken four years earlier to his first inauguration,” Catton wrote.
The funeral train was dressed in black crepe and at times sported a wreath-encased portrait of the deceased president on the front of the locomotive. Philadelphia, New York City, Buffalo, N.Y., Cleveland and Chicago were among the larger cities on the route. The train made more than a dozen stops along the way, each accompanied by a funeral procession witnessed by thousands.
“The coffin was taken to Philadelphia’s Independence Hall, where Lincoln had once raised the 34-star flag, and in New York 100,000 hushed mourners accompanied the cortege through the streets,” Catton wrote. “Since no building in Cleveland was large enough to accommodate the expected crowds, a special pagoda was erected in a city park. Bonfires illuminated the route to Chicago; along the way, thousands stood all night in the rain for a glimpse of the passing train.”
On May 3, 1865, the funeral train reached Springfield, and the next day Lincoln was interred at Oak Ridge Cemetery. Today, a 117-foot granite tomb dedicated in 1874 contains Lincoln, his wife, Mary Todd, and three of his four sons.
‘Thus Always to Assassins’
While most of the nation stood paralyzed with grief over Lincoln’s death, the military under Stanton’s command cast a wide net to catch Booth and his conspirators. The first arrest – Edward Spangler – came just two days after Lincoln’s death. In very short order, other suspects were caught: David Herold, Lewis Paine, George Atzerodt, Michael O’Laughlin, Samuel Arnold, Hartman Richter, John Surratt and Mary Surratt.
Herold was with Booth when he was cornered in a Virginia barn by cavalrymen, who demanded their surrender. Herold gave up, but Booth refused. The soldiers set the barn ablaze; one of them managed to shoot Booth in the neck.
“He died three hours later,” according to Mark Katz in “Witness To An Era: The Life and Photographs of Alexander Gardner.”
It was Gardner and his associates who brought the images of the war to the home front, and in these final dark hours he was once again in action; he took a series of famous mug shots of the suspects as they were temporarily incarcerated on Navy ships, and later photographed the execution of four of them. A period postcard photo of the execution says, in bold capital letters, Sic Semper Sicariis, or “Thus always to assassins.”
A Bit of Lincoln in Tallahassee
Moore said having a carriage with this kind of oral history just adds to Tallahassee’s luster.
“There’s a lot of neat stuff in Tallahassee that people don’t really know,” he says. He counts his classic auto museum as one of them and has refused to move it away from Tallahassee – despite the displeasure of having locked horns with the city over development permits.
“It took over two years to get a permit to build (the new museum),” Moore says. “To house probably the finest history that’s in Tallahassee. Where are you going to find a hearse that’s been reported for a number of years to have been Abraham Lincoln’s?”