Replica of Lincoln's casket being loaned to Historical Society

Posted: Mar. 30, 2013 3:29 pm Updated: Apr. 20, 2013 9:15 pm

Herald-Whig Staff Writer

Quincy's plans to commemorate the 150th anniversary of Abraham Lincoln's assassination in 2015 are getting an early boost.

An exact replica of Lincoln's coffin -- one of five in existence -- is being loaned to the Historical Society of Quincy and Adams County. It will go on exhibit a year from now and remain on display through 2015, according to Chuck Radel, a member of the society's Board of Directors.

The coffin is being loaned by the Kibbe Hancock Heritage Museum in Carthage, which has two of the replica coffins -- both built by the Batesville Casket Co. at the request of the Illinois Funeral Directors Association.

One coffin was previously housed in the Museum of Funeral Customs in Springfield while the other was used in an IFDA-sponsored traveling museum. The Kibbe Museum gained control of the coffins and many other artifacts after the Springfield museum was shuttered in 2009.

Rod Cookson, co-owner of the Zehender Robinson Stormer Cookson Funeral Home in Quincy, was involved in relocating items from the Springfield museum to the Carthage site. He also subsequently asked the Kibbe museum's governing board to loan one of the Lincoln replica caskets to the Historical Society of Quincy and Adams County "where we have some pretty neat Lincoln items," Cookson said.

The casket will arrive in Quincy April 10. "We're planning to take delivery that day and put it somewhere safe and protected until we're ready for the exhibit next year," Radel said.

Radel is project coordinator for the society's Lincoln Gallery, which opened three years ago in the John Wood Mansion Visitors Center, 425 S. 12th. The gallery features a series of museum-quality exhibits focusing on Lincoln's political career, presidency and death -- and the roles Quincyans played in each of those areas.

The death aspect will rise to the forefront in 2015 when the nation pauses to commemorate the 150th anniversary of Lincoln's assassination. Lincoln was shot in the head April 14, 1865, by John Wilkes Booth while attending a play at Ford's Theater in Washington, D.C., and died the following morning.

Quincy's Lincoln Gallery contains several rare artifacts associated with the assassination. The items are tied to some of the eight conspirators who aided Booth.

One artifact is the hood worn to the gallows by conspirator Lewis Powell, who was convicted and sentenced to death. Powell and three other conspirators were hung at the Washington Arsenal on July 7, 1865, nearly three months after Lincoln was killed.

Also on display is the key to the jail cell of Mary Surratt, who was convicted of aiding and abetting the conspiracy, and the manacles worn by George Atzerodt, who was suspected of plotting to assassinate Vice President Andrew Johnson and of participating in the plan to kill Lincoln.

Surratt and Atzerodt were hung simultaneously with Powell and a fourth conspirator, David Herold. A photograph of the hanging appears in the gallery.

Radel said he expects increased interest in the Lincoln Gallery once the 150th anniversary of the assassination arrives. He feels interest will only heighten by having the replica of Lincoln's coffin on hand.

"It will help tell the story better, and it will interest more people into coming and looking at the exhibits and learning about Lincoln's ties to Quincy," Radel said.

Bruce Leathem, who serves on the board of the Kibbe museum, is a retired funeral director who also played a key role in moving the IFDA museum artifacts to the Kibbe site, where they went on display in 2011.

Leathem said the Kibbe museum has a special exhibit focusing on Lincoln and his ties to Hancock County. One replica casket is the centerpiece of a display depicting the scene in the East Room of the White House while Lincoln lay in state. That particular coffin features a likeness of Lincoln's body that Leathem created using his mortician skills.

"I was able to get a copy of Lincoln's life mask that was made, and then I put a mannequin together and put that life mask on it and cosmetized it," he said. "I'm not really done with it yet. I want to put a beard on it, but I still have to get the beard."

Leathem said having the second Lincoln coffin on temporary display in Quincy will help promote both Lincoln exhibits during the 150th anniversary.

"They (in Quincy) will promote the Kibbe museum up here, and Kibbe will help promote them down there," he said. "It's going to be a cooperative kind of thing to get people going to both places."