The Mourning of a Beloved President:

Commemorative Imagery in the Collection of the La Crosse County Historical Society

Amy Vach

 

Robert E. Lee surrendered to Ulysses S. Grant at the Appomattox Courthouse on April 9, 1865.  Less than a week later, Abraham Lincoln was assassinated on April 14, 1865 (Good Friday) and died the next day at 7:22 am.  Lincoln was the first president of the United States to be assassinated and because of the events surrounding his death and the measures that he took while in the White House, the people mourned his passing at a national level as well as privately, in their households.  All of the objects exhibited here were meant to commemorate the loss of a beloved president who fought for social justice and presided over the United States during the bloodiest and bleakest war ever to have been fought.  All of this “Lincolniana” was used to decorate homes and memorialize Lincoln after his tragic death at the end of the Civil War.  All of the objects pictured below are in the collection of the La Crosse County Historical Society: all were displayed in the homes of local residents.


This portrait is of a younger Abraham Lincoln matted in an oval shape with a rustic wooden frame.  This piece is undated and unsigned.  This image may have come from the same donation as the Schneider etching of Lincoln.

Dimensions: Height 6 inches, Width 4 inches.


This full-body portrait of Lincoln features his classic suit and tie and the top hat for which he was well known.  The etching is signed at the bottom by Schneider and the back is dated February 2, 1913.  Otto J. Schneider is known to be the artist of the famous etching of Lincoln based on the photograph taken by Alexander Gardener. The deed of gift refers to this image as a rare Schneider etching.  No other copies of this etching were uncovered during research.   

Dimensions (Matte): Height 20.75 inches, Width 12 inches.   


Doesn't this image look a bit familiar?  I’m sure you are thinking of the picture where Lincoln is alone with his son, Tad reading the Bible to him.  However, this picture here has a few additions.  Mary Todd, Lincoln’s wife, and his oldest son, Robert, are superimposed into this image.  Robert is pictured in his military uniform, therefore the original image post-dates 1865.  Mary Todd is wearing a white dress instead of mourning clothes, although the original image is from a few years after the death of their son Willie (William Wallace).  The black oval frame seems to be original to the piece, since identical instances have been found.  The frame has fine detail flowers as well as a gold center oval surrounding the image.

Dimensions: Height 15 inches, Width 13 inches.


FREEDOM TO THE SLAVES. PROCLAIMED JANUARY 1ST 1863. BY ABRAHAM LINCOLN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES. "PROCLAIM LIBERTY THROUGHOUT ALL THE LAND UNTO ALL THE INHABITANTS THEREOF."  This image is commemorating the Emancipation Proclamation and depicts Lincoln helping up a slave with broken shackles with a child and mother in the background.  The broken chains are symbolic of the defeat of slavery in the United States.  This image was created by Currier and Ives, however, it is undated and was reproduced on an immense scale.  

Dimensions (Matte): Height 16.25 inches, Width 13.25 inches.


There are multiple variations of this portrait of the Lincoln family: some are inverted, while others are more of a caricature than a formal seated portrait.  This image dates from after the death of Willie, whose memory is honored by a picture of him hanging on the wall.  Mrs. Lincoln is portrayed wearing mourning clothes, because of the death of her son Willie, which caused her inconsolable grief.   Unlike the other family portrait, here Robert is not wearing a military uniform, so the original image pre-dated 1865 when he entered military service. 

Dimensions (Matte) Height 28 inches, Width 21 inches. 


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This newspaper is dated Saturday April 22, 1865.  The Nord Stern was a German language newspaper published in La Crosse, WI. This issue features the bold black lines between columns that are indicative of mourning in print. This edition was published several days after Lincoln's death,  and covers all of the details surrounding the assassination. This edition is a prime example of how citizens, including new immigrants, mourned Lincoln at the time of his death.  It is from a bound volume of collected newspapers from 1865. Newsprint in 1865 was of a  paper quality much superior to what began to be used in the 1880s, and they are in better condition than newspapers that are twenty years newer.  This newspaper is not a commemorative piece, because it was simply reporting the news.  

"Assassination of President Lincoln!" "Attempted Assassination of Secretary of State Seward!"

"Assassination of President Lincoln!" "Attempted Assassination of Secretary of State Seward!"


The small bas-relief plaque, known as a mourning plaque, of Abraham Lincoln has some local provenance.  It was purchased from an auction at the former home of Nanny Colwell.  Nanny’s father was Captain Wilson Colwell, who left his position as mayor of La Crosse to lead our local Company B in the Civil War. While stationed in Washington D.C. he and his wife (also named Nanny) were entertained at the White House by Mr. and Mrs. Lincoln, and the two women became friends. After the death of one of the Colwell children, Mrs. Lincoln sent flowers. Captain Colwell was killed in battle, and his widow eventually remarried, but it is entirely likely and appropriate that Nanny Colwell Dorset would have had this commemorative plaque honoring the late president in her home, and that her daughter, who was extremely proud of her father and her ancestry, would have kept and treasured it.

The gold-colored oval frame contains a gold-painted, bas-relief sculpture of Lincoln in profile mounted on black velveteen. This plaster bust was formed in a mold, then painted and mounted in the frame.  Research has only located one or two other examples that appear to be from the same mold. The square style of the nails on the back of the frame, and the age of the worn velveteen, combined with the provenance of this piece, make it likely that it was produced closer to the time of Lincoln’s death than many more common plaques that were done later in the 19th century.  A mourning plaque such as this would have been a fashionable way to commemorate the loss of an influential president who was also a friend of the family.  

Dimensions: Height 12 inches, Width 10 inches.  


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Here are two newspapers announcing the death of Abraham Lincoln.  These New York Herald editions are dated April 15, 1865.  However, these newspapers are not original.  They do not match the layout of the newspapers that printed on that sorrowful day.  There are six original versions of this newspaper that were printed with updated information as the day progressed.  These copies were produced later, to satisfy a market for Lincoln memorabilia that persisted for many years after his death. Some of the key components of these later reproductions are that they are either 2 or 4 pages in length, have differing numbers of columns and headings, and they contain a large centered portrait of Lincoln.  Both of these newspapers fall into those categories, but they are still at least a century old, if not older.  Reprints of this newspaper were common, and buyers understood what they were getting.  They were not meant to trick consumers, but instead were mementos.  Fakes are also usually deteriorating and are in worse condition than the earlier, higher quality originals.   More often than not the front page of the paper was reprinted and the backside contained an advertisement for a product.    


This framed image of Lincoln is actually a woven silk portrait and is not a print.  This mourning “ribbon” was more than likely from the Centennial Exposition of 1876, and the title has been cut off from the bottom.  A series of these ribbons were made to commemorate other individuals as well.  For example,  Wilhelm I, King of Prussia, Emperor of Germany  and Joseph Marie Jacquard portraits were also woven in silk.  There is evidence that the textile was cut to fit into the frame, so the text beneath the portrait was removed.  It was woven by Francois Carquillat and was designed by Allardet.  There are a few minor holes in the silk and some stains, but this item is over 100 years old and still prominently displays the image of a beloved and memorable president.  

Dimensions: Height 10.75 inches, Width 7.5 inches.


This commemorative plate was produced in the late nineteenth century by the de Sphinx factory of Petrus Regout, Maastricht, Holland.  Pictured in the center, is the home of Lincoln in Springfield IL. To the right of his home, is a portrait with his birth date February 16th, 1809 as well as his death date April 15th, 1865.  There are plates similar to this commemorating other presidents such as Washington, however, they were not manufactured by the same company.  

Diameter: 9.5 inches.  


This commemorative plate was made in order to sell to produce funds for the Nancy Hanks Club scholarship for the Lincoln Memorial University in Harrogate, Tennessee.  The statue reads "LINCOLN THE LAWYER Let every American, every loved of liberty, every well wisher to his posterity, swear by the blood of the revolution never to violate in the least particular the laws of the country. Springfield Ill Jan 27, 1838".  The back of the plate reads " The statue of Lincoln the Lawyer of the campus of Lincoln Memorial University at Harrogate, Tennessee was sculptured in bronze by C.S. Paolo. It is the first outdoor Lincoln statue erected in a former confederate state.  The sale of this plate is sponsored by the Nancy Hanks Club to maintain a scholarship loan fund for women students at the university and for community service. Old English Staffordshire Ware Made in Stratfordshire England imported exclusively for Nancy Hanks Club."

Dimensions: 9.5 inches.  


This chromo-lithograph (multi-color print) is from the early twentieth century (c. 1913) and is an advertisement for the “A. Lincoln” style watch from the Illinois Watch Company.  The bottom right corner has a seal of the Illinois Watch Company.  Although this image was created over 50 years after his death, he still had enough appeal with the public to be used to sell watches.  

Dimensions (Print): Height 9.5 inches, Width 6.5 inches.