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Unknown Stories of WNY: Lincoln's 2 Buffalo funerals

Looking back on how the Queen City memorialized the fallen president.

BUFFALO, N.Y. — Later this month, on May 30, the nation will celebrate the 100th anniversary of the opening of the Lincoln Memorial. Here in Western New York, we enjoy a strong connection to the 16th president. 

From Westfield's Little Grace Bedell's suggestion that led to Lincoln growing that iconic beard, to a Buffalo dentist's lifelong mission that led to Lincoln's birthday being celebrated nationally as part of President's Day. The Queen City in fact hosted, not one, but two funerals for President Abraham Lincoln.

It was Good Friday 1865, less than five days after General Robert E. Lee surrendered ending the Civil War, that Lincoln was felled by an assassin's bullet. 

"Of course, he died on the 15th and four days later in Washington D.C. on the 19th they were having services there. Well a lot of other cities, including Buffalo, held a mock funeral. I think Buffalo outdid all of the other cities," said Bren Price of the Buffalo Presidential Center

Price says it was a somber procession, featuring more than 40 different groups, ranging from marching bands to civic organizations, to regiments, wound their way through Buffalo streets for two and a half hours. 

"Then at that night, Millard Fillmore and the city leaders found out that funeral train was actually going to be here with Lincoln's body eight days later on the 27th," Price said.

So that funeral procession on the 19th served as a dress rehearsal of sorts. The big difference, of course, was the fact that the body of President Lincoln was present at the second event. Despite Mary Todd Lincoln's desire to have her husband make a direct route back to Springfield, Illinois, the decision was made for the funeral train to retrace the path of his inaugural ride four years earlier.

The crowds grew as the train made its way into Buffalo, and the funeral carriage through the streets, ultimately bringing the casket to St. James Hall, which stood where M&T Plaza is today. 

"People entered starting at 9 a.m. and there were reports that up to 100,000 people passed by the casket, including (former president) Millard Fillmore and a very young attorney by the name of Grover Cleveland," Price said.

A moment in Buffalo history which capsulized the past, present and future of the United States presidency, during an event that served as a healing tour for a recently reunited United States.

"Pulling the country together giving the people who loved and respected him in the opportunity to pay their last respects. People were lined along the railroad tracks, there were thousands of people, along all of these small towns, and people were crying... it was very cathartic," Price said.

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