February 1, 2008

February 1 | Fleetwood Lindley

1888? - February 1, 1963: Age 75

Fleetwood Lindley is pictured here as a 13-year-old boy, because that is when he looked upon the face of Abraham Lincoln. It was 1901 at the time.

At various times after Lincoln's death in 1865, crooks were coming up the bright idea to steal his body and hold it for ransom. By 1900, Lincoln's son Robert was fed up: he decided to build a permanent crypt for his father. Plans were to encase the coffin in several feet of concrete, surround it with a cage, and bury it beneath a rock slab. It was to this end that Lincoln's body was exhumed in order to be reburied in the new crypt.

On September 26, it was decided that the coffin should also be opened, just to be sure that the body in the box was Lincoln and that it hadn't already been stolen. Two men chiseled a piece out of the top of the coffin just over Lincoln's head and shoulders. When it was opened, the 23 witnesses present, withstanding the horrible smell, came forward and peered into the coffin. Fleetwood Lindley was one of them. He was 13 years old at the time.

All agreed that it was Lincoln, his face was instantly recognizable, with its black beard, thick hair, and the wart on his cheek. His eyebrows had disappeared. His clothing was covered with yellow mold, and the American flag that had been buried with him had rotted completely, leaving a few bits of red fabric on his chest. Said one man, "Anyone who had ever seen his pictures would have known it was him. His features had not decayed. He looked just like a statue of himself lying there."

The piece of the lid was soldered back into place, and the coffin lowered into the cage. Two tons of cement were poured over the cage and the casket. Lincoln's remains were now permanently at rest.

Fleetwood was the only child present. He himself lived to be 75 years, and enjoyed the distinction, at the end, of being the last living person to view Abraham Lincoln's face. He was interviewed about it three days before he died in 1963. Here is what he said:
“Yes, his face was chalky white. His clothes were mildewed. And I was allowed to hold one of the leather straps as we lowered the casket for the concrete to be poured. I was not scared at the time but I slept with Lincoln for the next six months.”

Below: the coffin is broken out of its pine casing, ready for opening. The coffin is at centre, the pine casing to the right.

Sources: Wikipedia, Abraham Lincoln's Assassination


Ulla said...

Perfect example of impermanence -
the description of inside the coffin...

daap said...


Balde50 said...

I remember as a very young girl, reading an article by Fleetwood Lindley about this last viewing of Abraham Lincoln's body. It fascinated me, and I would love to read the same article again. All I can remember is that it appeared in a magazine, probably from the 1950's. Can anyone help me?

Anonymous said...

For Balde50: The article you might have seen was in the February 15, 1963, LIFE magazine.