After 152 years, Lincoln stories still draw a crowd

Abraham Lincoln (AP Photo/Library of Congress/Alexander Gardner)

WALLINGFORD, Conn. (WTNH) – It was 152 years ago Friday that Abraham Lincoln went to see a play. We all know some of what happened next, but many of us do not know all the details. A history lesson in Wallingford Thursday morning enlightened a crowd of people, using a replica of Lincoln’s coffin as historical prop.

Wheel a coffin through the Wallingford Senior Center, and you get people’s attention. Especially when it is replica of Abraham Lincoln’s coffin.

“This coffin is one of 5 that was made by the Batesville Casket Company as a replica,” explained Matt Bailey of the B.C. Bailey Funeral Home.

Bailey knows a lot about coffins because his family has been in the undertaking business for three generations. This week, however, he is taking the Lincoln casket around the state educating folks about Abraham Lincoln’s final days…and then some. For instance, there was a plot to kidnap Lincoln. There was also a broader plot against the government, with plans to kill the Vice President and General Ulysses S. Grant. That was all before Lincoln went to Ford’s Theater on April 14, 1865 to see a production of Our American Cousin.

The coffin Bailey is taking on tour is not an exact replica. The original was lined with lead, which came in handy 12 years later in 1876. There was this group of counterfeiters whose top engraver got arrested. The rest of his gang hatched a plan to steal Lincoln’s body out of his tomb in Springfield, IL and ransom it to the government in exchange for their engraver and some cash. The plot did not work because the coffin was so heavy that the gang could not lift it out of the tomb. The would-be grave robbers were later arrested.

“The casket required a lot more protection than many caskets did over the course of time because what a lot of people don’t know is there were a lot of attempts to actually steal the casket,” said Bailey. “It took many moves. We know it was moved at least 13 times before it was finally placed in its permanent resting place.”

That’s the kind of thing Lincoln fans came to the Senior Center to learn. That includes a gentleman named Lee Barnes, who stuck out in the crowd by being more than six feet tall, quite thin, with a a full beard without a mustache. Yes, Barnes bears quite a resemblance to the great emancipator, and he knows a lot about him, too.

“The fact that he wasn’t popular at the time and he was assassinated because he wasn’t popular.”

Since his death, however, Lincoln usually is on the top of the lists of great presidents.

“He’s an American hero who stretches across demographics and lines and borders and he was our first assassinated president,” Bailey said. “I think it forever changed the course of the history of our nation.”

There is just a lot more to that history than most people know.

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