Lincoln’s Funeral March Through New York City

With Lincoln’s Birthday rapidly approaching, and with a new purchase I’ve made, I thought it would be appropriate to return to the story of the funeral procession for the martyred President Abraham Lincoln through New York City.

Lincoln was shot by John Wilkes Booth at Ford’s Theatre in Washington D.C. on the evening of Good Friday, April 14, 1865. He died the next morning.

On April 21, New York City’s Board of Aldermen hired undertaker Peter Relyea (1815-1896)  to take charge of Lincoln’s funeral procession through the streets of that city. Relyea, who is interred at Green-Wood Cemetery in lot 3797, near Valley Water, worked day and night to design and construct the elaborate catafalque that would carry Lincoln’s remains.

Relyea, a native of New Paltz, New York, had been the sexton at the Old Willett Street Methodist Episcopal Church. According to his obituary in The New York Times, Relyea, during his long career, “also buried the remains of many other prominent persons.” He was paid the then-astounding sum of $9000 for his services for the Lincoln funeral procession.

On April 26, 1865, the body of the martyred President Abraham Lincoln was solemnly paraded through the streets of New York City on its way west to Springfield, Illinois, for final burial. Above, courtesy of the Library of Congress, is the scene as the catafalque moved up Broadway. Here is a wonderful account, on the website of The Lincoln Institute, of that day of mourning in New York City.

A few years ago I visited St. Mark’s on the Bowery. A very interesting place. While I was there I struck up a conversation with a minister whose last name was Relyea. I knew that name from his association with the Lincoln funeral, and asked if he was related to Undertaker Relyea.

Note that Peter Relyea was still working on Willet Street in Manhattan, the same street where he had been the church sexton. Also note that he was advertising himself as “Undertaker for President Lincoln, New York, April 26th, 1865.”

And, I just purchased a hand-colored stereoview of the catafalque, bearing Lincoln’s remains, heading up Broadway, near Spring Street, just south of where Tiffany’s store used to be. Here’s the half-stereo image. You can see the catafalque of Peter Relyea’s creation, surrounded by a rectangle of soldiers, with the building signs draped in black, and get a sense of the crowds lining Broadway that day. Look at all of the people up on the roofs, paying their last respects.

15 thoughts on “Lincoln’s Funeral March Through New York City”

  1. After reading your article, I wondered if you might be able to help me with a postcard I recently ran across. It is a 6 1/2 x 4 1/4″ very old postcard depicting pres Lincolns “funeral train”. Titled:
    “Funeral Car of President Lincoln.”
    New York, April 26th, 1865.
    Chas. Eisenmann, Photo, 929 Bowery, N. Y.
    That is on the front.
    On the back is:
    Established 1841
    *Practical Undertaker*
    No. 3 Willet Street, N. Y.
    Branch 142 Broadway, Broohlyn, E.D.
    Undertaker for President Lincoln, NY, April 26th, 1865.

    Would certainly appreciate any info you may know as to price and/or commonality of this post card.

    Thank you!

  2. It is difficult to answer your question without seeing this item. However, my guess is that this in not a post card at all–is there I space printed for a stamp? Rather, I think it is a cabinet card–a photograph mounted on cardboard. In any event, it is pretty rare.

  3. I am trying to do the Relyea family history. Just for my own
    use and I was wondering if you knew who Peter Relyea’s parents were? I am trying to fit him into the rest of the
    family. Any help would be greatly appreciated.

    • Please call Theresa LaBianca, Green-Wood’s archivist, at 718 768-7300. She will be able to search the cemetery records for any such info. Good luck!

  4. Peters Father was David P. Relyea Mother was Mary Ward.I am also Related to them David P. Relyea was my 3rd great Grandfather.

  5. Hi Jeff,

    Huge fan of your work at Green-Wood and always indebted to Theresa LaBianca for her kindness over the years in assisting in my research.

    You have a small error in the above piece. President Lincoln’s funeral procession north to the Hudson River Rail Depot occurred on April 25th, 1865 and not as indicated on April 26th, 1865.

    Best regards,


  6. Hi Jeff,

    Apologies for not following up! Yes, Mr. Gurney was one of the earliest daguerreian photographers in america. Learned of the process from Samuel F.B. Morse himself.

    Mr. Gurney photographed Abraham Lincoln at NY City Hall on April 24th 1865.

    Most of Gurney’s immediate family are buried within Green-Wood.

    Thanks and best,


  7. Can anyone (such as Relyea’s descendants!) tell me on what the occasions Relyea may have displayed his Lincoln hearse after APril, 1865, and what happened to it?

    • Yes, one of the more curious sets of records available for us to peruse on the internet is “Bodies in Transit,” a listing of the deceased who were transported into New York City.

  8. Yes, and again reading further John Brown also was logged in back 1859. He too was being transported. I am wondering where you would go to sign in that information…City Hall? And was there a list of the procession line up. Anyone knows?

    • A friend and great researcher, Sue, who first shared with me the existence of the “Bodies in Transit” database, has sent me this explanation of it from
      About New York, New York, U.S., Bodies in Transit, 1859-1894

      General Collection Information

      This collection contains permits of transit for bodies of the deceased traveling through Manhattan between 1859 and 1894. Originally collected by the New York City Health Department, these records were used as a preventative measure to track and contain diseases. Bodies recorded may have been transported in, out, or through the city.

      Using this Collection

      Records in the collection may include the following information:

      Name of the deceased
      Date of transit
      Age at death
      Date of death
      Place of death
      Cause of death
      Previous location of body
      Place of intended interment
      Name and address of applicant

      Keep in mind that the deceased didn’t necessarily reside or die in Manhattan. While many of the bodies listed are being transported out of Manhattan for burial, others listed are traveling in for burial. In some cases, such as the funeral procession for Abraham Lincoln, the bodies are passing through the city to reach their final destination.

      The same application for the transportation of bodies was also used for disinterring bodies. As the city expanded, many early Manhattan graves were later moved to Brooklyn or Queens. If your family member died in Manhattan before 1859, you may find them listed in this collection.

      This collection also contains records for American Civil War soldiers, both Union and Confederate. If you think your relative may have died while serving, certain details can provide clues. They likely died while serving if:

      Their place of death is listed as “Davids Island,” the site of a major Civil War hospital.
      They were buried at Cypress Hills Cemetery in Brooklyn.
      The application was filed by A.J. Case, the undertaker for the U.S. Army.

      Collection in Context

      The first ordinances governing sanitation in New York were created in 1804. In 1859, the Registrar of Records began registering the transit of deceased bodies through Manhattan as a means to prevent the spread of disease. Standardized permits for the transportation of remains were introduced in 1871. In 1874, transit permits were waived for bodies with burial permits in the surrounding areas of Brooklyn, Long Island City, Richmond County, or Hudson County, New Jersey. Registering bodies for transit became unnecessary as health departments across the country began to standardize practices.

      This collection was published in association with the New York City Department of Records & Information Services:;JSESSIONID=9476e7cd-f285-4ae3-8185-f1c2f97ac59b?cic=NYCMA%7E4%7E4.

      The New York City Department of Records & Information Services provides the public with access to both historic and modern records from New York.


      Hilton, Alexandra. “Bodies in Transit.” NYC Department of Records & Information Services. Last Modified June 15, 2018. “Guide to the Bodies in Transit Registers, 1859-1894.” Last Modified May 2018.


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