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.

11 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
    P RELYEA
    *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!
    Judy

    Reply
  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.

    Reply
  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.

    Reply
    • 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!

      Reply
  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.

    Reply
  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,

    Tom

    Reply
  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,

    Tom

    Reply
  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?

    Reply

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