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Thursday, Feb. 19, 2015 12:01 am

Work in progress

Funeral plans in flux

A train car, pictured above, carried Lincoln’s body from Washington, D.C., to Springfield in 1865, but authorities have not granted approvals for replica to hit the rails.


The reenactment of Abraham Lincoln’s funeral on the 150th anniversary of that event is not coming together in the usual way for an occasion that organizers promise will be once in a lifetime.

No government agency is in charge. The headquarters for the 2015 Lincoln Funeral Coalition is a mail drop on Wabash Avenue in Jerome. Organizers have told the Internal Revenue Service that they don’t expect to have more than $50,000 in annual revenue and therefore aren’t required to file detailed financial statements that are available online. While the coalition’s website includes letters of support from dozens of politicians, church leaders and civic groups, organizers acknowledge they haven’t figured out how to pay all the bills. No corporation has stepped up to underwrite the event scheduled for the first weekend in May, not that organizers haven’t asked.

“In my opinion, one of the things that’s most difficult about this, which I understood from the beginning, was that this is taking place in Springfield,” says Katie Spindell, coalition chairwoman. “We have talked to large corporations. One of the statements they have said is, ‘It’s not national.’”

Does Spindell’s group, which has invited President Barack Obama to town for the funeral re-creation at Oak Ridge Cemetery, have sufficient funds?

“We are very close,” says Spindell, who says that she’s asked for state money – she won’t say how much – and is awaiting an answer. “We will no doubt get the money that we need to pull this off.”

City aldermen on Tuesday approved a city budget that includes $20,000 for the funeral coalition, but not without some reservations. The city had already planned to provide $150,000 in services from the police, fire and public works departments for the event. During committee debate, Ward 10 Ald. Jim McDonough pointed out that the city requires organizers of events such as the St. Patrick’s Day parade to pay for such services and said that a $170,000 commitment is “above and beyond what the city needs to do.”

There are no strings attached to the $20,000 in cash from the city, nor is there a breakdown on just how the money will be spent. Ward 6 Ald. Cory Jobe referred to the money as “a blank check” during committee debate. Nonetheless, aldermen approved the funds, with Ward 8 Ald. Kris Theilen calling it a “symbolic gesture,” given that the city council in 1865 approved an identical amount to pay for Lincoln’s real funeral.

“When it’s successful, we’re all going to be patting each other on the back,” Ward 2 Ald. Gail Simpson said.

But there is much work to be done.

When the event was first announced in 2012, organizers talked about a replica of Lincoln’s funeral train making the journey from Washington, D.C., to Springfield, just as the real thing choo-choo’ed across the nation in 1865. Whether the replica will travel a single mile on tracks is now in doubt.

Union Pacific, which owns the tracks, must give permission, and before that can happen, the railroad wants the replica to pass muster with Amtrak, which requires indemnification, insurance and inspections to ensure that the train, including the unfinished funeral car, is safe. How far along is the approval process?

“I don’t think very far at all,” answers Mark Magliari, Amtrak spokesman. “Our standards are higher than Federal Railroad Administration standards.”

Dave Kloke, who is building the replica of Lincoln’s funeral car designed to be pulled by a steam locomotive that is already finished, says that the train, now in Elgin, will be trucked to Springfield if it can’t move on tracks. He said that project backers still need $100,000 to make the originally envisioned journey across the eastern United States.

“We have a lot of towns that are interested,” said Kloke, who has spent six years working on the project. “The big ones are not stepping out. We don’t have Washington, D.C., or New York.”

Would he do it all over again?

“Probably not,” Kloke says. “I thought there’d be a lot more interest in the Lincoln train and the railroad and history. But it doesn’t seem like people care about that sort of thing anymore.”

Some things, notably a gate at Oak Ridge Cemetery, have been completed. A horse-drawn hearse is almost finished. And reenactors who’ve been invited to dress up as 19th century soldiers and civilians are gearing up.

“It’s a big deal,” says Terre Lawson, a member of the Blue Gray Alliance, a group of Civil War reenactors, who lives in Alabama and made hotel reservations a year ago. “It’s an amazing event. My mind boggles at the amount of vision it took to put this up.”

But no one can say just how many reenactors will come to Springfield.

“You’re just now seeing the decisions (on attending) getting made,” Lawson said.

Ward 7 Ald. Joe McMenamin, who says that he has attended funeral coalition organization meetings, has faith.

“I think it is grassroots,” McMenamin says. “This is a historical event that goes to the essence of who we are as a city.”

Spindell says it’s fair to consider the event an act of faith.

“It’s an act of faith and a labor of love,” she says. “And the people who are doing this are all capable of doing this.”

Contact Bruce Rushton at brushton@illinoistimes.com.


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