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Abraham Lincoln Replica Casket

Nate Wek

A Replica of Abraham Lincoln's casket is now on display at the Cultural Heritage Museum in Pierre.

On the evening of April 14 in the year 1865, President Abraham Lincoln and his wife Mary were attending a play at Ford’s Theater in Washington DC. A confederate spy and actor, John Wilks Booth, entered the Presidential Box seating area and shot President Lincoln in the back of the head. The President was pronounced dead, early the next morning.

Almost 150 years later, Jay Smith stands beside a casket on display in Pierre.

"It’s a replica of the Lincoln Casket that was used to transport Lincoln from Washington DC to Springfield after he was killed at Ford’s Theater in 1865," Smith says.

Jay Smith is the Museum Director for the South Dakota State Historical Society. 

"For me personally it’s like bringing a touch of Lincoln back to us in some ways and recalling all the many great things he did as a leader, as an orator," Smith says.

Lincoln is championed as one of the greatest Presidents in American history. In 1862, he issued the Emancipation Proclamation. This freed the slaves in the non-union states, which included the 10 confederate states during the Civil War. Lincoln was also praised for his victory speech after the Battle of Gettysburg, known as the Gettysburg Address. This 272-word speech helped rally the union soldiers into a new birth as a nation.

Here is President Barack Obama reciting that speech for the PBS Ken Burns project, “The Address.”

Museum Director Jay Smith says one can only imagine what the Gettysburg Address would have been like.

"I still remember traveling to Gettysburg and walking the grounds where the Gettysburg address was made, and thinking how amazing that was and how emotionally charged it was. And the staff thought it would be nice over President’s Day to share that kind of thing here," Smith says.

In 1865 Lincoln became the first President of the United States to ever be assassinated in office. His body laid at the White House in Washington DC for a little while but was then transported by train, to his hometown of Springfield. Smith says this too would have been a life changing experience.

"I imagine what that would be like, seeing the funeral train and interacting with various people who had met and knew him, and putting myself in the place of the family. They needed to allow the nation to heel while they were heeling themselves," Smith says.

Smith says the responses he’s gotten so far, to the exhibit, have been good.

"The word that I’ve gotten from the front desk is people have appreciated seeing it and we’re glad to do it. It’s not the kind of thing that comes around every day," Smith says.

Smith says this display can keep the history of President Lincoln alive and real, especially for younger generations.