By WILLIAM SHANNON
It was a haunting scene outside the Basilica Hudson Saturday evening as crowds gathered, awaiting the re-creation of Abraham Lincoln’s funeral train stop in Hudson exactly 150 years earlier.
A slow drumbeat hushed the large crowd and a group of women in white dresses began singing a solemn hymn. Another set of re-creators lit torches and the entire crowd followed the women in white, across the train tracks toward the old Dunn Warehouse building in Hudson’s riverfront park. The women in white, during the walk over, sang the Battle Hymn of the Republic.
Everyone settled, standing, in view of a wooden representation of Lincoln’s coffin. Two guards stood on either side of the casket and a woman draped over it. A wreath-shrouded rendering of the president hung behind the coffin.
A man climbed onto the platform and gave a speech, highlighting the man just lost.
“No words of ours can express the grief or weigh the loss that the nation has sustained,” the man said. “It is one of those sudden and mysterious providences that sometimes plunge a whole people in tears and compel every heart to bow beneath the supreme government of God.
“Called from the obscurity of private life by the voice of his countrymen to assume the highest duties and responsibilities known to our laws; born on the wings of a nation’s prayers, which he humbly solicited, to the menaced capital; gathering about him the wisest counselors in the land; and devoting all the energies of his mind and body to the great task of restoring peace and order to a distressed country.
“He has for four years been the leader of the American people through the darkest period that has ever enshrouded their pathway. Crowned with the divine blessing upon our victorious armies, he was like the chosen leader of Israel, permitted at last to ascend the Mount Pisgah of national triumph. And view for a moment the bright prospect before him, the promise of speedy peace and prosperity far surpassing that which has ever been known. But, like that great leader also, he was suffered to go no farther. It was not his to enter the Promised Land. The work of meekness, it may be, was done. Moses was not to be the conqueror of the idolatrous tribes, whom God had deemed to extermination. This was the work of Joshua. May we not without irreverence believe that the parallel is to be continued. And that the new leader of the nation is destined to accomplish the stern purpose of Jehovah in respect to the nation and its treacherous foes.
“Abraham Lincoln was a man of the people. A plain man. An honest man. A pure patriot. A wise, if not learned, scholar. Ever since his first inauguration, he has been drawing the hearts of American people closer to him, by the kindliness of his temper, by the homeliness of his speech, by his unfaltering faith, his magnanimity to his foes and his inflexible and unimpeachable integrity of character, until animosity was silenced and ridicule had ceased.
“And now, when he is struck down in the midst of this double-triumph, it is one of the noblest vindications of his goodness and his greatness that men of all parties vie with each other in doing honor to his memory.”
The scene was certainly spooky. As it commenced, even with the ubiquitous i-Phones and other modern recording tools of the attendees, it was possible to feel brief slips through time. The re-creation succeeded in helping those in attendance understand the emotional gravity of a dark moment in U.S. history. And it breathed life into an eerie and important night a century-and-a-half in the City of Hudson’s past.