59. Letter from Robert Todd Lincoln to Governor Richard Yates, Jr. (1901)
Background: Following President Abraham Lincoln's assassination on April 14, 1865, distinguished citizens of Illinois organized the National Lincoln Monument Association to plan a proper memorial for the martyred president's tomb. The Association agreed upon the newly developed Oak Ridge Cemetery in Springfield as a suitable resting place. Noted sculptor Larkin Goldsmith Mead designed the bronze and granite tomb in a neoclassical style and the tomb was completed in 1874. Lincoln's body was entombed in an above-ground marble sarcophagus. In 1876, a gang of counterfeiters attempted to steal Lincoln's body from the tomb and use it for ransom to free an imprisoned gang member. The attempt failed but the gang came a lot closer to succeeding than many thought they should have. By the 1890s, the tomb had sunk into disrepair and in 1895 the State of Illinois took possession of it. In 1901, the state began to finalize plans to restore the tomb.
The Document: Robert Todd Lincoln had visited Springfield in May 1901 to look at his father's tomb and review the state's restoration plans. In this June 21, 1901 letter to Governor Richard Yates, Jr., however, Robert Lincoln is more concerned with the part of the plan to ensure that his father's body could never be stolen. Thus, following Robert's wishes, Abraham Lincoln's body was placed below the sarcophagus and interred in a massive amount of concrete and steel. Robert Lincoln, who was president of the Pullman Palace Car Company at the time, notes that he had consulted with Chicago architect S. S. Beman who had experience on interring a coffin in concrete so it could not be stolen. What Robert was delicately referring to was the interment of his late boss, George Pullman, whose anti-union actions in owning the Pullman Company so infuriated the labor movement that his family feared that his body would be stolen after his death in 1897.
Note: Like Robert Todd Lincoln, Governor Yates was also the son of a noted Illinois politician. His father, also named Richard Yates, had been a political ally of Abraham Lincoln and served as both a governor and a senator from Illinois. This letter is available at the Illinois State Archives as part of Governor Record Series 101.024, "Richard Yates (1860-1936) Correspondence."