BLOOMINGTON — On the morning of Saturday, April 14, Pantagraph editor J.H. Burnham was enjoying breakfast at a Chicago hotel when the "heart-sickening news" swiftly spread from table to table. President Abraham Lincoln was dead, felled by an assassin’s bullet on Good Friday.
Burnham wired the nearly unfathomable news to his hometown, and then boarded a southbound Chicago & Alton train to Bloomington.
When the train arrived later that day, Burnham described how the majority of the homes and businesses were already draped in mourning cloth, and how hundreds of stunned residents gathered downtown to hear the news.
With a copy of the Chicago Tribune in hand, the wife of Seth W. Dodd clambered onto a wagon and read aloud details of the assassination to a crowd of more than 1,000.
"Men wept in the streets, " Burnham reported, "and women and children sobbed as though they had lost a father or brother, or member of the family."
Indeed, Bloomington could legitimately lay claim to Lincoln as a favorite son.
From the late 1830s, when he started practicing law, until his 1860 nomination as president, it is likely Lincoln spent more time in Bloomington than anywhere else other than his hometown of Springfield.
"Mr. Lincoln has been so well known personally, to so large a number of people, and has so long been regarded as one of our own citizens, that his death seemed to fall with the most crushing severity upon our inhabitants, " noted The Pantagraph.
With the disbelief and sorrow also came indignation, or a feeling of righteous anger. An unconfirmed report circulated that a resident named John Hinzey expressed delight over the assassination, and if not for his pitiful apologies and a promise to leave town without delay, he might have been hanged by an incensed mob.
The following day, after Easter Sunday church services, an estimated 5,000 to 7,000 area residents gathered in the courthouse square (the scene pictured here) to officially mourn the death of the 16th president. Similar observances, known as indignation meetings, were held throughout the North.
At that time, the McLean County courthouse was located not in the center of the square, but on the southeast corner. The 200 block of Main Street can be seen on the left, and the Methodist Episcopal Church, located on the corner of Washington and East, is visible in the distance.
This Federal style, two-story brick courthouse was built in 1836, and remained in service until replaced by a much-larger edifice in 1868.
Smaller communities also mourned Lincoln. For instance, the residents of Cheney’s Grove Township organized a funeral procession including Mrs. S.R. Riggs as the goddess liberty, and "thirty-five young ladies on horseback dressed in black."