Epilogue: "His Own Place in the Sun"
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416 Epilogue: “His Own Place in the Sun” For Robert Lincoln’s entire adult life, he intended his final resting place to be with his family in the Lincoln Tomb at Oak Ridge Cemetery in Springfield. As he wrote to the head of the National Lincoln Monument Association in 1890, while arranging for burial of his son, Jack, in the tomb: Upon the death of my son, I foresaw the extinction upon my own death, of my father’s descendant’s bearing his name, [and] the desire came upon me that, if it met the views of every member of the Monument Association , arrangements might be made for the burial in the monument, of my son and thereafter of myself and my wife and of my two daughters, unless they should marry. It is the arrangement I would make, under the peculiar circumstances, if the tomb of my father were, as would usually be the case, in my care.1 In a separate letter of the same day, Robert told his friend Clinton Conkling, “You will understand that I wish to make a family arrangement [in the tomb], under the circumstances, but if what I wish is not entirely satisfactory to any member, I would not press it for a moment, but would build my own family tomb somewhere and bury my son in it.”2 As previously stated, the association accepted Robert’s arrangement, and he, therefore, did not build his own family tomb. As late as 1922, Robert told his friend Nicholas Murray Butler that he had “arranged that my wife and myself shall be entombed” in Springfield.3 When Robert died, Mary Harlan Lincoln notified the family that her husband ’s final interment would be in Springfield. But two weeks later, the widow was struck with what she called “inspiration”: she would bury her husband in Arlington National Cemetery in Washington, D.C. Not in Springfield. As a former secretary of war, as well as a captain on General Grant’s staff during epilogue 417 the Civil War, Robert was entitled to such a burial. “You know, our darling was a personage, made his own history, independently of his great father, and should have his own place ‘in the sun!’” Mary wrote her cousin-in-law Katherine Helm. “After prayerful thought over this, for many weeks I knew I was right, so I began to set the wheels in motion.”4 When Mary left Manchester in 1926 to spend her winter in Washington, she brought her husband’s body with her. It was placed in a temporary vault in Arlington while plans for a final interment and monument were made.5 Mary selected for the burial site a “beautiful wooded knoll” directly in line and with a full view of the Lincoln Memorial. She personally went to the War Department to get the secretary’s approval of her lot choice and then worked with Charles Moore, chairman of the Committee of Fine Arts, on the design and aesthetics of what they called the Robert Lincoln Monument.6 Robert’s body was permanently interred in section 31, lot 13, of the cemetery on March 14, 1928.7 Four months later, Mary Harlan Lincoln contracted with sculptor James Earle Fraser, a former student of Augustus Saint-Gaudens, to design a sarcophagus for her husband’s burial site at a cost of $25,000.8 The final creation was a “warm low-colored granite” sarcophagus six feet high, ten feet long, and five feet across, with two benches at the end and backed by evergreen trees. The Washington Star newspaper reported that friends of Robert Lincoln considered the “simple yet impressive” monument “eminently fitting” in its appearance and location.9 It was placed atop Robert’s grave in late fall 1929. Ironically, while Robert Lincoln was connected with the first three presidential assassinations during his life, in death he lies within sight of the grave of the fourth murdered chief executive, John F. Kennedy. While construction of her husband’s monument was underway, Mary Lincoln began the process to transfer the body of her son, Jack, to Arlington from Springfield, where it had been in the Lincoln Tomb since 1890. This was a move that had been expected in Springfield since Robert’s Arlington burial was announced in 1926, although when Mary’s request finally came in 1929, state officials checked with the attorney general for his legal position on Mrs. Lincoln’s application. He said her wishes should be...


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Subject Headings

  • Lawyers -- United States -- Biography.
  • Lincoln, Robert Todd, 1843-1926.
  • Children of presidents -- United States -- Biography.
  • Ambassadors -- United States -- Biography.
  • United States -- Politics and government -- 1865-1933.
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