One fragment is a poster-size patch of discolored red-and-white cloth, the other little more than threads and fibers. Both pieces come from the same source. And both are more than what they seem.
"Relics," said Andrew Coldren, curator of the Civil War Museum of Philadelphia, "of Lincoln's epic train journey."
Both swatches were snipped from a giant U.S. flag that President-elect Abraham Lincoln raised at Independence Hall during the 1861 rail voyage that took him through Philadelphia to Washington for his inauguration. On Saturday, nearly 150 years later, another president-elect from Illinois will partly re-create that trip, traveling by train to his inauguration.
Barack Obama plans to hold an event in Philadelphia that morning, then head south through Wilmington and Baltimore, joined in those cities by Vice President-elect Joseph R. Biden Jr. They are to arrive in Washington that evening.
Details of Obama's Philadelphia visit have not been released. During Lincoln's stop, the newly elected Republican strived to connect himself to the strength and wisdom of the Founders. Philadelphia was the last Northern city Lincoln saw before venturing into the South, perilous ground for a politician opposed to slavery. The only known photos of Lincoln on his inaugural trip were taken in Philadelphia. And it was in Philadelphia that Lincoln was told of a plot to kill him days later in Baltimore.
At the time, there was no Secret Service. Lincoln sneaked through Baltimore, at night, in disguise - and was ridiculed afterward for cowardice. Of course, Obama won't be sneaking anywhere. And the evidence of his inaugural journey won't be limited to a few blurry photographs and a couple of pieces of flag.
His partial retracing of Lincoln's route seeks to highlight his inaugural theme, "Renewing America's Promise," through events in Philadelphia, where the promise was realized in 1776; Baltimore, where it was defended in the War of 1812; and Washington, where it is to be renewed.
"I think it's very smart politics," said Michael J. Kline, author of The Baltimore Plot: The First Conspiracy to Assassinate Abraham Lincoln, a new book from Westholme Publishing in Yardley. "He wants to show he's appreciative of a part of the country that was strongly supportive of him, and to suggest that he wants to be inclusive, like Lincoln, even of people who didn't support him."
Lincoln's convoluted journey lasted 12 days and covered 1,600 miles, taking him north and south and east and west. Trains were slower then, requiring stops for fuel and water. River crossings, which often relied on ferries, could be major undertakings.
It's also true Lincoln wanted to see and be seen, to draw on the energy of the crowd. In the age before radio, presidents communicated through speeches, and the serpentine route allowed Lincoln to speak out before his March 4 inauguration.
He departed Springfield, Ill., on Feb. 11, 1861, moving through Indianapolis and Cincinnati. He turned north through Columbus, east to Pittsburgh, then north again to Cleveland. His train hugged the shore of Lake Erie as it moved northeast to Buffalo, turned east to Albany, and then due south to New York.
From there, Lincoln traveled southwest to Philadelphia, west to Harrisburg, back to Philadelphia, and finally southwest through Baltimore to Washington. In 1865, after Lincoln was assassinated in Washington, his funeral train bore his body back to Springfield over the same circuitous route.
The president-elect arrived in Philadelphia about 3:45 p.m. on Feb. 21, his Lincoln Special train greeted by a cannon salute as it rolled into the Kensington station. "Philadelphia welcomed Lincoln," Kline writes in
The Baltimore Plot
, "like the Second Coming."
Banners, firehouse bells, bands and cheering crowds greeted Lincoln as he rode in an open carriage to the elegant Continental Hotel at Ninth and Chestnut Streets.
People massed outside that evening, hoping to glimpse the president-to-be. Fireworks lit the sky. Late that night, detective Allan Pinkerton informed an exhausted Lincoln of the plot to kill him in Maryland, a Southern-leaning slave state.
Lincoln took the news soberly. Historians would debate the true nature and threat of the plot, but there's no question that Lincoln's staff believed his life was in danger.
The next morning, Lincoln rode three blocks to Independence Hall, emotionally moved to be in the building where the Founders had labored, where the Declaration of Independence had been signed, where the Liberty Bell was housed. Outside, an estimated 30,000 people were gathering, drawn despite the cold of the morning and the chill of the times. Like much of the country, Philadelphia was suffering terrible unemployment and economic turmoil. Talk of civil war was rife. And while Philadelphia was a staunch Union town, it was influenced by Delaware, a slave state.
At Independence Hall, Lincoln was met by Theodore Cuyler, president of the city Select Council. Cuyler lectured the president-elect about the sacrifice of the Founders and the sanctity of the hall, telling Lincoln that the Union must "be preserved by every concession short of eternal principle itself." In the parlance of the era, concession was shorthand for compromise over slavery with the Southern powers.
"You have kindly suggested to me that in my hands is the task of restoring peace to our distracted country," Lincoln answered. "I can say in return, sir, that all the political sentiments I entertain have been drawn . . . from this hall in which we stand."
Referring to the Declaration of Independence, Lincoln went on to say, "It was that which gave promise that in due time the weights should be lifted from the shoulders of all men, and that all should have an equal chance."
Lincoln was responding in kind, telling Cuyler that the Founders had guaranteed freedom to all people, regardless of race or religion. He continued: "If this country cannot be saved without giving up that principle - I was about to say I would rather be assassinated on this spot than surrender it."
The group of dignitaries moved outside to a wooden platform erected at the front of the hall. The huge new flag on the dais bore 34 stars, Kansas having joined the Union less than a month earlier.
The photos of Lincoln were taken at this point. One shows him bareheaded, holding his familiar black stovepipe hat, which he had removed for a prayer. Across from Lincoln stands his youngest son, 7-year-old Tad. The boy is not watching his father. He gazes instead at the soldiers arrayed in formation.
The flag fragments would be unremarkable except for their connection to the man who raised the banner intact.
In the 1860s, it was common for politicians to take part in ceremonial flag-raisings, and it was just as common for those flags to be cut up afterward, the pieces given away as souvenirs.
The Philadelphia Civil War Museum, closed but planning to reopen next year at new quarters near Independence Hall, was fortunate to acquire two pieces, particularly since Lincoln's murder elevated him to nearly Christlike martyr status in the public mind. "Anything he touched became almost religious iconography," Coldren said, looking over the pieces. "Lincoln's hand might have touched this, so there's great reverence. An American Shroud of Turin, almost."