GEORGE ALFRED TOWNSEND
Death has fastened into his frozen face all the character and idiosyncrasy of life. He has not changed one line of his grave, grotesque countenance, nor smoothed out a single feature. The hue is rather bloodless and leaden; but he was always sallow. The dark eyebrows seem abruptly arched; the beard, which will grow no more, is shaved close, save the tuft at the short, small chin. The mouth is shut, like that of one who had put the foot down firm, and so are the eyes, which look as calm as slumber. The collar is short and awkward, turned over the stiff elastic cravat, and whatever energy or humor or tender gravity marked the living face is hardened into its pulseless outline. No corpse in the world is better prepared according to appearances. The white satin around it reflects sufficient light upon the face to show us that death is really there; but there are sweet roses and early magnolias, and the balmiest of lilies strewn around, as if the flowers had begun to bloom even upon his coffin. Looking on uninterruptedly, for there is no pressure, and henceforward the place will be thronged with gazers who will take from the sight its suggestiveness and respect.
Three years ago, when little Willie Lincoln died, Doctors Brown and Alexander, the embalmers or injectors, prepared his body so handsomely that the President had it twice disinterred to look upon it. [here Townsend erred-- Willie’s body was never “disinterred,” for it had lain since his 1862 funeral in an above-ground Georgetown vault.] The same men, in the same way, have made perpetual these beloved lineaments. There is now no blood in the body; it was drained by the jugular vein and sacredly preserved, and through a cutting on the inside of the thigh the empty blood vessels were charged with a chemical preparation which soon hardened to the consistency of stone. The long and bony body is now hard and stiff, so that beyond its present condition it cannot be moved any more than the arms or legs of a statue. It has undergone many changes. The scalp has been removed, the brain scooped out, the chest opened and the blood emptied. All that we see of Abraham Lincoln, so cunningly contemplated in this splendid coffin, is a mere shell, an effigy, a sculpture. He lies in sleep, but it is the sleep of marble. All that made this flesh vital, sentient, and affectionate is gone forever.
(For excerpts from Townsend’s description of the body during the White House public viewing on the previous day—April 18—see Lincoln’s Body, p. 66.)