Jump to Navigation

Lincoln Umbrella

Umbrella that sheltered Lincoln shortly before his inauguration

A Lincoln supporter held this umbrella over the president-elect's head as snow began to fall in Utica, New York, in 1861.

"The rain in which the Presidential party entered Pittsburgh last night was still pouring down this morning, but the President-elect was nevertheless true to his word . . . and delivered the address . . . to a multitude of five thousand people, under an ocean of umbrellas."—Henry Villard, journalist, 1861

Shortly after his 1861 election, President-elect Abraham Lincoln made an historic train ride to Washington, D.C. for his inaugural. Instead of cooling the fires of a looming Civil War, as he had hoped, Lincoln found himself battling blizzards in New York with this umbrella.

Campaign Began in Kansas

Lincoln's election was the result of a long and difficult campaign that began in Kansas. The candidate had tested the presidential waters in 1859 with a speaking tour through Troy, Atchison, and Leavenworth. At each stop Lincoln polished what would become his famous Cooper Union Address, a speech given in New York in 1860 that transformed him into a national figure. In this address, Lincoln spoke boldly against slavery and southern secession.

Following the presidential election the next year, Lincoln boarded a train at Springfield, Illinois to embark on the journey to Washington, D.C. for his inauguration. Lincoln hoped for more than just a victory tour. He wanted to meet northeastern citizens who were unfamiliar with the former congressman from Illinois. Besides greeting crowds and giving stump speeches, he also planned to put the finishing touches on his inaugural address. The tone of the tour changed, though, as the president answered an increasing number of questions about southern secession.

The tour made over 70 stops in Indiana, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and New York. At each location, Lincoln addressed rowdy crowds fighting for a glimpse of the President-elect. His entire family rode in a luxurious train car that featured an extra-long sofa for Lincoln. Along with personal staff, the presidential entourage for the first time included a two-man press corps and a security detail of Pinkerton detectives.

Lincoln's inaugural on the steps of the U.S. Capitol, 1861; photo courtesy Library of Congress

Concern for Lincoln's safety was warranted. His antislavery views created resentment in the South and fueled secessionist fears. Dislike of Lincoln reached a fever pitch as his train approached Baltimore, Maryland, where rumors circulated of an assassination plot hatched by a southern sympathizer. To counter the threat, security staff diverted the train and the newly elected President entered the capital under cover of darkness.

February weather proved difficult for the inaugural tour. Previously plagued by rainstorms, the train arrived to relatively clear skies in Utica, New York, on February 18. Lincoln was invited to speak by Roscoe Conkling, a young Republican Congressman vying for political appointment. Snow began to fall shortly after the speech began. Always willing to help, Conkling commandeered this oiled silk umbrella from a nearby attendee and held it above Lincoln's bare head.

The umbrella eventually found its way to a Civil War veterans organization in Topeka—the Lincoln Post No. 1, Grand Army of the Republic. In 1924 the umbrella was transferred to the Kansas Historical Society, where it is preserved in the collections of the Society's Kansas Museum of History. The umbrella is in need of professional conservation treatment; donate funds for its preservation.

Listen to the Lincoln Umbrella podcast Play Audio Tour

Entry: Lincoln Umbrella

Author: Kansas Historical Society

Author information: The Kansas Historical Society is a state agency charged with actively safeguarding and sharing the state's history.

Date Created: April 2009

Date Modified: December 2014

The author of this article is solely responsible for its content.