Mary Todd Lincoln: fashionably mourning


By Allison C. Gallagher - [email protected]



Anthony Weber | Troy Daily News Lynn Barnes threads a sewing machine before her next project at her studio recently in Troy. Barnes is a dress historian who will be re-enacting Mary Todd Lincoln and showing the funeral dress the first lady would have worn on the way out of the White House.


TROY — You could say Lynn Barnes will be the best-dressed at the Lincoln Train.

Barnes is a dress historian who will be re-enacting Mary Todd Lincoln and showing the funeral dress the first lady would have worn on the way out of the White House.

Mary Todd Lincoln’s presence at the Lincoln Train parade is historically inaccurate, but Barnes said her role in Lincoln’s life and presidency was influential.

As a First Lady she completely supported her husband in his fight for the Union and became a very strong abolitionist. Barnes said Mary Todd Lincoln was not afraid to tell guests at parties and balls her opinion of current events, which contributed to some people not caring much for her.

Barnes explained how after the death of her husband, Mary Lincoln was so distraught that she did not leave the White House for 30 days.

“There were a couple of reasons,” she said. “For one, she was so severely distraught that Lincoln was assassinated next to her. Willy, their son, had died two years prior to that, and she had Confederate half-brothers that were killed during the war. She wasn’t given a good reputation on her state of affairs but quite frankly, she had quite a bit of trauma up to that point.”

The gown Mary Todd Lincoln wore to Lincoln’s funeral was the same gown she wore two years prior when their son died. Barnes described the 1863 funeral gown as being very detailed, with full hoops, several flounces that run the length of the gown, ribbon work and a tight bodice with a full sleeve as was fashionable at the time.

“She does not go out of mourning and wears black for the rest of her life,” Barnes said. “All of her underpinnings and all of her accessories, including her bonnet I am having made, are black.”

The actual 1863 funeral gown was not made new. Part of the reason was that she had racked up a sizable debt on very couture fashion from Paris, London and New York and was also spending a substantial amount to outfit the White House with her personal belongings.

“When he was assassinated she had no income, so she was actually making pleas to Congress for a widow’s stipend,” she said.

Another learning experience from the Mary Todd Lincoln portrayal is to offer visitors a chance to see a Victorian woman in mourning. There were strict rules for a demeanor, dress and etiquette when mourning depending on the individual’s relationship to the person who died.

“For a spouse, you were usually in mourning for at least 18 months if not two years,” Barnes said. “After that you moved into more somber colors, such as very deep purples and grays. Eventually you come back into society wearing color, but it takes two to four years.”

Barnes said she was warned people that she will be in character, which means those who come to the train will meet a distraught widow. At the same time, she will be in and out of character to answer questions about Mary Todd Lincoln or the era.

This exhibit will take place over a four-day period, Thursday-Sunday, Sept. 10-13, and will be located on Short Street, alongside “Return Visit,” a 30-foot sculpture of Abraham Lincoln and Modern Day Man, that has captured the attention of thousands of people as they visit our courthouse square and historic downtown.

The fee to view the inside of the train will be $5 per person, young children and students in grades kindergarten through 12th grade will be admitted free. There will not be a charge to view the exhibit from the outside. School groups are encouraged to tour this display from 8 a.m. to noon Sept. 10-11. Exhibit hours for the general public will run from noon to 8 p.m. Thursday and Friday and 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday.

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Anthony Weber | Troy Daily News Lynn Barnes threads a sewing machine before her next project at her studio recently in Troy. Barnes is a dress historian who will be re-enacting Mary Todd Lincoln and showing the funeral dress the first lady would have worn on the way out of the White House.
http://tdn-net.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/09/web1_140829aw_Lynn_Barnes_2.jpgAnthony Weber | Troy Daily News Lynn Barnes threads a sewing machine before her next project at her studio recently in Troy. Barnes is a dress historian who will be re-enacting Mary Todd Lincoln and showing the funeral dress the first lady would have worn on the way out of the White House.

By Allison C. Gallagher

[email protected]

Reach Allison C. Gallagher at [email protected] or on [email protected]

Reach Allison C. Gallagher at [email protected] or on [email protected]

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