On April 15, 1865, the day President Lincoln died, a group of Springfield citizens formed the National Lincoln Monument Association and spearheaded a drive for funds to construct a memorial or tomb. Upon arrival of the funeral train on May 3, Lincoln lay in state in the Illinois State Capitol for one night. After the funeral the next day, his coffin was placed in a receiving vault at Oak Ridge Cemetery, the site Mrs. Lincoln requested for burial. In December, her husband’s remains were removed to a temporary vault not far from the proposed memorial site. The location of the temporary vault is today marked with a small granite marker on the hill behind the current tomb. In 1871, three years after laborers had begun constructing the tomb, the body of Lincoln and those of the three youngest of his sons were placed in crypts in the unfinished structure.
In 1874, upon completion of the memorial, which had been designed by Larkin Goldsmith Mead, Lincoln’s remains were interred in a marble sarcophagus in the center of a chamber known as the “catacombs,” or burial room. In 1876, however, after two Chicago criminals failed in an attempt to steal Lincoln’s body and hold it for ransom, the National Lincoln Monument Association hid it in another part of the memorial, first under wood and other debris and then buried in the ground within the tomb. When Mrs. Lincoln died in 1882, her remains were placed with those of Lincoln, but in 1887 both bodies were reburied in a brick vault beneath the floor of the burial room.
By 1895, the year the State acquired the memorial, it had fallen into disrepair. During a rebuilding and restoration program in 1899–1901, all five caskets were moved to a nearby subterranean vault. In the later year, State officials returned them to the burial room and placed that of Lincoln in the sarcophagus it had occupied in 1874–1876. Within a few months, however, at the request of Robert Todd Lincoln, the President’s only surviving son, the body was moved to its final resting place, a concrete vault 10 feet (3.0 m) below the surface of the burial room. In 1930–1931 the State reconstructed the interior of the memorial. Rededicated in the later year by President Hoover, it has undergone little change since that time.
The Lincoln Tomb was designated a National Historic Landmark on December 19, 1960, and listed on the National Register of Historic Places on October 15, 1966.