I had always said that the worst thing that could happen to any parent was to have a child die. Until it happened to me recently I really did not comprehend how true that statement was. Abraham Lincoln would live to see two of his four sons die. His wife would see three of their four sons die, as well as having her husband murdered before her eyes. So much unbearable grief for one family. At the Lincoln Museum that my family and I visited in our annual pilgrimage last week to the Lincoln sites in Springfield, there is an exhibit where Mary Todd Lincoln sits in a room by herself as rain beats on a window. This is a representation of her intense grief after the death of Willie, her second son to die. I have always had a great deal of sympathy for Mrs. Lincoln, thinking that she has been treated unfairly in many historical accounts, but after experiencing myself the grief that she experienced three times, my sympathy for her is now boundless.
The first son of the Lincolns to die was Edward Baker Lincoln at three years on February 1, 1850 of tuberculosis. Both the Lincolns were devastated by his death. A poem which was published in the Illinois State Journal the next week reflected their grief. Wrongly attributed to the Lincolns by some historians, the poem was actually written Ethel Grey in 1849 and was not meant to apply to Eddie Lincoln. A friend of the Lincolns probably had it published in an attempt to comfort them.
Those midnight stars are sadly dimmed,
That late so brilliantly shone,
And the crimson tinge from cheek and lip,
With the heart’s warm life has flown –
The angel of Death was hovering nigh,
And the lovely boy was called to die.
The silken waves of his glossy hair
Lie still over his marble brow,
And the pallid lip and pearly cheek
The presence of Death avow.
Pure little bud in kindness given,
In mercy taken to bloom in heaven.
Happier far is the angel child
With the harp and the crown of gold,
Who warbles now at the Savior’s feet
The glories to us untold.
Eddie, meet blossom of heavenly love,
Dwells in the spirit-world above.
Angel Boy – fare thee well, farewell
Sweet Eddie, We bid thee adieu!
Affection’s wail cannot reach thee now
Deep though it be, and true.
Bright is the home to him now given
For “of such is the Kingdom of Heaven.”
The poem doubtless did give some solace to the Lincolns as the final line “of such is the Kingdom of Heaven” is inscribed on Eddie’s tombstone. His brother Willie would be born ten months after his death.