Receiving Vaults

Many cemeteries have receiving vaults.  Below are two famous examples:

According to the signage next to the vault at the Oak Ridge Receiving Vault in Springfield, Illinois the receiving vault there was the:


“Abraham Lincoln was laid to rest here, in Oak Ridge Cemetery’s public vault, during services held May 4, 1865 Government officials, members of the military, foreign diplomats, and private citizens gathered to witness the ceremony.

“Over the following months visitors in the thousands came to pay respects.  A New Yorker found that the “stone doors of the sepulcher were open, and the sentry permitted people in small parties to approach the iron grating and view the coffin within.  It was draped in black and festooned with garlands of flowers and evergreen shrubs…Sadness pressed heavily upon me at the scene.”

“The president’s casket, along with that of his son William, who had died at the White House in 1862, remained here until December 1865.  Then they were moved to a newly built temporary tomb, located about midway up the ridge.

“Built in 1864, this receiving tomb, like those found in many American cemeteries, served “those who in their bereavement are not immediately prepared to site a Lot for the final resting place, also those who are awaiting the arrival of friends.” Oak Ridge remodeled and enlarged the vault in 1891.”

The Public Vault at the Congressional Cemetery in Washington DC has an early classical revival design.  The vault was constructed between 1832 and 1834.  Like other receiving vaults found in many American cemeteries, its purpose was to house bodies until their final resting place could be built or decided upon.  In some cases, where the winters are particularly harsh, the vault also served as a place to store bodies until a grave could be opened—often the families had to wait until a Spring thaw before the grave could be dug. 

Since its construction, about 4,600 individuals have been temporarily interred in the Public Vault including many famous people such as presidents, William Henry Harrison, John Quincy Adams, and Zachary Taylor.  The longest known “tenant” of the vault was First Lady Dolley Madison who was interred in the vault from July 16, 1849, until February 10, 1852.

The Public Vault fell into disrepair and was restored with federal funds and private fundraisers. In 2010, fundraisers held a prohibition-based themed effort to raise money and used the Public Vault as a cocktail bar—now that’s spooky and just a little bit creepy. Talk about spirits! 🙂

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