In a letter to her brother, Isabelle Perkins—a woman who lives across the street from the cemetery— describes seeing Willie Lincoln’s funeral procession. She watches the group enter the chapel, and then later leave the graveyard. The next day, she explains, she sees President Lincoln return to accompany his son’s coffin to the crypt in which he’ll be temporarily interred. “They have been loaned a place in the crypt belonging to Judge Carroll,” Isabelle writes. It is now nighttime, and she assures her brother that she’s grown accustomed to the silence of the graveyard. “I have grown comfortable having these Dead for company,” she states, “and find them agreeable companions, over there in their Soil & cold stone Houses.”
Everything about Willie in Lincoln in the Bardo is characterized by impermanence. Indeed, even his crypt—where he should presumably remain for eternity—is a temporary arrangement, since his parents plan to move him once they themselves leave Washington, D.C. (the real William Lincoln was indeed transferred to a graveyard in Illinois, where he now lies next to his father). In this way, Saunders prepares readers to see Willie as an embodiment of transience and transition, a figure who represents life’s ephemerality.