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White House - Romance Of Nellie Grant

( Originally Published 1908 )

THE two most romantic weddings in the White House, aside from the Cleveland wedding, was first, the one that took place during the administration of President Grant, when his daughter, Ella Wrenshall Grant, better known as Nellie Grant, married Algernon Sartoris. This now celebrated event took place in the East Room on the twenty-first of May, 1874. The second of these romantic weddings was that of Miss Alice Roosevelt and Nicholas Longworth, which took place on February 17, 1906, and is still fresh in the memory of all newspaper readers.

Grant's Daughter a White House Bride

When Nellie Grant came to the altar to be married to Algernon Sartoris, the occasion was spoken of as a marriage of the "first young woman of the land" with an Englishman who had an income of $60,000 a year—a fortune in those days. His father had been a member of Parliament.

"Young Sartoris," says one account, "was dashing in his manner. He fell in love with the President's daughter when they met on a steamer bound from England to New York. He was nearly twenty-two years old, while Nellie Grant was barely seventeen. The young girl was very fond of the Englishman, it was nearly eighteen months before the couple could win the consent of the President."

During the ceremony, the bride and groom stood under a huge floral bell, with a background of flowers filling a window behind them. There were six bridesmaids, and General Grant gave away his daughter with ill-concealed emotion.

The East Room, it is said, was decked for the wedding with real orange-blossoms from the South. The lace alone on the bride's dress cost $1,500. The young couple advanced to the embrace of the great eastern window (where hung an enormous floral bell), along an aisle formed by army and navy officers in glittering uniforms. There were six couples in attendance. The bride's friend, Miss Annie Barnes, daughter of the then Surgeon-General, was maid of honor.

In giving here the story of this famous wedding, we cannot do better than quote from the accounts, from different view points, written by reporters and other eye-witnesses who were present. One such historian of the time tells us that a "floral wedding bell was suspended directly over the raised platform on which the bridal party was to stand," and that "the window shades were closely drawn so as to render more effective the hundreds of lights which glistened from the crystal chandeliers which formerly illuminated the State apartment."

Several hundred guests, the New York Herald informs us, including members of the Cabinet, the Diplomatic Corps, officers of the army and navy in full uniform, members of Congress, the Judiciary and out-of-town guests were present. The ceremony was performed by the Rev. O. H. Tiffany, pastor of the Metropolitan Methodist Episcopal Church, where the President and his family worshiped. Colonel Frederick Dent Grant, brother of the bride, was best man, and the bride was attended by eight bridesmaids, including, besides Miss Barnes, Miss Carpenter, daughter of Senator "Mat"' Carpenter, and Miss Lena Porter, a daughter of Admiral Porter.

Nellie Grant's Wedding Ceremony

Another correspondent, one sent to the White House by Mr. Frank Leslie, says that fully three hundred invitations to the ceremony had been issued, but less than two hundred persons were present. Among them were officials, army and navy officers and their families, the diplomatic families, A. T. Stewart, and other intimate friends of the Grants.

The immediate bridal party, continues the Leslie correspondent, stood on the dais built before the big east windows. At eleven o'clock the procession entered. Mr. Sartoris and Colonel Fred Grant, the best man, stood at the foot, the latter in uniform. Dr. O. H. Tiffany, of the Metropolitan M. E. Church, was on the dais. First came the bridesmaids, Misses Conkling, Frelinghuysen, Porter, Sherman, Drexel, Dent, Barnes and Fish, followed by Mrs. Grant and her sons, Ulysses and Jesse. Then came the bride on the arm of her father. Mr. Sartoris moved forward, took the bride from her father, and the two stepped upon the dais, the bridesmaids forming a semi-circle. The breakfast that followed is said to have surpassed any spread in the White House up to that time. The couple then went to New York in a special car and sailed for Europe in a few days. The presents were valued at $60,000.

Daily press despatches of that day gave these further facts :

"The floral decorations of the public rooms were marvelous in their beauty and profusion. Above the platform there were the heaviest festoons of the whitest flowers—tuberose's, lilies of the valley, spirea and other choice varieties, lending a perfume to the room that was almost oppressive in its sweetness. Above the heads of the couple, suspended by a thread of flowers, was a large bell formed wholly of the rarest of white flowers a present from New York friends. In the Green Room, a bank of the same rare flowers was formed on an oval table. A stand of pot plants, exquisite in their beauty and arrangement, reached far from one side of the East Room to the ceiling, and wherever flowers and evergreens could be placed, there they were."

Doorkeeper Pendel's Story of the Grant Nuptials

Thomas F. Pendel, White House doorkeeper for nearly forty years, right up to the time of the second great romantic wedding of the White House when Alice Roosevelt became a bride, used to love to regale visitors to the Mansion with the details of the Grant wedding. He pointed out the exact position of the bridal party, and most of the women visitors still regard it as a special privilege to be permitted to sit on a divan which marks the spot in the East Room where Miss Grant stood during the ceremony.

Particularly interesting is the intimate account of what happened in the White House following the ceremony, as related by Doorkeeper Pendel in his Thirty-Six Years in the White House:

"The wedding was a grand affair," says Mr. Pendel. "Miss Nellie was married in the East Room, right in the centre of the three windows on the east side. The four large columns supporting the girders were all entwined with the beautiful National colors. Palms and other plants were artistically placed about the room, the windows were closed, and the room was brilliantly lighted. The effect was beautiful in the extreme. The procession formed upstairs in the western portion of the building. There were twelve bridesmaids. All marched down the grand stairway, in the west end of the building, through into the East Room where, as I said before, the ceremony took place. In a line with the grand corridor there were a naval officer and an army officer on one side and a naval officer and an army officer on the other side, who held blue and white ribbons parallel with the white pillars, up to where the ceremony took place. After the ceremony was all over the invited guests repaired to the Red Parlor; that is, the ladies did, and I had the pleasure of presenting to them the wedding-cake—put up in little white boxes about six inches long and three inches wide for them to dream on, that those who were single might dream of their future husbands.

"After Miss Nellie had sailed for Europe, one night after dinner, the President took a walk down town, and everybody had left the house with the exception of Mrs. Grant, Jerry Smith, the old colored duster and myself. When the President had been gone probably fifteen minutes, Mrs. Grant, who was sitting in the Blue Parlor, seemed very lonesome. She called me away from the front door to come in near the Blue Parlor door and be seated, as the house was perfectly deserted, except for us three. While I was there the conversation turned to Miss Nellie. I said to her, `I am very sorry Mrs. Grant, that Miss Nellie has gone away. We all miss her very much'. Mrs. Grant spoke up and said, `Yes, but we will have her back home again'. I chatted with her until the President returned and then took my post again at the front door."

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