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Died In The White House

( Originally Published 1908 )

IS NOT one of the three martyred Presidents died within the walls of the White House, this chapter is given up to those masters, mistresses and their relatives and friends who perished in that historic home. Of the five Presidents who died in their term of office three were the martyred ones. Of these, Lincoln breathed his last in a house in Washington near Ford's Theatre ; Garfield died at Elberon, a seaside resort in New Jersey, and McKinley passed away at Mr. Milburn's house in Buffalo. The story of the last days of these three Chief Executives is told in the following chapter. The two remaining Presidents who perished during their term of office, W. H. Harrison and Zachary Taylor, closed their eyes in their last sleep, each after a period of sickness, in the White House.

Two mistresses of the White House, also, died there the first Mrs. Tyler and the first Mrs. Benjamin Harrison. Mrs. Fillmore died March 30, 1853, a short time after President Fillmore's term expired.

In regard to the deaths of the two Presidents who died in the White House both Mrs. Taylor and Mrs. Harrison felt that care and responsibility killed their husbands ; while others ascribed the responsibility for the deaths of these two Presidents to the "unsanitary condition of the White House."

The Death of President Harrison

By the death of General William Henry Harrison, a Vice-President was called, for the first time in the history of our country, to take his place as the nation's Chief Executive. John Tyler, therefore, was the first President to come into office under such circumstances.

The first President for whom the bells of Washington tolled, a month after he took the oath of office, was the "Hero of Tippecanoe." Mrs. Harrison was absent at the time, in a distant State, but was making ready to come to her husband.

This first death within the White House occurred on the 4th of April, 1841. It seems that the aged veteran was unable to withstand the confinement of his new dignity and the pressure of politicians. The funeral services were held in the White House by the Rev. Mr. Hawley, of the Episcopal Church, in the presence of President Tyler, ex-President John Quincy Adams, members of the Cabinet and the foreign ministers. The procession to the Congregational burying ground was over two miles long, and was marshaled by mounted police who carried white batons ornamented with black tassels.

An instructive account is that which appears in Hawthorne's History of the United States, thus :

"General Harrison had lacked but two years of fulfilling the allotted span of man when he came to Washington; nor would he have survived so long, but for his temperate outdoor life in his Ohio home, for his constitution had never been robust. His campaign had been unusually exciting, and he had several times addressed the people. He made the journey to Washington at an inclement season, with the accompaniments of public demonstrations along the way, to which he responded heartily, as his nature prompted. When he reached the Capital, the pressure on his strength was increased instead of being relaxed; the day of inauguration was cold and gloomy, and he spoke in the open air for an hour.

"About the first of April he caught a chill from careless exposure, which his frame lacked vitality to resist. It developed into pneumonia, and he died on the fourth of the month. `Sir', said he, addressing some imaginary interlocutor as he lay on the brink of the next world, `I wish you to understand the true principles of the government. I wish them to be carried out; I ask no more'."

The First White House Funeral

The funeral of the first person to die in the White House, the funeral of the first President to die within the home of the Chief Executive, was described by an eye-witness, who says :

"On one side of the coffin sat President Tyler and the members of the Cabinet. Next, sat ex-President Adams, and, below him, four members of the last Administration. The Foreign Ministers with their respective suites were also present in full costume. On the other side of the coffin, the members of the late President's family and household, including his favorite aides-de-camp, when in service, were ranged. Representatives in Congress and many ladies were likewise present. Two of the late President's swords were placed upon the pall which was decorated with flowers. At the foot of the coffin, upon a table, were the Bible and prayer-book of the deceased.

"The pall-bearers, numbering twenty-six, wore white scarfs and black crape. Various military companies and members of the Maryland legislature took part in the procession. This, the largest procession yet seen in Washington, extended more than two miles, and is said to have contained 10,000 persons.

"It was more imposing and better arranged than that of the inauguration. The military escort, under the orders of Major-General Macomb, was composed of United States Corps of the military officers and volunteer corps of the District of Baltimore, Annapolis, Virginia, etc. The houses and stores on Pennsylvania Avenue, and also the public buildings, were hung with black, and all business was supended during the day.

"The body was placed on a magnificent funeral car drawn by eight white horses, attended by grooms dressed in white. The car was covered entirely with black velvet, embroidered with gold. Immediately behind the corpse came the family of the deceased in carriages, and after them President Tyler in a carriage with Mr. Webster.

The Death of President Taylor

The death of this second President to die in the White House occurred on July 9, 1850. He died of bilious fever, in the sixty-fifth year of his life. The entire country was startled, and there was much real mourning for weeks after the inauguration of his successor, Millard Fillmore, as President of the United States.

It seems, that, even before Zachary Taylor took the oath of office, Mrs. Taylor expressed her intuitive belief that something sad or something dreadful would overtake her husband during his administration. When Mrs. Taylor learned that her husband was elected she exclaimed with bitterness that it was a plot "to deprive her of his society and shorten his days by unnecessary care and responsibility," and it was with the utmost reluctance that she quitted her quiet home in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, to live as secluded a life as possible at the White House. Mrs. Taylor's premonition was fulfilled and the administration came to a sudden close.

We are told by historians that, having been invited to be present at the laying of the corner stone of the Washington Monument, the venerable President participated in these ceremonies with deep interest. It was a hot July day, and on returning home he complained of feeling very much prostrated by the heat. He died on July 9, and the family remained in the mansion only till the funeral was over. The general's aged war horse followed his owner's body in the sad procession.

The first symptoms showed that President Taylor was suffering from cholera. The patient continued to grow worse until typhoid fever developed, at which point we will take up the story as outlined by a despatch published at the time in the New York Tribune, which said :

"The condition of the patient was now at its critical point. The sick chamber was restored to solemn silence, attendants placed on the outside, and none permitted to enter except the physicians. The family of the President, with Colonel Bliss and other relatives of the deceased, occupied a room adjoining,where they remained, overwhelmed with grief, and refusing even the indulgences of necessary repose. Bulletins were hourly sent out, to inform the masses of the changes observable in the patient; but these so slightly varied for the better, that all hope of his safety was dispelled at eleven o'clock. From that period till daylight the utmost anxiety prevailed.

"The ninth dawned, but gloom still surrounded the Executive Mansion. Thousands began to flood the avenues leading thither, and throughout the day a messenger was kept posted at the main door to answer the interrogations that were incessantly poured upon him. At to A.M. a report circulated that the President had rallied—at I P.M. that he was dead.

A bulletin issued at 3:30 P.M., however, stated that the crisis had been passed, and he was beyond immediate danger. Bells rang for joy, and even the boys in the streets lit bonfires, and shouted in childish gratulation. The stream now to the White House was greater than ever, but about seven in the evening, the pall of gloom again shrouded all faces, for it was announced that the illustrious hero was dying.

"I will not attempt to describe the commotion that ensued. Mrs. Taylor twice fainted from apprehension, and Colonel Bliss, who had never shed a tear upon the battle plain, wept like a child. At thirty-five minutes past ten, his wife and other members of the President's family were called to his bedside to receive his last earthly adieu. Mrs. Taylor's abandonment to grief was truly heart piercing.

"Those surrounding the dying President at the moment were his own family, including Colonel Bliss, Colonel Taylor and family, Jefferson Davis and family, Vice-President Fillmore, several Senators and Members, and a number of intimate friends. Without the mansion, the grounds were literally covered with an immense multitude, who continued to linger in groups until after midnight, scarcely crediting the intelligence, though officially announced.

"At sunrise this morning, the national colors, shrouded in black were disclosed at halfmast. All the public offices were closed and arrayed in the same sable colors, even to the national monument. The Executive Mansion was literally covered with black, and the badge was worn on the harness of the horses attached to the Secretaries' carriage. Business of all kinds was suspended, and a stream of people kept pouring into the President's grounds, and besieging the edifice until as late as eleven o'clock. The Executive Mansion was open till 2 P.M., during which time the public availed themselves of the opportunity to visit the remains.

"I understand that Mrs. Taylor was seized with illness, and that she is irreconcilable for the loss of her husband. The sympathies of the city are with her, and a committee of ladies have presented themselves at the White House to condole with the unfortunates."

The Passing of Three White House Mistresses

Twice has the White House stood swathed in black, while its mistress lay dead within. First when Mrs. Tyler died; next when Mrs. Benjamin Harrison "fell asleep in Christ."

Mrs. John Tyler died in 1842, about one year after the death of President Harrison, and her's was, accordingly, the second death within the White House.

The next death of a mistress of the White House was that of the first Mrs. Benjamin Harrison, who died of la grippe, on the twenty-fourth of October, 1891, her funeral taking place at the White House on the twenty-seventh.

What came near to being another White House death, this time also a mistress of the mansion, was the passing of Mrs. Millard Fillmore. It happened, however, that Mrs. Fillmore died at Willard's Hotel. Her daughter, Miss Abigail Fillmore, "even during her fragile mother's lifetime, had begun to bear the burdens and wear the honors of 'First Lady'."

Death of Lincoln's Son, "Tad"

One of the saddest of the passings of members of the youngergeneration of White House families, was the death of little Willie Lincoln, the second son of President and Mrs. Lincoln, "the idolized darling of both parents." Willie Lincoln died of smallpox, on March 20, 1862, and it is said that so deep was the mother's grief that she would never cross the threshold of the Green Room, where the body of the little boy had laid in its casket. To have a child named Willie was a sure passport for any person to the President's heart. ever afterward.

For two years after Willie's death, President and Mrs. Lincoln entertained just as little as they possibly could and yet observe the formalities expected of a Chief Executive. The service conducted over the body of the beloved son is described in detail by the famous poet, N. P. Willis, who was present :

"The funeral was very touching. Of the entertainments in the East Room, the boy had been for those who now assembled more especially a most life giving variation. With his bright face and his apt greetings and replies, he was remembered in every part of the crimson curtained hall, built only for pleasure of all the crowds each night, certainly the one least likely to be death's first mark. He was his father's favorite. They were intimates often seen hand in hand. And there sat the man, with a burden on his brain, at which the world marvels bent, now, with the load at both heart and brain staggering under a blow like the taking from him of his child. His men of power sat around him McClellan, with a moist eye, when he bowed to the prayer, as I could see from where I stood ; and Chase and Seward, with their austere features at work, and senators and ambassadors and soldiers, all struggling with their tears great hearts sorrowing with the President as a stricken man and brother."

Other Deaths in the White House

During President Grant's administration, Mrs. Grant's father, Judge Dent, in the eighty-fifth year of his age, died in the White House, in one of the chambers overlooking the northern portico. His remains lay in state in the Blue Room.

In President Arthur's administration, one evening while the

Chief Magistrate was holding a reception, the guests were shocked to learn that one of the most distinguished members of the diplomatic corps had expired within the house. This was Mr. Allen, Minister from Hawaii, and Dean of the Diplomatic Corps. He had complained of feeling ill, and stepped to the cloak room to get his hat, preparatory to taking his departure. But before he reached the outer door he fell dead. President Arthur immediately dismissed his guests, his face expressive of deep sorrow as he informed them of the sad loss of one whom "I esteemed most highly."

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