Passing Of The Three Martyred Presidents
( Originally Published 1908 )
The Passing of Lincoln
A STRANGE coincidence it is that on the day on which President Lincoln was shot, by a fanatic at Ford's Theatre, in Washington, he came to a Cabinet meeting in the White House and said to his advisors, "Last night, gentlemen, I had a strange dream and I am, to-day, oppressed with a presentiment of evil." A few hours later Lincoln lay dead in a house opposite the theatre in which he was shot by J. Wilkes Booth. The day was the fourteenth of April, 1865. Lincoln had an almost childish love for the theatre, but he went to the play that particular night merely because he had promised his friends that he would be present. As the details of the assassination are so wellknown to American readers, this chapter is given up more particularly to the events of Lincoln's last days at the White House.
Mr. Lincoln's Last Moments in the White House
What Mr. Lincoln did just before leaving the White House for the last time, and what happened at the mansion after he left, is graphically related by Doorkeeper Thomas Pendel, in his Thirty-Six Years in the White House, as follows :
"On the fourteenth of April, 1865, in the evening just previous to the time when the President and Mrs. Lincoln were going to the theatre, George Ashmun, of Massachusetts, called on Mrs. Lincoln, and I showed him into the Red Parlor, took his card upstairs, and soon the President and Mrs. Lincoln,with Mr. Colfax, then Speaker of the House, came downstairs and went into the Red Parlor where Mr. Ashmun was waiting. They all entered into a lively local conversation, and came out of the Red Parlor presently, and stood in the inner corridor. Their conversation was about the trip Mr. Colfax proposed to take across the continent. They then passed out of the corridor into the main vestibule. Mr. Colfax bade the President and Mrs. Lincoln good-evening, and went upstairs to see the Private Secretary, Mr. John G. Nicolay. Mr. Ashmun went out on the portico with the President and Mrs. Lincoln, said good-bye and started off downtown. Ned Burke and Charles Forbes, the coachman and footman, respectively, drove over to a private residence, and took in the coach Major Rathbone and Miss Harris, who was the daughter of Senator Ira T. Harris, of New York.
"Previous to starting for the theatre, I said to John Parker, who had taken my place, to accompany Mr. Lincoln, `John, are you prepared'? I meant by this to ask if he had his revolver and everything all ready to protect the President in case of an assault. Alfonso Dunn, my old companion at the door, spoke up and said, `Oh, Tommy, there is no danger'. I said, `Dunn, you don't know what might happen. Parker, now you start down to the theatre, to be ready for the President when he reaches there. And you see him safe inside'. He started off immediately, and did see Mr. Lincoln all safe inside the theatre, and Mrs. Lincoln, Major Rathbone and Miss Harris also reached the building in safety.
"About ten o'clock, as nearly as I can remember, one of the sergeants of the invalid corps, who was doing duty around the White House, rang the bell, and I stepped to the door. He said, `Have you heard the news'? I replied, `No'. He then said, `They have tried to cut the throat of Secretary Seward'. Seward lived in a house close by where the Lafayette Theatre now stands. I said to him, `Oh, Sergeant, I guess you must be mistaken' ! I supposed he referred to the accident that happened to Mr. Seward three weeks before this. He had been thrown from his carriage, and his jawbone had been broken in the fall. The sergeant went away to his post and returned in about fifteen minutes. He rang the bell, and I stepped to the door again. He said, `I tell you that it is a fact ; they tried to cut Secretary Seward's throat'. Then I began to feel very uneasy about the President.
"Probably the Sergeant had been gone this second time twenty minutes, when I saw quite a number of persons hastening towards the White House through the East gate. Men, half-grown boys and small boys all seemed to be in a great hurry. Some of the boys were running. When they arrived at the door, the central figure was Senator Sumner. He came to inquire about the President. I said, `Mr. Senator, I wish you would go down to the theatre and see if anything has happened to the President'. They hurried away just as fast as they had come. Probably about twenty minutes before eleven o'clock, I stepped up to the door in answer to another ring at the bell. Who should be there but Isaac Newton, the Commissioner of Agriculture. This is now a Cabinet position, but was then a commissionership. I admitted him inside the door, and at once closed it. He was a bosom friend of President Lincoln. I was thoroughly acquainted with him, and I knew to whom I was talking. He said to me, `They have shot the President. And the bullet', he said, `has entered the left side of his head'. I immediately hurried upstairs, leaving him on the inside, and went to Captain Robert Lincoln's (Lincoln's eldest son) room. He had just come from the front that morn ing, where he had been doing duty on the staff of General Grant.
"That room was directly over the front portico. When I got into his private room, he did not seem to be feeling very well, and had a vial in one hand containing medicine and a teaspoon in the other, as if he was about to take a dose of medicine.
"As I stepped up to his side the teaspoon and the vial seemed to go involuntarily down on the table, and he did not take the medicine. I wanted to approach the subject gently and break the news to him about his father. So I simply said.
`Captain, there has something happened to the President ; you had better go down to the theatre and see what it is'.
"He said to me, `Go and call Major Hay' (John Hay, Lincoln's secretary), who was in the room now used (first year of Roosevelt's first administration) by Secretary Cortelyou. That was Mr. Nicolay's (also a secretary to Lincoln), and Major Hay's bedchamber at that time. I said to Hay, `Major, Captain Lincoln wants to see you at once. The President has been shot'. He was a handsome young man with a bloom on his cheeks just like that of a beautiful young lady. When I told him the news, he turned deathly pale, the color entirely leaving his cheeks. He said to me, `Don't allow anybody to enter the house'. I said, `Very good, Major. Nobody shall come in'. They took their departure immediately for the theatre. They had been gone probably half an hour, when poor little Tad (Lincoln's young son) returned from the National Theatre and entered through the East door of the basement of the White House. He came up the stairway and ran to me, while I was in the main vestibule, standing at the window, and before he got to me he burst out crying, `Oh, Tom Pen ! Tom Pen ! they have killed papa dead. They've killed papa dead' ! and burst out crying again.
"I put my arm around him and drew him up to me, and tried to pacify him as best I could. I tried to divert his attention to other things, but every now and then he would burst out crying again, and repeat over and over, `Oh, they've killed papa dead ! They've killed papa dead!'
"At nearly twelve o'clock that night I got Tad somewhat pacified, and took him into the President's room, which is in the southwest portion of the building. I turned down the cover of his little bed, and he undressed and got in. I covered him up and laid down beside him, put my arm around him, and talked to him until he fell into a sound sleep.
"While I was putting little Tad to bed other men had taken my place at the door, but after he went to sleep I returned to my duty.
"Two hours after Mr. Lincoln's death, his body was escorted to the White House by a squad of soldiers. Funeral services were held in the East Room on the nineteenth of April. Rev. Dr. Hall, of the Church of the Epiphany, read the burial service; Bishop Simpson, of the Methodist Church, offered a prayer, and Rev. Dr. P. D. Gurley, Mr. Lincoln's pastor, delivered a short address on the courage, purity and faith which had made the dead man great and useful."
President Lincoln's Funeral
The funeral services over the body of the, martyred President were held in the East Room at the White House. An eye-witness of the solemn ceremony says :
"The body lay uncoffined in the centre of the East Room, the head resting to the north. From the entrance door at the northwest of the room were placed the pall-bearers, next the representatives of the Army, then the Judiciary.
"Throughout the ceremonies, within a reserved space were seated the officiating clergy, the mourners, consisting of the late President's two sons, his two private secretaries, and members of his personal household. Mrs. Lincoln was so severely indiposed as to be compelled to keep to her room. The recess of the double-centre doors was assigned to the representatives of the press.
"The coffin was surrounded by an extended wreath of evergreen and white flowers, and upon its head lay a beautifully wrought cross of Japonicas and sweet alysium, at the centre a large wreath or shield of similar flowers ; but by far the most delicate and beautiful design was an anchor of white buds and evergreen."
The Passing of Garfield and McKinley
Having described the last hours in the White House of President Lincoln, it is in order to give the facts relating to the final hours of the two remaining martyrs, Garfield and McKinley.
Both these Presidents were shot outside of the White House, Garfield at the Pennsylvania Railroad station in Washington, and McKinley in the Temple of Music, at the Pan-American Exposition at Buffalo. Therefore the facts here given relate principally to what happened in the White House on the day of the assassination and on the day of the death of each of these Presidents, rather than to the better known details of the actual shooting in each case.
The News of Garfield Received at the White House
President Garfield was shot at the railroad station in Washington, by a half-crazed fanatic named Charles Guiteau, on the afternoon of July 3, 1881. At the moment, President Garfield was about to take a train for Williams College, where he was to address the graduating class. Two shots were fired and the President fell mortally wounded. For over two months he suffered, the news being alternately good and bad, till finally he died, September 19, at Elberon, New Jersey.
Just how the news was received by the attachés at the White House, is told by the steward of the mansion, Steward Crump. The reporters to whom the steward told his story, explain, by way of introduction, that "Steward Crump was found late this morning, sitting in the hall at the foot of the east stairway of the White House, and surrounded by nearly all of the attachés of the White House who are now in the city." He had heard the awful news of the President's death through The Republican extra, which he had heard the boys crying on the streets, just as he was going to bed. At two o'clock A.M. he had received no despatches from Mr. Brown or Colonel Rockwell, but expected to do so at every minute, and intended remaining up all night. He said that the house could be put in complete order for the reception of the President in a couple of hours, should the remains be brought there. The East Room was yet in complete order, and only a portion of the rooms downstairs had been cleared out. Mr. Crump was much distressed at the sad news, and said that he had had all the time the strongest faith that General Garfield would get well. He said :
"He was always so cheerful and had so much nerve. Why, he used to astonish me with his jokes, even while he was suffering horribly. Suffer? I should say he did. The first week or ten days (while lying in the White House), it was his feet. He kept saying, `Oh, my feet feel as though there were millions of needles being run through them'. I used to squeeze his feet and toes in both my hands, as hard as I possibly could, and that seemed the only relief he could get. The day he was shot and on Sunday he kept talking all the time, but Monday he let up some, and then Tuesday morning the doctors shut down on his talking."
Further details are found in Tossing's History of Our Country, as follows:
"At Elberon Garfield seemed, for a day or two, to gather strength ; he felt himself a new man ; he was raised up to see the bright ocean heaving in the sunlight and splashing on the shore. But neither change of place, nor refreshing breezes, were of avail. He was able to sign one official document. The last words he wrote were scribbled on a bit of paper, Strangulatus pro republica. The day before his death he said to his old friend Rockwell, `Old boy, do you think my name will have a place in human history?' `Yes, a grand one; but a grander, in human hearts. Old fellow, you must not talk in that way, you have a great work to do'. `No', said the dying man, `my work is done'.
"And then the end. Down to the very last, no murmurs escaped his lips, no regrets at leaving the power and glory of his exalted position. He sank with patient resignation, courageous and uncomplaining, only anxious for her who had borne him, and for her who had been the bride of his youth."
How McKinley Met Martyrdom
President McKinley's assassination, and the facts relating to his death, are more fresh in the minds of the Americans than are the same facts in relation to Lincoln and Garfield. Therefore it is not deemed necessary here to prolong the account of the tragic last hours of Mr. McKinley beyond giving the story as it concerns in particular the history of the White House.
President McKinley, on the afternoon of September 6, 1901, was holding a reception in the Temple of Music, at the Pan-American Exposition, in Buffalo, New York. While he was shaking hands with the people, a man stepped forward, with something in his hand concealed under a handkerchief. Before the Secret Service men could stop the strange acting man, a shot was heard. The assassin, a man named Czolgolz, shot through the handkerchief and Mr. McKinley fell with what proved to be a mortal wound. His death occurred on September 14. His body was taken to Washington, where it lay in state in the East Room of the White House. The next day it was removed to the Capitol, where the funeral services were held.
An incident well worth space here is that just before the shooting, at the reception, the President stooped to pet a little girl and to speak a kind word to the child's mother. The next person in the line was the assassin, Czolgolz. Two shots were fired, and when the President perceived the fury of the crowd toward his assailant, he cried : "Let no one hurt him."
To those who bent over his death-bed, including his invalid wife, the dying President's last words were:
"Good-bye all. It is God's way. His will be done, not ours."
News of McKinley's Death Received at the White House
How the news of President McKinley's death was received at the White House, and how Mrs. McKinley viewed her husband for the last time, is related in his Thirty-Six Years in the White House, by Doorkeeper Thomas F. Pendel, as follows :
"On the sixth of September, about twenty-five minutes past four in the afternoon, Jerry Smith, one of the servants at the White House, came to the foot of the stairs and called up to me, `The President is shot!' He had been cleaning in the telegraph room and had heard the awful news. Scarcely believing my ears, I called out, `What, Jerry?' He said again, `The President has been shot!' I did not think it could be so, supposing it was some wild rumor that had gotten out. I asked Mr. Gilbert, one of the specially appointed policemen on duty at the White House, to try and find out if the news was true, but they were so busy in the telegraph room that we could not hear anything. Mr. Gilbert was skeptical, as well as myself, as to whether the report was true. About twenty minutes after this a newspaperman came hurrying to the White House with the news. Then there was a sad gloom all over the house. Men were coming to and for, asking questions continually.
"Saturday morning, the fourteenth of September, at twenty-five minutes after two o'clock, he passed away.
"He laid in state Sunday and part of Monday at Buffalo. Tuesday night the remains were brought to Washington. Mrs. McKinley, with Dr. Rixey and Mr. Abner. McKinley (the President's brother), came to the White House probably half an hour before the remains arrived. It was a very sad sight. Previous to his remains being brought in, the undertaker came and was making arrangements for the casket to be laid under the centre chandelier in the East Room. He was arranging so as to have his head lay to the south and his feet to the north. Seeing this, I told him that President Lincoln's remains laid with the head to the north and his feet to the south. The undertaker immediately changed the position so that he laid as Mr. Lincoln did. After the remains had been brought in and the two soldiers and two marines had taken their position at the head and foot of the casket, Mrs. McKinley came in on the arm of Dr. Rixey to take a long look at her dear husband. It was very sad. Again in the morning she took her final farewell of the remains before they were removed to the Capitol. I have at my home, pressed and carefully preserved, one of the leaves from the many flowers which kept arriving all the time."