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Source: The Authentic Life of William McKinley
Source type: book
Document type: book chapter
Document title: “Obsequies of the Martyred President” [chapter 21]
Author(s): McClure, Alexander K.; Morris, Charles
Edition: Memorial edition
Publisher: none given
Place of publication: none given
Year of publication: 1901
Pagination: 337-48

McClure, Alexander K., and Charles Morris. “Obsequies of the Martyred President” [chapter 21]. The Authentic Life of William McKinley. Memorial ed. [n.p.]: [n.p.], 1901: pp. 337-48.
full text of chapter; excerpt of book
William McKinley (autopsy); McKinley funeral train; McKinley funeral services (Buffalo, NY); William McKinley (lying in state: Buffalo, NY); McKinley funeral train (procession from Buffalo, NY, to Washington, DC); William McKinley (posthumous return: Washington, DC).
Named persons
James A. Garfield; Abraham Lincoln; Charles Edward Locke; Ida McKinley; William McKinley; John Henry Newman; Theodore Roosevelt; Victoria.
From title page: The Authentic Life of William McKinley, Our Third Martyr President: Together with a Life Sketch of Theodore Roosevelt, the 26th President of the United States; Also Memorial Tributes by Statesmen, Ministers, Orators and Rulers of All Countries; Profusely Illustrated with Reproductions from Original Photographs, Original Drawings and Special Pictures of the Family by Express Permission from the Owners.

From title page: Introduction and Biography by Alexander K. McClure, Author of the “Life and Times of Abraham Lincoln.”

From title page: The Life and Public Career by Charles Morris, LL.D., Author of the “Life of Queen Victoria.”


Obsequies of the Martyred President

DURING the day that followed the sad death of the martyred McKinley preparations were made for the last sad rites. These, as in the similar instances of Lincoln and Garfield, and of the more recently deceased Victoria, were to consist of public ceremonies and private obsequies. The people demanded the right to gaze upon the lifeless features of their beloved leader, and the request, dictated by respect and affection, could not be ignored. From Philadelphia came an earnest solicitation that the body of the dead President should lie in state for an interval in the Hall of Independence, the hallowed scene of the nation’s birth, where the body of Abraham Lincoln had reposed thirty-six years before. But the request came too late, the plans for the funeral ceremonies had been made, and it was deemed best not to change them even for this added honor to the nation’s martyr.
     Before beginning the preparations for the funeral, it was deemed right and proper that an autopsy should be made to satisfy the family and friends as well as the public that all had been done which could be done to save the President’s life. The following is the report of the doctors who made the autopsy:


     “The bullet which struck over the breast bone did not pass through the skin and did little harm.
     “The other bullet passed through both walls of the stomach near its lower border. Both holes were found to be perfectly closed by the stitches, but the tissue around each hole had become gangrenous. After passing through the stomach the bullet passed [337][338] into the back walls of the abdomen, hitting and tearing the upper end of the kidney. This portion of the bullet track was also gangrenous, the gangrene involving the pancreas. The bullet has not yet been found.
     “There was no sign of peritonitis or disease of other organs. The heart walls were very thin. There was no evidence of any attempt at repair on the part of nature, and death resulted from the gangrene which affected the stomach around the bullet wounds as well as the tissues around the further course of the bullet. Death was unavoidable by any surgical or medical treatment and was the direct result of the bullet wound.”
     This report of the autopsy upon President McKinley was made not only by the physicians and surgeons who attended him, but by a number of other medical experts. It shows he was beyond medical or surgical aid from the moment he was struck by the assassin’s bullet. The surgeons did everything that could be done to help him when they operated upon him promptly and sewed up the two wounds in his stomach. In the ordinary course of events nature would have begun at once to repair the damage, but the autopsy disclosed that nature did nothing. Mr. McKinley was not in as good condition as he was supposed to be. Although not sick, he was “run down” by hard work and sedentary habits. The walls of his heart were unusually thin, and that organ, though sufficient to sustain his ordinarily quiet life, was not strong enough to bear the shock sustained by the assassin’s attack. These things could not be known to the physicians and surgeons until the autopsy. They were working more or less blindly, and knew by the pulse that the heart was greatly affected, but there was relatively little fever; it seemed to be abating and the patient gave no sign until the fatal collapse that the parts surrounding the path of the bullet had become gangrenous.
     It has been suggested that the bullet of the assassin was poisoned; but it is not necessary to assume this in order to explain the gangrenous condition, which is a not infrequent result of gun- [338][339] shot wounds. In a healthy young person the gangrene would probably have been accompanied by very high fever; but in the President’s case there was relatively little fever, and for this reason the attending physicians were misled into the belief that he was on the high road to recovery. Sad as was his death, it is a relief to know that it was due entirely to the assassin’s bullet; that his physicians and surgeons did all that was possible to save him, and that they could not have prolonged his life after the collapse even though they had known exactly what had caused his heart failure.


     The plans for the funeral provided for a private ceremony at the Milburn house on Sunday, September 15th, at 11 A.M., consisting of reading the Scripture, prayer and the singing of a hymn. Immediately after this service the remains of the late President were to be taken to the Buffalo City Hall, under escort of one company of regular troops, one company of marines, one company each of the Buffalo regiments of the National Guard.
     At the City Hall the body to lie in state, affording the citizens of Buffalo an opportunity to pay their respects to their dead ruler. The body was then to remain under a guard of soldiers and sailors until Monday at 7.30 A.M., when it would be taken under the same escort to the funeral train at the Buffalo Union Station.
     This train, as arranged by the authorities of the Pennsylvania Railroad, to consist of one private car for Mrs. McKinley, one combination car, one dining car, one compartment car, one double drawing room and sleeping car and one observation car, in which the body of the President would be placed.
     The train to leave Buffalo at 8.30 Monday morning, and arrive in Washington the same evening, traveling by way of Williamsport, Harrisburg and Baltimore.
     At Washington the body to be taken from the train to the Executive Mansion under escort of a squadron of cavalry; and at [339][340] 9 o’clock on Tuesday morning to be removed to the rotunda of the Capitol, under the same escort of cavalry, when the funeral services were to take place immediately, and afterward the body was to lie in state until evening of Tuesday, when the body would be taken, under military escort, followed by the funeral procession, in accordance with the precedent in the case of President Garfield, to the Baltimore & Potomac Station, and placed upon the funeral train, which would leave for Canton.
     The train to reach Canton at 11 o’clock Wednesday morning, where the final funeral services were to be committed to the charge of the citizens of Canton, under the direction of a committee to be selected by the Mayor of that city.
     Simple and sincere in life, so was the funeral of William McKinley at the Milburn house in Buffalo on Sunday morning, September 15th. There was no pomp, no harsh stiffness of painful ceremony. It was a sincere tribute of respect to a great and a good man who had died with the words “God’s will be done” upon his lips.


     The coffin rested in the drawing-room on the first floor. It was richly draped in black, with the upper part open, and bearing the simple inscription on a silver plate:


BORN JANUARY 29, 1843.


     Across the foot of the coffin was a new silk American flag, which fell in graceful folds to the floor. All about were an abundance of flowers sent from all parts of the country, with a large wreath of roses resting on the mantel near the head of the bier. At every door into the drawing-room soldiers were stationed, and no one was permitted to enter. [340][341]
     Rev. Dr. Locke, of the Methodist Church, and a friend of the family, and the choir from the First Presbyterian Church, of Buffalo, took part in the funeral ceremonies at the house.
     At a signal there rose from the hall the words of “Lead, Kindly Light,” sung by the quartet. It was President McKinley’s favorite hymn. Every one within sound of the music knew it, and, as the voices swelled through the house, half of those in the room put their faces in their hands to hide their tears.
     When the singing ended Dr. Locke read from 1 Corinthians, XV. All had risen as he began and remained standing throughout the services. “O Death, where is thy sting? O Grave, where is thy victory?” repeated the minister. Again the voices rose with the words, “Nearer, My God, to Thee.” Dr. Locke, who was dressed in the simple garb of a clergyman of the Methodist Church, then advanced to the head of the coffin. Bowing his head and folding his hands as he looked down into the face of the dead President, he invoked the divine help and comfort in the hour of affliction. The services closed with a simple benediction. Four sailors of the navy, two infantry sergeants and two artillery sergeants bore the coffin out of the house. The President, the Cabinet members and the others followed it. Mrs. McKinley and the members of the family remained.


     The trained nurses and the personal attendants of the President gathered on the side porch to see the body taken away. Through their tears from behind the screen of vines they saw it borne from the house, and as long as the hearse in which it was deposited remained in view they strained their dimmed eyes to see it. Those noble women who minister to the sick and who are inured to sorrow were prostrated with grief.
     Three long rolls of a muffled drum told those outside the house that the funeral party was about to appear. All the morning a veil of mist had been hanging over the city, but just as the [341][342] coffin was carried out of the house the sun came out and the warm light illumined the bright colors of the flags on it. All the way from the Milburn house to the City Hall, a distance of nearly four miles, the streets were black with people, but there was no need for police lines, for the people stood in silence with heads uncovered waiting for the procession to pass.
     As the coffin was brought out of the house the Sixty-fifth Regiment band, stationed on the opposite side of the street, stepped forward a few paces and began playing in a minor key “Nearer, My God, to Thee.” Slowly the coffin was carried on the shoulders of the soldiers across the lawn and placed in the hearse, drawn by four black horses.
     As the funeral procession moved south through Delaware Avenue toward the City Hall it passed through a vast concourse of people, filling the walks and cross streets and crowding housetops, windows and every available space along the line of march. It was plain to see from this popular outpouring that the hearts of the people had been deeply touched, and, as the flower-covered coffin passed along, women wept and men gave expression to the universal feeling of grief.


     As the escort of soldiers swung slowly into Franklin Street a few drops of rain fell. In two minutes it was raining hard. The long line of troops took their positions at attention, facing the City Hall. The coffin was lifted from the hearse to the shoulders of the sailors and marines, and borne into the City Hall. Outside there was not a man who did not stand with hat removed in respect to the dead President. Inside, with slow and measured steps, the bearers made their way to the catafalque. A moment later, and the body of President McKinley was lying in state.
     A mighty host of between 75,000 and 100,000 men, women and children swept through the City Hall, where President McKinley lay, during the afternoon between 1.30 and 10.30 o’clock. [342][343]
     The main corridor of the City Hall is oblong. The front opens upon Franklin Street, the rear opening on Delaware Avenue. The front and rear face the east and west. In the centre of the corridor under the dome was the catafalque, about eighteen inches in height. Thirty feet distant from it on either side were two round altar-shaped stands, used for ornamental purposes. These were crape-covered. The sides of the corridor were lined with giant ferns and palms. The chandeliers at the base of the four stairways leading to the second floor were draped with the national colors, overlaid with black and white crape. In the centre of the arch of the south intersecting corridor hung a life-sized portrait of the dead Executive draped with bunting and crape, and with white doves with outstretched wings surrounding it. The coffin was borne into the corridor on the shoulders of eight men.
     On the coffin were the national colors, on top of which were placed a wreath of American Beauty roses, and one of white roses. When the lid was removed it was noticed that the President’s left hand, which had rested on his waist, had dropped to his side. The top of the coffin was removed and the hand was tenderly replaced. The face of the President bore a look of perfect peacefulness. It was not greatly emaciated. The most noticeable difference was that his usual pallor had been succeeded by sallowness.
     President Roosevelt led the Cabinet into the corridor and took a position on the south side, so that he stood on the right and near the foot of the coffin. Scattered about were some of the more prominent citizens of Buffalo, and police and National Guard officials. At the head of the coffin, at attention, stood a sergeant of the coast artillery, and at the foot the Chief Master-at-Arms. President Roosevelt gazed only an instant into the face of the dead, and then, with bowed head, quickly passed toward the Delaware Avenue exit.
     First in the throng, a little girl of about seven came along, her brown eyes glistening with excitement. She and her mother had been drenched by the rain. The mother’s eyes filled with [343][344] tears as she looked at the President. The little girl was too short, and, placing her hand on the edge of the glass top, she raised herself on tiptoe and looked in. Her mouth opened with a half-suppressed exclamation as she looked up at her mother. Then a policeman’s gloved hand gently pushed her along.
     A grizzled war veteran, wearing a Grand Army and a corps badge, limped in. His collar was wilted and his hair was wet. Not a muscle of his grim face moved as he bent slightly over and looked at Mr. McKinley’s face. He walked on like one in a dream, perhaps listening in memory to the rattle of musketry at Cedar Creek. Three awe-stricken boys of twelve, somewhat ragged and as wet as rats, came along with linked hands. The policeman tried to get them to separate, but there must have been a boyish Masonry that steeled them against the orders of a bluecoat. Unlink they would not. Each freckled face bent reverently over the convex glass, a look of something like terror came into their eyes, and then they were swept on, still linked together, a sort of faith, hope and charity in ragged knickerbockers and shoes that oozed water at the toes. Out into the rain they went, down the outer steps, with their heads together, holding in their chalice of memory a picture that will be retold to children and grandchildren in the days to come. The corridor became wet from the tramping feet, and still the hero-worshippers surged through the portals. As long as the doors were open, late into the night, did the people, in an orderly and continuous line, pass the bier and view the pallid features. Then the casket was closed and the gates locked. A guard of honor stood sentinel through the night.


     At early dawn of Monday morning, escorted by military, the body was taken to the funeral train, and started for the Capital City, accompanied by relatives, high officials and many friends. Through a long living lane of bareheaded people, stretching from Buffalo up over the Alleghenies, down into the broad valley of the [344][345] Susquehanna, and on to the marble city on the banks of the shining Potomac, the nation’s martyred President made his last journey to the seat of government, over which he presided for four and one-half years. The whole country seemed to have drained its population to the sides of the track over which the funeral train passed. The thin lines through the mountains and the sparsely-settled districts thickened at the little hamlets, covered acres in towns suddenly grown to the proportions of respectable cities and were congested into vast multitudes in the larger cities. Work was suspended in field and mine and city. The schools were dismissed, and everywhere appeared the trappings and tokens of woe. A million flags at half mast dotted hillside and valley, and formed a thicket of color over the cities, and from almost every banner streamed a bit of crape. The stations were heavy with the black symbols of mourning. At all the larger towns and cities, after the train got into Pennsylvania, militiamen, drawn up at present arms, kept back the enormous crowds.


     The silence with which the countless thousands viewed the remains of their hero and martyr was oppressive and profound. Only the rumbling of the train wheels, the sobs from men and women with tear-stained faces and the doleful tolling of the church bells broke on the ear. At several places, Williamsport, Harrisburg and Baltimore, the chimes played Cardinal Newman’s grand hymn. Taken altogether, the journey home was the most remarkable demonstration of universal personal sorrow since Lincoln was borne to his grave. Every one of those who came to pay their last tribute to the dead had an opportunity to catch a glimpse of the flag-covered bier, elevated to view in the observation car at the rear of the train.
     There was no other bit of color to catch the eye on this train of death. The locomotive was shrouded in black, the curtains of the cars, in which sat the lonely, stricken widow, the relatives of the [345][346] President, Cabinet and others were drawn. The whole black train was like a shuttered house, save only for that hindmost car where the body lay guarded by a soldier of the army and a sailor of the navy.
     Mrs. McKinley stood the trip bravely. In the morning, soon after leaving Buffalo, she pleaded so earnestly to be allowed to go into the car where her dear one lay, that reluctant assent was given, and she spent half an hour beside the coffin.


     All the way the train was preceded about fifteen minutes by a pilot engine sent ahead to test the bridges and switches and prevent the possibility of an accident to the precious burden it carried.
     The train had the right of way over everything. Not a wheel moved on that section of the railroad system thirty minutes before the pilot engine was due, or for the same length of time after the train had passed. The General Superintendent had sent out explicit instructions covering every detail. The order concluded:
     “Every precaution must be taken by all employees to make this movement absolutely safe.”
     In the twelve hours between Buffalo and Washington, it is estimated over half a million people saw the coffin which held all that was mortal of President McKinley.
     It was with simple ceremony and a silence that fitted perfectly the sadness of the occasion that the body of the late President was borne up Pennsylvania Avenue to the White House and laid upon the bier in the great East Room where he had stood so often in the pride of his manhood to receive the greetings of the common people he loved better than himself.
     It was fitting that such ceremony as there was should be severely military in its character, in recognition of the fact that the President was the Commander-in-chief of the United States army and navy. Nowhere was there a show of civilian participation. The streets about the station were filled with mounted troops, and the [346][347] station itself was occupied by stalwart soldiers and sailors in uniform. The blue-coated policemen and the railroad employees were nearly all that stood for civil life.
     It was not so on the broad stretch of avenue that led to the White House. There the people strained and crowded in a vast multitude against the stiff wire ropes which restrained them from the space marked out for the line of procession. The silence that marked the progress of the funeral party through the national capital was profound. The people as a whole did not talk even in whispers, and the only sign of agitation in the great crowd was the silent pressing and striving against the ropes to see the mournful cortege which swept slowly along. The afternoon was cloudy, and with the close of day began the dull, depressing boom of a great gun at intervals of five minutes. It was the signal which gave notice of the approach of the funeral train.
     At the Pennsylvania Railroad Station men in bright uniforms gathered, a mixture of soldiers and sailors, and, with lowered voices, talked in groups while waiting to take up their parts in the ceremony. From the brigadier-general and naval captain down to the humblest lieutenant and ensign, every officer on duty in the Capitol was there, save a few of high rank who composed the guard of honor, and waited at the White House.
     The casket was moved from the observation car, and tenderly received upon the bent shoulders of the body-bearers. Four artillerymen, from Fort McHenry, Maryland, were on the right and four sailors on the left. Straightening themselves under their burden, they walked slowly towards the hearse. As the casket emerged a bugle note rose clearly, and “taps” rang out. That was the only sound that broke the dead silence.
     Just beyond the entrance to the station President Roosevelt, with the members of the Cabinet, had paused and had taken station so as to leave a broad space for the funeral cortege. They ranged themselves on the sidewalk in double rows opposite each other and stood with bared heads as the corpse was carried to the hearse, [347][348] drawn up at the side gate. The hearse was an exquisitely carved affair, and was drawn by six coal-black horses, each of which was led by a colored groom in black livery.
     When the sad cortege arrived at the White House the hearse stopped under the porte-cochere. The body-bearers took the coffin upon their broad shoulders, and, passing up three or four steps, waited until President Roosevelt and the members of the Cabinet had alighted from their carriages, and then followed them through the wide-open doors into the East Room. Just in the centre of the room, under the great crystal chandelier, they deposited their precious burden upon a black-draped base, and stood at salute while the Chief Executive and Cabinet members, with bowed heads, passed by.
     Following them came the chief officers of the army and navy now in the city, the guard of honor consisting of officers of the Loyal Legion, members of the Union Veterans’ organization and the Grand Army of the Republic.
     The casket was placed lengthwise of the East Room, the head to the north. Piled about it were a half hundred floral emblems of exceptional beauty, and as many more were placed in the inside corridor to wait the morrow. Two marines, a soldier and a sailor, stood guard, one at each corner of the casket, while seated on either side were two members of the Grand Army, and two members of the Loyal Legion. These were relieved at intervals of two hours during the night.
     Before midnight the household had retired to rest, and the only lights to be seen were those in the room where his comrades kept watch over their dead chief.
     There in the East Room of the White House, where for more than four years he had made his home as the Chief Magistrate of the great American Republic, he rested undisturbed. Upstairs his widow mourned for her dead in the family apartments that brought back but the saddest of memories.



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