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Source: The Authentic Life of William McKinley
Source type: book
Document type: book chapter
Document title: “The Last Home-Coming to Canton” [chapter 23]
Author(s): McClure, Alexander K.; Morris, Charles
Edition: Memorial edition
Publisher: none given
Place of publication: none given
Year of publication: 1901
Pagination: 365-78

McClure, Alexander K., and Charles Morris. “The Last Home-Coming to Canton” [chapter 23]. The Authentic Life of William McKinley. Memorial ed. [n.p.]: [n.p.], 1901: pp. 365-78.
full text of chapter; excerpt of book
McKinley funeral train; McKinley funeral train (procession from Washington, DC, to Canton, OH); William McKinley (mourning); William McKinley (death: public response); William McKinley (lying in state: Canton, OH); McKinley funeral services (Canton, OH); William McKinley (eulogies); C. E. Manchester (eulogies: full text); William McKinley (personal character); William McKinley (religious character).
Named persons
Frédéric Chopin; William R. Day; Humbert I; Jesus Christ; Jonathan; Isaac W. Joyce; Abraham Lincoln; C. E. Manchester; Abner McKinley; Anna McKinley (sister); Ida McKinley; James Rose McKinley (brother); William McKinley; Paul; Theodore Roosevelt; Elihu Root; Edward J. Vattman [identified as Voltman below]; George Washington; James Wilson.
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.”


The Last Home-Coming to Canton

THE last chapter of the sad ceremonial, the removal of the remains of the late President to the grave at his old home at Canton, Ohio, began on Tuesday evening, September 17th, when the funeral train left Washington over the Pennsylvania Railroad.
     The great bronze doors of the Capitol in which the body had lain in state had closed while there were still thousands of people waiting to get a last glance at the casket.
     The guards at the Capitol, who had patiently throughout the long day held the crowd in leash, were permitted a hurried look at the face of the deceased. The cover of the casket was screwed down by the undertakers, it was lifted once more upon the shoulders of the body-bearers, and by them borne to the hearse at the foot of the east steps of the Capitol.
     The escort from the Capitol to the train consisted of a committee from the army and navy and two squadrons of the Eleventh Cavalry. The route was down Pennsylvania Avenue, which was lined on either side by troops of the District of Columbia.
     It was a quiet, noiseless journey, without music. Not a drum was heard, nor a funeral note. Nor was there a sound from the crowd which lined the broad street. Notwithstanding the hour was late, the air chill and a light mist was falling, hats were uniformly removed as the cortege passed.
     At the railroad station there was a dense throng, and the remains were received by large delegations of army and naval officers. There the soldiers and seamen carried the casket from [365][366] the hearse to the observation car placed in the second section of the funeral train.
     The casket was placed on standards draped with the national colors, and was covered with floral emblems. No less than twenty cars were required for the transportation of the funeral party to Canton.
     Remarkable demonstrations of a stricken people’s grief marked the last home-coming of the martyred President, William McKinley. All along the path of the sombre funeral train, from Washington, on the Potomac, to Canton, in Ohio, mourning thousands stood to bid their dead chief a last, sad farewell. Although the journey was made in the dead of night, not a city, town or hamlet but contributed its quota. Silent they stood in the black darkness as the cars bearing the beloved dead flashed by in the gloom, unlit, except that bearing the remains of the President. Illuminated by lights within the car, the casket stood out in bold relief, visible to the watchers in the night.


     Daylight was dawning as the train arrived at the foot of the eastern slope of the Alleghenies. But through the semi-darkness the forms of many people could be seen strung along the track.
     Extra engines were coupled on, and the train was pulled laboriously up the mountains. The morning was raw, foggy and cheerless. Mountaineers, with axes on their shoulders, came down from the steep slopes to pay their homage with uncovered heads.
     Men, women and children all were there. Miners, with lamps in their caps, had rushed forth from the tunnels at the train’s approach, and the steel mills along the Conemaugh River were emptied. These were men who felt that their prosperity was due to the system for which the dead statesman stood, and their loss seemed of a personal character. Four women, with uplifted hands, were noticed on their knees and handkerchiefs were at the lips of others; and from the smoke-covered city came the sound of the church bells clanging out the universal sorrow. [366][367]
     A little further on the train passed a string of coke ovens, the tenders standing at the mouths of the glowing furnaces with their hats in their hands. The train slowed down that the people might better see the impressive spectacle at the rear of the train within the observation car, the elevated flag-covered casket with its burden of flowers and the two grim, armed sentries on guard at the head and foot and outside, on the platform, a soldier with his bayoneted gun and a sailor with drawn cutlass, both at salute. So rigid they stood they might have been carved out of stone.
     As the train passed through Harrisburg, Altoona, Pittsburgh, Allegheny, and other Pennsylvania towns and cities in the route of the sad cortege, people were seen in thousands, standing in silence and with bared heads as the train passed.
     The climax of the great sorrow was observed when the train reached the Ohio line and entered the President’s own State. The signs of grief and mourning were evident on every hand. The people were grieving the death as of their well beloved son.
     Church bells tolled most mournfully, and the train slackened speed. The humblest cottage was draped in mourning, and thus was McKinley’s return heralded with silent and deeply-felt sorrow.
     Canton received the remains of the late President McKinley shortly before noon on Wednesday, the 18th. Two weeks previous, upon the same day, and almost at the same hour, in the full vigor of life and the buoyancy of health, surrounded by loving friends and admiring neighbors, who cheered his departure for Buffalo, he started upon the journey that terminated in assassination. The same friends and neighbors, augmented by a vast multitude that included nearly the entire population of Canton, patiently, silently, with hearts overshadowed with grief and heads bowed in humiliation, awaited the coming of the train that brought to them the lifeless form of the President. There was no lack in the preparation for this sad duty. No detail was omitted, and the entire service was performed with a thoroughness which so strongly marked the bringing of the body to Washington. There was a degree [367][368] of simplicity and tenderness that gave it additional impressiveness and left no doubt as to the depth of the affection of the people, and the sincerity of their grief.
     Canton’s little railroad station and the streets in its vicinity were crowded with people. Infantrymen of the State National Guard performed patrol duty in the inside, and Troop A, of Cleveland, which had twice escorted President-elect McKinley from the White House to the Capitol at Washington, sat erect and motionless on their horses on the outside. A reception committee of citizens, including men of all parties and sects, at the head of which was Judge Day, an intimate friend, close associate and near neighbor of the late President, was at the station, not only to tenderly receive the remains of the dead President, but to care for the comfort and look after the safety of his successor and the Cabinet Ministers, who were among the chief mourners.
     There was no apparent need for the services of soldiers and police. There was no crowding or pushing among the people, no fretting or fussing on the part of those charged with the conduct of affairs. All were seemingly impressed with the solemnity of the occasion and actuated by the common purpose to assist in successfully carrying out the object for which they were assembled.


     The casket was borne from the funeral car to the hearse by the soldiers and sailors who had performed this service since the departure from Buffalo. The funeral procession moved between lines of sorrowing people to the Court House, in which the remains reposed in state until evening, when they were escorted to his late residence. During the hours the remains were exposed the people passed continuously in two lines on each side of the casket.
     The casket rested in the main corridor of the Court House, with the head toward the south entrance, by which the people were admitted to view the remains. The walls and ceiling were completely covered with a black fabric, which gave it the appearance of an [368][369] immense vault, dimly lighted by incandescent electric lamps. Entering this long chamber from the clear sunlight of the outside the effect was awe-inspiring upon the visitor. This was heightened by the presence of the dead President, resting upon a plain black catafalque, surrounded by the military and naval guards, standing rigidly at the head and foot and on either side. The people passed into the building, upon entering which the men divided to the right and left and walked past the remains on either side, moving to the exit on the north of the building. The entire proceeding was conducted with the utmost good order and without any crowding.
     When the lying in state was terminated, the line of people awaiting admission to the hall extended several blocks. At the request of Mrs. McKinley, the casket remained at the residence from Wednesday evening until Thursday afternoon, when, after the services in the church, it was removed to West Lawn Cemetery and deposited in a vault.


     Thursday opened with lowering clouds that threatened to envelop the closing scene with a pall and deluge the vast multitude of sorrowing spectators. Fortunately, as the sun rose in the sky, the clouds were dissipated; the atmosphere, which had been damp and penetrating, became bright and cheering, bringing assurances of better weather than that which had been experienced at Buffalo and Washington. All through the night and early morning, trains loaded with pilgrims to Canton rumbled into the stations. Before the morning was far advanced, the streets were packed with people of both sexes, all sizes and conditions, who moved in solid mass about the Court House and passed in orderly procession through the vault-like chamber, with its mournful drapery and its oppressive funeral light, where the remains had reposed in state and had been exposed to view for the last time.
     As the noon hour came and passed, preparations were completed for the funeral procession, which soon formed and took up [369][370] its mournful journey, passing under the sweep of giant arches robed in black, between two living tides of humanity massed along the streets, covering house-tops and filling windows. The church bells still were tolling, mingling their dismal tones with the cadence of the funeral dirge.
     The Methodist Church in which the services were held was filled to its utmost capacity, and was surrounded on the outside by a vast multitude, which was held back by the military escort, formed in line to await the closing of the religious exercises and to make the last march to the cemetery with the pomp and ceremony befitting the occasion. Mrs. McKinley did not go to the church. She was desirous of being with her beloved to the end, but was finally prevailed upon, by her relatives and her physician, to remain at home. President Roosevelt and the members of the family were in position directly in front of the hearse as the representatives of a stricken nation and mourning people. The funeral procession reached the church about 2 o’clock. The relatives and officials of State and Nation were shown to seats reserved for them. The McKinley pew, four seats from the communion rail on the right central aisle, was vacant and covered with black. Abner McKinley and his family and the other relatives sat immediately in front and to the rear of it. President Roosevelt and his Cabinet were to the left of the central aisle, just across from the relatives. Admirals and generals were in the front row. Members of the Senate and House of Representatives were present in large numbers.
     The services conducted after the manner of the Methodist Church were wholly appropriate, their simplicity adding to their impressiveness. The music was by a quartet, two male and two female voices. There was no organ accompaniment to conceal the sweetness and tenderness of the voices, which filled the edifice, floating harmoniously across the groined ceiling and through the auditorium. The delivery of the eulogy by Rev. Dr. Manchester, the pastor, friend and neighbor of the late President, was a most touching and beautiful tribute to the public services and personal worth of the [370][371] deceased. The services closed with singing “Nearer, My God, to Thee,” by the quartet. When the benediction was pronounced by Father Voltman, of Chicago, the organ began in murmuring tones Chopin’s funeral march, which swelled into a volume of melody as the congregation slowly moved from the church after the removal of the casket.
     Upon emerging from the church the remains were again received by the troops with the prescribed honors, the column of march was resumed and, passing between two lines of solid humanity that stretched from the church to West Lawn Cemetery, every constituent unit of which stood reverently and mournfully as the cortege passed, they were borne to the tomb.
     No greater reverence has ever been shown to any man, living or dead, than was exhibited toward the dead President. As the funeral car passed men and women sobbed convulsively. When the casket had been born[e] to the catafalque at the door of the vault, all realized that the last and saddest moments were upon them.


     There was a moment’s pause, then Bishop Joyce, of Minneapolis, read the burial service of the Methodist Church slowly, but in a voice that could be heard distinctly by all who were grouped around the vault. As his words ended there was a brief silence, and then eight bugles sounded out the notes of the soldier’s last call—“taps.” The notes of the buglers died away so softly that all who heard them remained listening for a few seconds to hear if the dying strain was really ended. When the final note had died away, Secretary Wilson and Secretary Root were weeping, and President Roosevelt was gazing mournfully at the walk. It was the last moment for the men who had been so long and closely associated with the deceased President, and the thought seemed greater than most of them could bear.
     Nature has been kind in selecting the last resting place for President McKinley. West Lawn Cemetery is on a high knoll [371][372] overlooking the peaceful valley, with the busy little city of Canton laid out below. If it were not for an intervening church spire, one might get from this elevation a glimpse of the McKinley home. On this elevation, looking out on his native city and his native State, the body of William McKinley was laid to rest. The beauty of the grounds has attracted the attention of the country’s best landscape gardeners, who have journeyed here to study its attractions. On this funeral day it was doubly beautiful, with the rustling trees shedding the first yellowed leaves of Fall and adding a golden touch to the green-clad slopes. Just inside the stately entrance stands the gray stone vault where for a time the coffin will repose. Its dreary exterior was relieved by great masses of flowers, banked all about until the gray walls were shut out from view. But in due time the body will be taken from the vault and committed to the little plot of ground further on. This is the McKinley lot, and here lie his father, whose name he bore, the mother he guarded so tenderly in life, his brother James, his sister Anna, and his two children. When that time comes a stately shaft of granite will rise above the grave, telling of the civic virtues, the pure life and the martyr death of William McKinley.


     “Our President is dead.
     “‘The silver cord is loosed, the golden bowl is broken, the pitcher is broken at the fountain, the wheel broken at the cistern. The mourners go about the streets.’ One voice is heard—a wail of sorrow from all the land; for ‘the beauty of Israel is slain upon Thy high places. How are the mighty fallen. I am distressed for Thee, my brother. Very pleasant hast Thou been unto me.’
     “Our President is dead. We can hardly believe it. We had hoped and prayed, and it seemed that our hopes were to be realized and our prayers answered, when the emotion of joy was changed to one of grave apprehension. Still we waited, for we said, ‘It may be that God will be gracious and merciful unto us.’ It [372][373] seemed to us that it must be His will to spare the life of one so well beloved and so much needed. Thus, alternating between hope and fear, the weary hours passed on. Then came the tidings of defeated science and of the failure of love and prayer to hold its object to the earth. We seemed to hear the faintly muttered words: ‘Good-by all, good-by. It is God’s way. His will be done,’ and then ‘Nearer, My God, to Thee.’ So, nestling nearer to his God, he passed out into unconsciousness, skirted the dark shores of the sea of death for a time, and then passed on to be at rest. His great heart had ceased to beat. Our hearts are heavy with sorrow.


     “The cause of this universal mourning is to be found in the man himself. The inspired penman’s picture of Jonathan, likening him unto the ‘beauty of Israel,’ could not be more appropriately employed than in chanting the lament over our fallen chieftain. It does no violence to human speech, nor is it fulsome eulogy to speak thus of him, for who has seen his stately bearing, his grace and manliness of demeanor, his kindliness of aspect, but gives assent to this description of him? It was characteristic of our beloved President that men met him only to love him. They might, indeed, differ with him, but in the presence of such dignity of character and grace of manner none could fail to love the man. The people confided in him, believed in him. It was said of Lincoln that probably no man since the days of Washington was ever so deeply imbedded and enshrined in the hearts of the people, but it is true of McKinley in a larger sense. Industrial and social conditions are such that he was, even more than his predecessors, the friend of the whole people.
     “A touching scene was enacted in this church last Sunday night. The services had closed. The worshippers were gone to their homes. Only a few lingered to discuss the sad event that brings us together to-day. Three men in working garb of a foreign race and unfamiliar tongue entered the room. They approached [373][374] the altar, kneeling before it and before his picture. Their lips moved as if in prayer, while tears furrowed their cheeks. They may have been thinking of their own King Humbert and of his untimely death. Their emotion was eloquent, eloquent beyond speech, and it bore testimony to their appreciation of manly friendship and of honest worth.
     “It is a glorious thing to be able to say in this presence, with our illustrious dead before us, that he never betrayed the confidence of his countrymen. Not for personal gain or pre-eminence would he mar the beauty of his soul. He kept it clean and white before God and man, and his hands were unsullied by bribes. ‘His eyes looked right on, and his eyelids looked straight before him.’ He was sincere, plain and honest, just, benevolent and kind. He never disappointed those who believed in him, but measured up to every duty, and met every responsibility in life grandly and unflinchingly.
     “Not only was our President brave, heroic and honest; he was as gallant a knight as ever rode the lists for his lady love in the days when knighthood was in flower. It is but a few weeks since the nation looked on with tear-dimmed eyes as it saw with what tender conjugal devotion he sat at the bedside of his beloved wife, when all feared that a fatal illness was upon her. No public clamor that he might show himself to the populace, no demand of social function was sufficient to draw the lover from the bedside of his wife. He watched and waited while we all prayed—and she lived. This sweet and tender story all the world knows, and the world knows that his whole life had run in this one groove of love. It was a strong arm that she leaned upon, and it never failed her. Her smile was more to him than the plaudits of the multitude, and for her greeting his acknowledgments of them must wait. After receiving the fatal wound, his first thought was that the terrible news might be broken gently to her. May God in this deep hour of sorrow comfort her! May His grace be greater than her anguish! May the widow’s God be her God! [374][375]
     “Another beauty in the character of our President, that was a chaplet of grace about his neck, was that he was a Christian. In the broadest, noblest sense of the word that was true. His confidence in God was strong and unwavering. It held him steady in many a storm where others were driven before the wind and tossed. He believed in the fatherhood of God and in His sovereignty. His faith in the Gospel of Christ was deep and abiding. He had no patience with any other theme of pulpit discourse. ‘Christ and Him crucified’ was to his mind the only panacea for the world’s disorders. He believed it to be the supreme duty of the Christian minister to preach the word. He said: ‘We do not look for great business men in the pulpit, but for great preachers.’


     “It is well known that his godly mother had hoped for him that he would become a minister of the Gospel, and that she believed it to be the highest vocation in life. It was not, however, his mother’s faith that made him a Christian. He had gained in early life a personal knowledge of Jesus which guided him in the performance of greater duties and vaster responsibilities than have been the lot of any other American President. He said at one time, while bearing heavy burdens, that he could not discharge the daily duties of his life but for the fact that he had faith in God.
     “William McKinley believed in prayer, in the beauty of it, in the potency of it. Its language was not unfamiliar to him, and his public addresses not infrequently evince the fact. It was perfectly consistent with his lifelong convictions and his personal experiences that he should say, as the first critical moment after the assassination approached, ‘Thy kingdom come; Thy will be done’; and that he should declare at the last, ‘It is God’s way. His will be done.’ He lived grandly; it was fitting that he should die grandly. And now that the majesty of death has touched and calmed him, we find that in his supreme moment he was still a conqueror. [375][376]
     “My friends and countrymen, with what language shall I attempt to give expression to the deep horror of our souls as I speak of the cause of his death? When we consider the magnitude of the crime that has plunged the country and the world into unutterable grief, we are not surprised that one nationality after another has hastened to repudiate the dreadful act. This gentle spirit, who hated no one, to whom every man was a brother, was suddenly smitten by the cruel hand of an assassin, and that, too, while in the very act of extending a kind and generous greeting to one who approached him under the sacred guise of friendship.
     “Could the assailant have realized how awful the act he was about to perform, how utterly heartless the deed, methinks he would have stayed his hand at the very threshold of it. In all the coming years men will seek in vain to fathom the enormity of that crime.


     “Had this man who fell been a despot, a tyrant, an oppressor, an insane frenzy to rid the world of him might have sought excuse. It was the people’s friend who fell when William McKinley received the fatal wound. Himself a son of toil, his sympathies were with the toiler. No one who has seen the matchless grace and perfect ease with which he greeted such can ever doubt that his heart was in his open hand. Every heart throb was for his countrymen. That his life should be sacrificed at such a time, just when there was an abundant peace, when all the Americans were rejoicing together, is one of the inscrutable mysteries of Providence. Like many others it must be left for future revelations to explain.
     “In the midst of our sorrow we have much to console us. He lived to see his nation greater than ever before. All sectional lines are blotted out. There is no South, no North, no East, no West. Washington saw the beginning of our national life. Lincoln passed through the night of our history and saw the dawn. McKinley beheld his country in the splendor of its noon. Truly he died in the fulness of his fame. With Paul he could say, and [376][377] with equal truthfulness, ‘I am ready to be offered.’ The nation was at peace. We had fairly entered upon an era of unparalleled prosperity. Our revenues were generous. Our standing among the nations was secure. Our President was safely enshrined in the affections of a united people. It was not at him that the fatal shot was fired, but at the very life of the Government. His offering was vicarious. It was blood poured upon the altar of human liberty. In view of these things we are not surprised to hear from one who was present when this great soul passed away, that he never before saw a death so peaceful or a dying man so crowned with grandeur.


     “But our last words must be spoken. Little more than four years ago we bade him good-by as he went to assume the great responsibilities to which the nation had called him. His last words as he left us were: ‘Nothing could give me greater pleasure than this farewell greeting—this evidence of your friendship and sympathy, your goodwill and, I am sure, the prayers of all the people with whom I have lived so long, and whose confidence and esteem are dearer to me than any other earthly honors. To all of us the future is as a sealed book, but if I can, by official act or administration or utterance, in any degree add to the prosperity and unity of our beloved country and the advancement and well-being of our splendid citizenship, I will devote the best and most unselfish efforts of my life to that end. With this thought uppermost in my mind, I reluctantly take leave of my friends and neighbors, cherishing in my heart the sweetest memories and thoughts of my old home—my home now, and, I trust, my home hereafter, so long as I live.’
     “We hoped with him, that when his work was done, freed from the burdens of his great office, crowned with the affections of a happy people, he might be permitted to close his earthly life in the home he loved. [377][378]
     “He has, indeed, returned to us, but how? Borne to the strains of ‘Nearer, My God, to Thee,’ and placed where he first began life’s struggle, that the people might look and weep over so sad a home-coming
     “But it was a triumphal march. How vast the procession! The Nation rose and stood with uncovered head. The people of the land are chief mourners. The nations of the earth weep with them. But, oh what a victory! I do not ask you in the heat of public address, but in the calm moments of mature reflection, what other man ever had such high honors bestowed upon him and by so many people? What pageant has equaled this that we look upon to-day? We gave him to the nation but a little more than four years ago. He went out with the light of the morning upon his brow, but with his task set, and the purpose to complete it. We take him back a mighty conqueror.

“The churchyard where his children rest,
 The quiet spot that suits him best,
 There shall his grave be made,
 And there his bones be laid.
 And there his countrymen shall come,
 With memory proud, with pity dumb,
 And strangers far and near,
 For many and many a year,
 For many a year, and many an age,
 While History on her ample page,
 The virtues shall enroll
 Of that paternal soul.”



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