The Funeral Train to Washington
THE FUNERAL TRAIN TO WASHINGTON.
From the scene of President McKinley’s
assassination to the Capital of the nation the hearse of the murdered
President made its way. Through almost half a thousand miles, past
a hundred towns that had been blessed through his services, between
two lines of mourners that massed in unnumbered throngs all the
way from Buffalo to Washington, the hurrying train proceeded, anguished
mourners within the cars, loving and sorrow-stricken friends without.
President McKinley had left Washington,
September 6, 1901, in the full tide of life, in the full flush of
hope and power. His cold body, with life extinct, started on the
return Monday, September 16, housed in the mournful trappings of
From 7 o’clock in the morning to 8
o’clock at night the solemn progress continued. In the flush of
the September dawn the nation’s dead was hurried out of the city,
which, waving a sad farewell with its one hand, clutched tight his
murderer with the other. The roar of mad Niagara sank to a growl
of thirsty vengeance reserved for the wretch that remained, and
the mists rose up from the deeps of the dead, and bent in gentle
majesty to the south as the echo of departing wheels wore away.
Never was such a funeral procession.
Never before was a death so causeless, a chief so beloved so pitilessly
laid low, and never was humanity startled from universal peace with
a grief so sad.
It was a curious journey for the five
draped cars, with their engine banked in black. The half hundred
attendants—the widow with her friends, the new President with his
advisers, the guards and escort making up the visible government
of the nation, hurrying from the threshold of woe to the vestibule
of a new administration.
No other business occupied the road’s
attention till this caravan of the dead should pass. Ahead of it
ran a pilot engine, insuring against any possible accident. Behind
it all business waited till it was far away.
Loving hearts devised new forms of
testimony to the fallen chief, and gentle hands discharged the duties
that the day imposed. Time and again the track was heaped for rods
with all manner of flowers before the on-com- 
ing train. American Beauty roses were piled above the rails.
Glowing asters and gleaming violets alternated with wild flowers
and the vivid reds and yellows of autumn leaves. And the iron wheels
that whirled the funeral party south cut through the banks of bloom
and filled the air with perfume as fragrant as the nation’s love.
Schools were dismissed, and little
groups of boys and girls stood in silent, puzzled wonder as the
train rolled past. At every cross-road from dawn to dark were gathered
farmers’ teams, with men and women, waiting to pay their silent,
tearful tribute to the dead. At every town the flags were held at
half-mast, and the streets were crowded with the masses of Americans
sincere in their sympathy for the living, profoundly sorrowing for
There were traces of tears in every
face. There were evidences of respect in every attitude. The bells
of every village tolled while the flag-draped coffin went hurrying
Nothing more pathetic marked the whole
procession than the homely badges of black and purple ribbon worn
by men in the towns and little cities. There had been no time for
the emblems of factory fashioning to reach them, and little rosettes
composed by women’s hands dotted the bosoms of dresses and the lapels
Business was suspended. All interest
in life was held in abeyance, for the nation’s dead was going by.
The one relief to this monotone of
woe was furnished by lads in Pennsylvania, who took coins from their
slender stores of saving, and laid them on the rails, rescuing them,
flattened, when the train had passed. And they will preserve these
among their treasures to the end of life.
Down the Susquehanna River the banks
seemed lined with watchers, who had assembled for a view, the one
tribute possible for them to pay. Upon the opposite side of the
track a highway ran, and farmers’ homes, fronting it, were draped
in mourning, and in their windows displayed the portraits of the
President so foully slain, with flags and flowers wreathed into
borders, and flashing their testimony of sorrow to those who accompanied
Shortly after leaving Buffalo Mrs.
McKinley was persuaded to lie down, and she rested there undisturbed
for hours, her friends watching her continually, and attentive to
her every want. She was speechless, simply staring straight before
her as if the meaning of this awful blow could not be comprehended.
Toward noon she rose, and sat at a window, looking off at the fleeting
panorama of hills and fields, and reverent friends who vainly yearned
to lighten her sorrow. There were no tears until the train paused
in the station  at Harrisburg.
The crowds had been very dense, and she became conscious that thousands
peered intently into the coaches as they passed; so she moved away
from the window and still sat silent. There was a moment’s wait
in the station and then the iron arches of the roof rang with the
swelling numbers of the song, “Nearer, My God, To Thee!” The Harrisburg
Choral Society, 300 strong, had assembled at the farther wall; and
the rolling tide of its melody filled the great structure. It came
to the silent little woman in the second coach, so sadly, hopelessly
alone; and she bowed her head and wept.
As the train pulled out the Choral
Society took up the lines: “My Country, ’Tis of Thee;” and as the
sorrowing guardians were hurried away ten thousand voices in the
crowd outside the depot and along the streets evidently without
prearrangement, joined in that, their funeral anthem:
“Our Father’s God, to Thee,
Author of Liberty,
To Thee we sing.
Long may our land be bright
With Freedom’s holy light—
Protect us with Thy might,
Great God, our King!”
Through its wavering melody sounded
the note of a bugle. A trumpeter was sounding “Taps.”
President Roosevelt, his Cabinet and
friends occupied the fourth car, and transacted such business as
could not be postponed. Between them and Mrs. McKinley’s coach was
a combination diner and buffet car; and there the new President
went for luncheon at noon. The women who attended Mrs. McKinley
brought refreshments to her, and urged her to eat; but she could
not. The forward car, a “combination,” was occupied by the members
of the escort party and a number of correspondents, while in the
compartment immediately back of the engine such baggage as was necessary
for the party’s immediate use was stored.
The last car on the train was an observation
car, in the center of which the casket was placed. About it was
grouped the sentinels from the army and the navy—whose guardian
care was no longer needed; and beside it reposed masses of floral
offerings. The car was so arranged that a view of the interior could
be had by the crowds that were passed.
At Baltimore the train was reversed,
the catafalque car being placed in front, while the others occupied
their relative positions in the rear. 
Darkness came shortly after the train
left Baltimore, and the lights of farm houses in the country still
revealed the waiting watchers—always standing, always uncovered,
always mutely joining in the universal expression of grief.
Night enveloped the Capital City in
its mighty pall as the funeral procession ended. The train pulled
into the depot at 8:38. The run from Buffalo had been made in an
average of thirty-five miles an hour. The President and his friends
alighted. Mrs. McKinley was assisted to her carriage. The stalwart
soldiers and sailors gently lifted the casket from its place in
the car and carried it through a waiting, silent, tearful crowd,
to the hearse at the gates, and it was driven slowly along the streets
to the White House.
It was a sad home-coming. Just two
weeks before President McKinley, full of life and crowned with all
the honors that a successful career could earn, happy in the love
of his people and the respect of the world, had gone to visit the
Buffalo Exposition; to lend some measure of encouragement to that
enterprise, and to see the marvels that had been there assembled.
In the midst of them he had fallen. And here, at the end of a fortnight,
in the darkness of an autumn night, in the silence of an inexpressible
sorrow, his hearse was rolling dully along the avenue, and only
the prayers and eulogies and lying in state separated all that was
mortal of William McKinley from the unending rest of the grave.