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Source: Complete Life of William McKinley and Story of His Assassination
Source type: book
Document type: book chapter
Document title: “The Funeral Train to Washington” [chapter 32]
Author(s): Everett, Marshall
Edition: Memorial edition
none given
Place of publication: none given
Year of publication:
Pagination: 345-48

Everett, Marshall. “The Funeral Train to Washington” [chapter 32]. Complete Life of William McKinley and Story of His Assassination. Memorial ed. [n.p.]: [n.p.], 1901: pp. 345-48.
full text of chapter; excerpt of book
McKinley funeral train; McKinley funeral train (procession from Buffalo, NY, to Washington, DC); William McKinley (mourning); William McKinley (death: public response); Ida McKinley.
Named persons
Ida McKinley; William McKinley; Theodore Roosevelt.
From title page: Complete Life of William McKinley and Story of His Assassination: An Authentic and Official Memorial Edition, Containing Every Incident in the Career of the Immortal Statesman, Soldier, Orator and Patriot; Profusely Illustrated with Full-Page Photographs of the Assassination Scene, Portraits of President McKinley, His Cabinet, Famous Men of His Administration and Vivid Life-Like Pictures of Eventful Scenes in His Great and Grand Career.

From title page: By Marshall Everett, the Great Descriptive Writer and Friend of the Martyr President.


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 woe.
     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- [345][346] 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 the dead.
     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 past.
     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 of coats.
     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 the dead.
     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 [346][347] 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. [347][348]
     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.



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