Source: Richard Epps and Other Stories
Source type: book
Document type: essay
Document title: “A Busy Day for McKinley”
Author(s): Watrous, J. A.
Publisher: none given
Place of publication: none given
Year of publication: 1906
|Watrous, J. A. “A Busy Day for McKinley.” Richard Epps and Other Stories. [n.p.]: [n.p.], 1906: pp. 95-98.|
|full text of essay; excerpt of book|
|Pan-American Exposition (President’s Day); Pan-American Exposition (President’s Day: personal response); William McKinley (at Pan-American Exposition); William McKinley (personal character).|
|William D. Hoard; William McKinley; George W. Peck; Edward Scofield; William H. Upham.|
A Busy Day for McKinley
When Wisconsin had swung past the reviewing stand at Buffalo her file of governors, three exes—Hoard, Peck and Upham—and Maj. Scofield, together with the two files of past department commanders, they were directed to drop out and take seats on the grand stand. My position was a few feet to the left of President McKinley. With others I found much pleasure in noting the effect the marchers, their salutes, greetings and cheers, as well as their general conduct, had upon the modest soldier occupying the highest official station the world can give a man.
Here comes a post moving like regulars. Every
man is looking to the front. Not a smile of recognition is given in any direction.
The commander brings his sword to a salute any [sic] says: “Uncover!”
Every hat is lifted by a left hand and placed upon a right shoulder, and the
colors gracefully dip. So the rich city post passes the President. What does
he do? He lifts his beaver, bows dignifiedly, looks pleasant, does not smile
and makes no comment. The picture is an impressive one; the lesson one to remember.
The post from the large city was ambitious to convince the commander-in-chief
of the army and navy that its members had not forgotten to be military in the
Now for another picture.
Here comes a village post, the most of whose
members are farmers. A few fifes and drums, rather unskillfully operated, make
its music. When within four or five rods of the President the farmer commander
called out in a most unmilitary way: “There he is, boys, there’s McKinley; get
 ready to cheer when we pass him.” Every
dim old eye is fixed upon McKinley, the men march out of step and in zigzag
lines, but they are all getting a good square look at the man they most want
to see. When they reach the right point off come their hats and caps of all
colors and conditions, but they go in the air instead of resting on right shoulders,
a lusty cheer going higher than the hats and then these old men bow and bow
until several yards beyond the President. What does he do? He faces to the left
the minute the post appears—faces with a beaming countenance. When he hears
the old commander tell the “boys” “there’s McKinley” he laughs aloud and gradually
settles to a smile that is as warm as a grate fire. His bowing head and swinging
arms are not made to order; they are of natural growth; he can’t help it. Hearts
are trumps with both President and post, and thousands discovering the fact
rise to their feet and cheer. When the President’s eyes lift from the irregular
files of happy old men passing from view and he again faces to the front the
plain track of a rain drop shows on his cheek. But the sky is cloudless. It
is not the track of a raindrop. The march of the old men of the village post,
the warmth of their expressions and their look of love and approval had done
more than touch his heart; they had tapped the fountain of his tears.
And what a picture it was. Who saw it to forget it? And the lesson—who of the multitude present will forget that?
On two more occasions that day—yes, three of
them—I saw tear signs on Maj. McKinley’s face.
Most of the states have prohibited the use of the old battleflags in parades, and I guess wisely, for only a little breeze is needed to strip precious bits from them, even when furled. Pennsylvania and New York permitted the use of a few of the old flags. As far as possible they were in charge  of the heroes who had carried the colors when the sight of them helped men to bare their breasts to showers of lead and iron—in the mighty crash of battle—when their beautiful folds waved and sighed over winrows of slain and sleeping patriots. There is nothing like these old flags from the battlefields to make veterans give a backward glance—to stir them to their deepest depths. I find, too, that the general public is affected by these furled and tattered witnesses of the great struggle in very much the same manner as the veterans.
Here comes a Pennsylvania band, one of many glistening silver pieces in the hands of artists. A few rods away they begin to play the “Star Spangled Banner,” and how they did play it! Did it every [sic] sound more sweetly? Did it ever set hearts to beating more quickly? After the band came a score or more of men, some with an arm gone, some on a patent leg, some otherwise scarred, all gray, very gray, and much bent, each bearing a faded, riddled and furled flag from reddened fields of war. The band before the flags were seen was cheered, but as soon as the color-bearers swung into view there was silence that was indeed golden. Slowly they approached the presidential party. The President arose, removed his hat and signaled those close to him to be standing. It was taken as a signal for all to stand up, and up they stood, the men uncovering, and all, men, women and children, imitated the President by bowing their heads while the old flags were passing. When they had gone by and the people were seated there was a shower of tears, and some of them fell on Maj. McKinley’s cheeks. Was it an evidence of weakness? No! It was evidence of strength—strength of the love he and the people have for the flag and that which it represents.
A rule had been adopted that the President should
not shake hands with men in the procession. It was a wise rule. 
But for that the way would have been blocked most of the time by men who wanted
to clasp hands with their distinguished comrade. In all of these six hours of
a most interesting pageant the rule was broken only once. In a little post from
a back county there was an old man who swung his hat and cheered with all the
strength he possessed, apparently. He fairly danced for joy when he passed the
President, who smiled and bowed in return, seemingly as greatly pleased as the
veteran. The old fellow dodged out of the ranks and rushed up to the reviewing
stand, plainly showing his desire to shake hands. Those near the President waved
for the veteran to go on. Instead of going on he extended a handless wrist,
a wrist made handless at Chickamaugua [sic]. The President, with a look
of sorrow such as I have seen on a mother’s face at an open grave, took the
bruised, withered wrist in his hand and gave it a warm handshake, and as he
looked at the old man hurrying to join his comrades tears bathed his eyes.
There comes a New York post. The colors are borne by a maimed soldier, old and feeble. Each trembling arm, one without a hand, is upheld by a daughter. Following the color-bearer, and his handsome daughters is a file of eight one-armed men. It was not a sight to laugh at. Tears came to many eyes, as the party of mangled old patriots marched by, and the President’s were of them.
Four times for tears are not too many for such a day of memories as a national encampment parade has become. One old mother in Israel, who lost two sons and her husband in the war, bathed her wrinkled cheeks in tears most of the time during the long six hours she sat and watched the procession, and when sympathized with, said: “Never mind me; they are only tears of gratitude. I’m glad I had so many dears [sic] ones to help those brave men uphold that flag and save our country.”