Publication information
view printer-friendly version
Source: Outlook
Source type: magazine
Document type: article
Document title: “Washington, September Seventeenth”
Author(s): anonymous
Date of publication: 28 September 1901
Volume number: 69
Issue number: 4
Pagination: 215-17

“Washington, September Seventeenth.” Outlook 28 Sept. 1901 v69n4: pp. 215-17.
full text
McKinley funeral services (Washington, DC); McKinley funeral services (Washington, DC: attendees).
Named persons
Edward G. Andrews; John Rutter Brooke; Phillips Brooks; W. H. Chapman; Grover Cleveland; Lyman J. Gage; James A. Garfield; Ulysses S. Grant; John Hay; Abraham Lincoln; William McKinley; Henry R. Naylor; Theodore Roosevelt; Elihu Root; William Tecumseh Sherman; George Washington.
“By a Staff Correspondent.”


Washington, September Seventeenth

AT nine o’clock this morning a trumpet was heard in Lafayette Square. At this sound a line of mounted troops on one side of the Square became practically a line of statues. The line extended for a long distance on that part of Pennsylvania Avenue which separates Lafayette Square from the White House. Then came a long roll from the drummers, and then a strain of what has become a new National anthem. For many years no English-speaking person can hear or sing “Nearer, my God, to Thee,” that immortal expression of longing for the Eternal, without remembering that in crucial moments it was the cry of two great men—Phillips Brooks and William McKinley.
     As the stanza comes to an end, a stout grizzled officer, wearing a broad yellow sash over his gorgeous uniform, raises his sword. A military command rings out. The cavalry swing into line. They are to escort from the White House to the Capitol all that is mortal of their Commander-in-Chief.
     Following General Brooke—ranking Major-General of the army—and the artillery band—which is playing a soul-moving dirge—come the cavalry squadron, their white and red guidons limp in the damp air. Then comes a battery of field artillery, and after it Company A of United States Engineers. These in turn are followed by two battalions of Coast Artillery, and these by a detachment of the Hospital Corps.
     The Marine Band, with its inspiring music, appropriately heads the naval contingent, which consists of a battalion of marines and a battalion of United States seamen. Of all the men in line, the bluejackets are the most pleasing. Some of them are from the North American squadron, which has only just arrived in Hampton Roads. The sailors’ bare brown necks and easy, swinging step somehow speak more of actual service than do the trim soldiers marching on ahead.
     The new National Guard of the District of Columbia closes the first part of the procession. All the military organizations in it have been carrying their arms, but have had their colors draped and furled. The effect of the whole has been extremely impressive, so impressive that it would seem as if the movement of our soldiers through the streets of the National Capital might oftener be seen without carrying with it any hint of militarism. And we might oftener see and hear the military band in their brilliant uniforms. They are a welcome break in the dead monotony of this raw, rainy day and in the funereal habiliments all about us—such a dash of color as one comes upon suddenly in Parliament Street, London, in passing the Horse Guards. Why should not our War Department also have its red-coated or blue-coated guardsman on horseback, under some to-be-provided entrance, a living figure typifying in form and color our genius and our institutions, a figure which would give to every passer-by a thrill of conscious pride? In our endeavor to maintain republican simplicity we are getting too much simplicity. First, there is a stern necessity, never adequately realized, [215][216] for a greater guarding of the lives of our Presidents. Second, the fact persists that we are not totally different from other peoples in an instinctive fancy for a certain splendor as distinguishing National pageants. All humans like color and movement, but on National great days we rarely have an over-supply.
     Now follows the civic section of the procession. It comprises detachments of fifty men each, from veteran societies. The White House gates are thrown open, and through them emerges a plain hearse. A gun-carriage might well have borne the body of the soldier-statesman; instead, his remains have been placed in a hearse drawn by six horses, each horse led by a footman. On either side march six sailors and six artillerymen, and beyond these on either side is the guard of honor, made up of officers from the army and the navy. The hearse is followed by carriages containing the family and relatives of the late President, the ex-President, the President, the Cabinet, the Diplomatic Corps, Justices of the Supreme Court, Senators, and Representatives, Governors of States, and all of the high officials in Washington, together with the officers of special commissions, the official representatives of the insular governments, and various organized societies. The civilians comprise masonic, military, and labor societies.
     Both procession and onlookers are numbering many thousands. Pennsylvania Avenue is densely thronged. Along this historic thoroughfare have passed the Union armies under Grant and Sherman, returning from a four years’ contest to save the State. Amid the plaudits of a crowd of people, brilliant processions have also swept along, celebrating the inauguration of many Presidents. Last March such a procession escorted William McKinley as he drove through Pennsylvania Avenue to enter on his second term as President of the United States. No President was ever chosen for a second four years with juster confidence in the country’s future prosperity as assured by the first term of the incumbent. To-day his remains are passing along that avenue, escorted by a procession more impressive than the one of last March, and greeted by a crowd also more impressive.
     A great stillness breathes around. There is a Sunday quiet. The cries of hucksters and fakirs and all the usual street noises have ceased. Owing to the law passed in recent years, no mourning drapery is to be seen on any public edifice; only their flags may be half-masted. On private buildings, however, there is an abundance of black, though there is a regrettable absence of purple. There is plenty of individual mourning among the masses, gathered not so much to witness a pageant as by their presence to indicate the respect and admiration felt for a man who was the type of everything we love to call American. Hence they are clinging to their places, despite the persistent and pelting rain. It is easy to see that they wear no conventional mourning. The sincerity and depth of grief betokened by crape on button and badge and armband is not belied by the faces of the people. It is a mourning by all the people. If the colored day-laborer cannot afford to buy a bit of crape, there is some sort of black cloth wound in with the cheap cotton flag over his door, or he is wearing some old campaign button with the McKinley portrait thereon.
     The sad procession reaches its destination. Meanwhile some of us, after seeing the procession leave the White House, had gone rapidly to the Capitol, and from its south porch had been watching the pageant’s slow approach up the mile-long straight stretch between us and the Treasury Building. Now we go to our places in the rotunda. There are but eight hundred-odd such places. The rotunda bears no sign of mourning, save a plain and repellent-looking catafalque. The gaunt white mural columns stretch barrenly upwards. Through the windows, a hundred feet above, comes the untempered daylight. Away overhead in the vaulted dome there is a fresco glorifying our National motto, “E Pluribus Unum.” It represents in allegory the majesty of the people. Freedom and Victory have Washington between them, and behind stand various figures representing the thirteen original States. The picture means that a free people may make a victorious government.
     The north doors are flung open, and a line of military officers enters. Then comes the casket, borne high on the shoulders of five sailors and five soldiers. [216][217] It is wrapped in a magnificent silk flag, which, glorious in its sufficiency, should have been its only decoration. The flowers upon it seem only an intrusion. But not so seem the massive floral decorations ranged on the north porch and round the rotunda. They represent offerings from countries and communities as far apart as Buenos Ayres and Yonkers, and from many societies and personal friends. They exactly and exquisitely express the love of the whole world for William McKinley. The flowers also serve to introduce a welcome note of color, as most of them are a grateful change from too much funereal white. Purple orchids predominate. Another pleasant interruption in the monotony of the somber day is found in the Capitol grounds themselves, which have rarely looked more attractive, the rain having made the grass and trees particularly green, and some red flowering shrubs contributing a needed note of cheer.
     Upon a platform on which Lincoln’s remains had once reposed now rests another coffin. In its narrow embrace lies what but a fortnight since had been the embodiment of health and life.
     To the right of the catafalque are the members of the late President’s family; to the left, the new President and Mr. Cleveland and the Cabinet. The occasions must have been few when the eight hundred seats have accommodated a more representative or distinguished audience. Of course the new President and his family are the cynosure of all eyes. No one could have comported himself with more quiet dignity than Mr. Roosevelt, and his popularity has been doubled by his bearing during the past week. Every one has wanted to see him and the new First Lady of the Land. There is a clear-cut line between toadyism and flunkyism on the one hand, and, on the other, a perfectly natural interest in the head of our Government and in those most closely associated with him both in domestic and political relations. In the latter relation the man who draws special attention is the one next to Mr. Roosevelt in the succession to the Presidency. Colonel Hay is one of the most thoroughly trained Secretaries of State in our history, and has accomplished more than has any other. He has, however, a further claim to interest, for his is the one pre-eminently historic figure of the occasion. He is the only one present who had been a close friend of our three martyred Presidents, and the only one who had played a prominent part in the administration of events following the three assassinations. The appearance of Secretaries Gage and Root next in succession calls to mind the fact that nowhere had the dead President displayed greater ability than in choosing these three Cabinet advisers. That President Roosevelt will insist on retaining such men is accepted as a matter of course.
     After the singing of the first hymn, the Rev. Dr. Naylor offers a supplication; the entire company joins at the end in the Lord’s Prayer. After a soprano solo, Bishop Andrews delivers an unoratorical oration, but one simple, direct, and earnest. “Nearer, my God, to Thee” is sung as if by common consent by the entire audience. Lastly, the benediction is pronounced by the Rev. Dr. Chapman. None of the clergy wear gowns. Owing to the vast cavernous space of the rotunda, the voices of the speakers can be heard by only a portion of the auditors, and even to those near the speakers the echoes are so distressing that a single voice sometimes seems like a discussion among several.
     The day as a whole, however, has been rendered unforgettable by the people rather than by the procession, and by the Capitol itself rather than by the religious services within. We should be thankful to have such a building. In its generous extent and perfect lines it is an embodiment of American ideals. It is thus our most genuine National monument. No other structure can for a moment compare with it in dignity—we think of the Houses of Parliament on the Thames, or of the Chamber of Deputies on the Seine, or of the Reichstag on the Spree, but these are miserably insignificant beside the building which has, first, a site incomparably better than theirs, and, second, is the most felicitous of all architectural attempts to express the life of a nation. To-day, in leaving the mighty dome, more majestic, more meaningful than ever, one instinctively exclaims, as did Garfield when he heard that Lincoln had been shot, “God reigns and the Government at Washington still lives.”



top of page