Source: Saturday Evening Post
Source type: magazine
Document type: article
Document title: “Mrs. McKinley”
Author(s): Halstead, Murat
Date of publication: 6 September 1902
Volume number: 175
Issue number: 10
|Halstead, Murat. “Mrs. McKinley.” Saturday Evening Post 6 Sept. 1902 v175n10: pp. 6-7.|
|Ida McKinley (grieving); Ida McKinley (widowhood); McKinley burial vault; McKinley residence; Ida McKinley (public statements); Ida McKinley (medical condition); Ida McKinley (personal history); Ida McKinley (personal character); William McKinley (protection); William McKinley (public statements).|
|James A. Garfield; Ulysses S. Grant; Abraham Lincoln; Ida McKinley; Ida McKinley (daughter); Katie McKinley; William McKinley; S. Weir Mitchell; George Washington; James Wilson.|
| The following footnote appears on page 6. Click on the asterisk preceding
the footnote to navigate to its location in the text.
This article is accompanied on page 6 by a photograph of Ida McKinley.
THE WIDOW OF THE LATE PRESIDENT. HER QUIET LIFE IN
THE OLD HOME AT CANTON. HOW SHE SPENDS HER TIME.
CHANGES IN THE HOUSEHOLD
THE most pathetic figure in the world is the widow of President McKinley. Her
slender form in black, and, pale face, may be seen nearly every day, and sometimes
twice a day, in a heavy dark carriage drawn by a pair of black horses, an equipage
of dignity and comfort without display, going to and from the McKinley home
to the receiving sepulchre where the casket that contains the remains of her
husband is guarded under the flag, and palms, and flowers. The cemetery is extensive
and well kept, beautifully situated, a charming grove, grassy and shady, with
pleasing roads and paths, and many memorials that gleam in the shadows or glitter
in the sun.
Next to the temporary tomb protected by a detachment of regulars commanded by a lieutenant of the regular army from Alabama, the spot of greatest distinction is that destined to be the resting-place of the illustrious Chief Magistrate. The elevation chosen is a gradual slope of unostentatious but commanding conspicuity, overlooking a city of homes and land of plenty, where the utilities blend with the beauties. This is as fit as that the tomb of Washington is beside the august Potomac; that Lincoln should rest in the land of Lincoln, the broad plains and bright rivers of Illinois around him; that Grant’s matchless monument should preside over the riverside of the historic and legendary Hudson; that the writer of the Declaration of Independence should be uplifted in his everlasting sleep upon a mountain top of Virginia.
There are no longer pressing crowds around the McKinley home in Canton, Ohio, but the plain, unpretending front is there, and will be remembered with the pillared mansion of Mount Vernon. The House was indeed a Home. President McKinley said of it: “We are glad to be here. This house was presented to Mrs. McKinley when we were married.” It was here that the early united life of the exceedingly happy couple passed, that their children were given and taken, that the late martyred President addressed the people when first a candidate for the great office, and sometimes met thirty delegations in a day.
The Tenderest Tribute Ever Paid the President
In this sad summer the untrodden grass in the yard is green and the trees
were never more lovely. There seems to be a gentleness in the winds that stir
the grass and leaves—but the paths are not worn by hurrying feet and the faces
lifted to regard the silent home that all men know sadden as they pass. It is
as true of McKinley as it was of Lincoln and the Prince of Orange, that “the
little children cried in the streets when he died”; and that was the tenderest
tribute ever paid to the immortals whose gift of greatness was kindness. In
the sitting room where William McKinley, walking quickly across the hall, stooped
over his wife and kissed her, saying, “Ida, the vote of the State of Ohio*
has just nominated me,” the pale widow sits and knits and muses, and says: “I
am waiting, and my hands must have something to do.” That which she knits is
almost invariably slippers for women and children. She sometimes asks friends
to whom she means to give her handiwork to tell her the “number” of the shoes
they wear. She knits the articles one number lower than that given, because
the material is very elastic, and she is sensitive that the fit shall be neat.
It is a touching incident of her gentle labors that she uses yarn always of the same quality, blue or gray. Her needles know no other color. Her selection is not accidental. It is said she finishes a pair of the blue or gray slippers each day, but she does not task herself. When told she is looking improved, her wan face contradicts the phrase. She answers: “Oh, no, I wait—it is all that I can do—there is nothing for me now in life—I only wait and want to go.” She says with deep emotion and trembles with it: “I always thought my husband would survive me, but never thought he would stay long without me. I do not know how I came to think he would soon follow me if I should go first, but I did.”
She has been urged to take more care of her health, and answers: “Why should I care to stay? What can there be for me until I go to him? There is nothing left for me but this.” She says, quivering with anguish: “How could that man kill my husband? Why did he, how could he?—you know my husband was no man’s enemy. How could it be that he was shot? Why, oh, why was it?” She does not understand it. Her voice is low, but her lamentable cry is piercing—“Why, oh, why?”
Mrs. McKinley has been, through all her sorrows, a lover of little girls, those of about the age of her own Kate and Ida when they were taken, and she became from the blow of her loss the delicate, beautiful invalid the world knew as the lily-like lady of the White House, drooping and desolate, but dutiful. In her youth she was of uncommon womanly vitality and vivacity. She was her father’s fondest pet, and it was his pride, when she was educated in the schools and made a tour of Europe, that she should take a desk in his bank; and she saw from the window where she was employed a manly young student of law, a hero of the great war, whose walk had the cadence of a soldier’s step. There came into their lives the old, old, sweet story, and it never was sweeter. “No other man than William McKinley,” the father of his bride said, “should have married Ida.”
“You know,” she has said in her widowhood, “that this was the first home of my husband and me after we were married. It was very dear to us.”
She says of her marriage: “My husband was at the time superintendent of the Sunday-school of the Methodist church, and his zeal in that work was great. I was a Presbyterian, and it took both our ministers to get us married—and there never was man more tender and loving—more kind and thoughtful. It seemed that without speech he knew a wish when I formed it, and our love was for every day.”
A book lately written by a famous author and physician, Dr. Weir Mitchell, with a touching autograph inscription filling the title-page, was open on the mantel of her sitting-room, and had been in her hand when a caller came. Glancing at the attractive volume, she mentioned that she had been for some time under the professional care of the author, and remembered that all the time she spent as his patient in Philadelphia her husband wrote her three letters a day. She got them regularly as the morning, noon and evening came. They were a comfort to her to read as to him to write. He had to be doing his work in Congress. She treasured all her husband’s letters. Every one was dear to her. A deeper shadow fell upon her face, worn with lines of sorrow not there a year ago, long sufferer though she had been, as she told of the burning. She said: “The letters, a great trunk full, that my husband wrote me, were burned in a warehouse where they were stored for safety.” Her most precious possession—her husband’s love letters—perished in thousands in the fire. It has been said in zeal without knowledge that Mrs. McKinley has borne up wonderfully well under her frightful trial, and is in better health than before the tragedy. It is not true. It is worth while that the world that cares for her should know the truth. She has aged since that sad, dread September, as if many bitter years had passed. There is a depth of grief newly written in her face, leaving the beauty of feature, but there is a haunting, tremulous, wistful expression even keener than her words: “There is now nothing for me but to wait, and I want to go.”
There is a quivering of the eyelids, lips and chin, the still signs of woe that no light can chase away until the dawn of the blessed, radiant morning when she shall meet her beloved. Her faith that the loved, unseen, are not lost, is perfect. Her intense consciousness that she is only waiting is the weariness unto death. But she loves flowers and they soothe her. There was a story some months ago, stating the McKinley home was strangely destitute of flowers. They are not displayed in funeral profusion. The house is not burdened with them, but just tastefully beautified and fragrant. Mrs. McKinley, unconscious there had been a story of neglect, when asked whether she cared for flowers, said they were to her grateful, and “Secretary Wilson sends them to me from the White House conservatory regularly.” She who watches and waits has the varieties that are her favorites, and they are enjoyed. There is a sober, becoming brightness in the bloom that softens the pervading gloom.
The President’s Portrait Everywhere
The walls of the parlor and sitting-room are decorated with many likenesses
of President McKinley, and the pale lady in black dwells with them in the past.
The face of her husband is ever before her. She has preferences and dislikes
among his likenesses. One rather grave and deep-lined face does not please her,
and she says of it, “My husband never wore a scowl like that—it is not a likeness.”
It is, however, a work of art of high grade. She did not tolerate the suggestion
that perhaps sometimes when she was not present he had the look she dislikes
in a portrait. Her disposition of that suggestion was, “He never looked like
that.” The artist did idealize—and did not improve. She inclines to favor the
more youthful pictures of the President. One she cares for has been engraved
for the new ten-dollar bills, but it is not the President the people knew so
well in the later years.
The McKinley home has been improved since the public were familiar with it, yet its historical characteristics are unchanged. An enlargement of the dining-room shows President McKinley had considered the future and thought of the pleasures of entertaining friends when his public work was done. Mrs. McKinley’s living-rooms are those occupied by her in the days when her children were born, and the memorials of them cherished as her treasures are there. The room that was especially the reception-room of Mr. McKinley, across the hall from Mrs. McKinley’s sitting-room, right and left of the front door, is not businesslike as formerly. The desks are gone. The engravings on the walls that the President enjoyed remain. The spaces partly unoccupied in other days are filled with likenesses of himself and tributes in his praise, the trophies of a career of triumph that, though closed in the gloom of a catastrophe, is triumphant still.
President McKinley was not infrequently cautioned that he was too confident of personal security, and reminded that we had lost two Presidents by assassination. 
During the evening dusk and darkness of one of the fair days of the last summer the President lived for his country he was sitting outdoors with a near friend whose guest he was. There were many trees casting deepening shadows, the only lamps the stars. The President, smoking a cigar, turning to his friend, said: “There are other smokers—yonder where the grove is dark I see the live coals of cigars. Is that some of your precautionary work? Have you got detectives here on guard?” The fact was confessed. The President said slowly, as if speaking to himself: “There is no use guarding me or any one. A desperado may take my life, any life, in a moment, if willing to pay his life as the price. I cannot give attention to self-protection. If I did it would be vain; recent examples show this. I am not disposed to change my ways, and indeed do not think there is reason to do so. I must take the chances of my duties.” The President’s host said: “Did you ever think of it, that the fame of Lincoln and Garfield, too, is the greater for their tragic death—that their lives seemed to be crowned by their martyrdom?” The President replied: “The death of Lincoln was under circumstances that made the loss irreparable. Whenever and however death came he had done enough for immortality. Garfield was cut off just as he had grasped the great office and realized the power and duty of it, and was at home in it.” Then turning to his friend, and speaking lightly to change the subject McKinley said, “I would rather have less Fame and more Fun,” but as if the alliteration had beguiled him, and he had spoken too lightly, he added, “more life.” He had already accepted the invitation where the assassin awaited him!
It seems clear that the consciousness the President had of his good will to man—his faith that the truth spoke for itself and for him, and that the people all knew he was without enemies, and his solicitude for their welfare—exorcised evil phantoms. The welcome he saw in the faces of the multitudes that gathered before him gave him assurance of finding favor in the sight of the people. The experience of those near him caused them to confide in the crowds that were so overwhelmingly hearty in greeting him, until the improbability that either fiend or fool would murder him seemed to become an impossibility.
It is the habit of Mrs. McKinley to go to the cemetery, where her heart and her interests are, for daily devotion. She has frequently driven over her accustomed route twice a day. A trained nurse is constantly with her her sitting by her side, unless some near friend is given the place, and then the nurse sits with the driver. There is no relaxation of vigilance in the nursing, for even the airs of May, sweet with the breath of the blossoms, must not carelessly tough the lady of sorrows, for she would be chilled even when all is summer unless wrapped and cloaked. She is easily cold. The warmth of the long days is welcome, refreshes her faded face and tinges her white lips with a faint color. A jacket of fur shields her from the fresh damp air after a cooling shower.
Her customary drive is first to the receiving vault, perhaps two hundred yards from the entrance gate. Unless there is a reason, at the customary turn, for changing her drive, the first point of interest beyond the immediate resting-place of her husband is the lot where her father and mother sleep under the fair turf, marked by stately stones. The next lot, always passed at a slow gait, is that of the late President. It contains the precious graves of the children long lost from sight, always dear to memory. Farther along she halts beside the graves of the father and mother of William McKinley.
In all the tragedies of the stage there is no scene more sorrowful or dramatic situation more striking and painful than Mrs. McKinley at the coffin of her husband. As placed it rests on a direct line with the open gates. The outlook is eastward. A sentinel walks there in the uniform of the Army of the United States—“Glory guards with solemn round.”
The widow walks to the head of the casket that rises on its supports from the stone floor, draped so that the colors of the flag glow through the other decoration. No persuasion can cause the mourner to cease from weeping—leaning upon and bowed over the evergreens, the palms, a few fresh flowers and the flag, weeping bitterly, lamentably, without restraint—until she summons resolution and totters away, tearful and sobbing, sinks into her carriage and falters to the old home.
Though she is without anticipation or wish for health, and almost impatient that she tarries, for there are no pleasures for her, she has consolation in the love the little children have for her. Of this she has many tokens, coming from the far-off States as well as the near, in pretty little childish letters that the angels in Heaven might have written. Over them her rare smile is seen, bright for a fleeting moment, for their sweetness touches her sorrows with infinite tenderness, and softens them for a moment.