Source: Timely Topics
Source type: magazine
Document type: news column
Document title: “Washington Letter”
Author(s): B. [pseudonym]
Date of publication: 27 September 1901
Volume number: 6
Issue number: 4
|B. “Washington Letter.” Timely Topics 27 Sept. 1901 v6n4: p. 57.|
|William McKinley (mourning); William McKinley (posthumous return: Washington, DC); Ida McKinley; McKinley funeral services (Washington, DC); Washington, DC (panic: U.S. Capitol: 17 Sept. 1901); William McKinley (lying in state: Washington, DC: public response).|
|Frédéric Chopin; Anna Roosevelt Cowles; Ida McKinley; William McKinley; Presley M. Rixey; Edith Roosevelt; Theodore Roosevelt.|
W, Sept. 19, 1901.
Although, the people of Washington have taken
their last view of the face of President McKinley, the hush of awe and grief
still seems to hang over the Capital. The public buildings have not been decked
with emblems of mourning, this being forbidden, by act of Congress, but the
flags will continue to float at half mast for thirty days, and crape is everywhere
on private and business houses. Moreover, business drags, and the two days of
mourning, coming in mid-week, seem to have checked the very pulse of the city.
Little has been done save what was necessary for daily life. Today, President
Roosevelt will return to Washington and enter upon his official duties, but
he and Mrs. Roosevelt will for the present reside with the President’s sister,
Mrs. Cowles, and not in the White House.
The scene which followed the arrival of the President’s body on Monday night was in some ways even more impressive than the splendid and sombre pageant of the next day, for it was the spontaneous tribute of the people. As the casket was borne up Pennsylvania avenue, the sides of that historic thoroughfare were lined with spectators, and after it had passed the crowd quietly disregarded the ropes and filled up the street, following the military guard like an informal procession. It was all silent; there was no music, save that now and then some one would sing a stanza of “Nearer, My God, to Thee,” the hymn which will now be forever associated with President McKinley, and then the voices of those nearest would join in the singing till the air was filled with the plaintive harmony. This happened at intervals all the way from Buffalo to Washington, wherever the train stopped at a station. At Harrisburg the sound, coming through the closed windows of Mrs. McKinley’s car, arrested her attention, and she asked, “What is that?” Dr. Rixey, his own eyes filled with tears, replied, “It is the people who are singing for love of your husband. They cannot help it.” It is said that then, for the first and only time during the sad journey, Mrs. McKinley shed tears. No more spontaneous and beautiful tribute was ever paid to the leader of a people than the silent, reverent procession which, without arrangement or marshals, followed the body of the dead President to the gates of his home.
The funeral procession the next day was perhaps the most magnificent ever seen in Washington. To the wailing of the Dead March of Chopin, the long line of military and civil organizations moved from the Executive Mansion to the Capitol, under the gray skies of a wind-swept autumn day. There was no glamour or glitter except here and there where a uniform with its gilded ornaments caught the light. The colors were draped with black, and knots of crape were worn not only by those in line, but by the majority of the spectators.
There came near being another tragedy on the steps of the Capitol, while the people were waiting to be let into the rotunda where the catafalque was placed. Nobody seems to know quite how it happened, but it is clear that some one blundered. Some say it was a Capitol employe [sic] who prematurely announced that the doors were open and the public would be admitted. At any rate, about one o’clock there were thousands of people outside the doors, covering the walks and extending in a line for several blocks beyond the Capitol grounds, when suddenly this packed mass of humanity surged forward and in spite of the efforts of the police and military guards, there was a crush which resulted in the injury of nearly a hundred persons. The only wonder is that nobody was killed, and indeed, two or three may die of their injuries. Women and old men were knocked down and trampled underfoot, and when the steps were finally cleared a mass of debris, pocketbooks, umbrellas, hats, shoes, corsets and all sorts of articles of clothing, was found, torn away from the owners by the pressure of the crowd. The state of things was not improved by the action of some mounted policeman who vainly attempted to break the jam by urging their horses into it. They might as well have spurred them against the walls of the Capitol itself. The mob closed upon them and caught them, and the prancing of frightened horses was added to the terrors of the situation. It seems as if, in a city which has had as much experience with crowds as this one, such a thing could have been prevented. The responsibility should be fixed and the guilty person punished if the incident is not to be repeated.
The fakirs who sold mementoes were suppressed by the police when they became too noisy, but it was not so easy to dispose of the camera fiends. One of them tried to take a snap-shot of President Roosevelt just as the casket was lifted out of the hearse, and the light, flashing into the eyes of the hearse horses, made them rear and plunge. There was a growl from the bystanders, and somebody was heard to remark, “That man ought to have a coat of tar and feathers.”