Source: Sunday Call
Source type: newspaper
Document type: article
Document title: “My Experiences as a Nurse to Mrs McKinley and the Late President”
Author(s): Hunt, Evelyn
City of publication: San Francisco, California
Date of publication: 19 January 1902
Volume number: 91
Issue number: 50
Part/Section: magazine section
|Hunt, Evelyn. “My Experiences as a Nurse to Mrs McKinley and the Late President.” Sunday Call 19 Jan. 1902 v91n50: mag. sect., p. 5.|
|Evelyn Hunt; William McKinley (personal character); William McKinley; Ida McKinley; White House; William McKinley (home life); William McKinley (medical care); McKinley nurses; William McKinley (death).|
|Mary C. Barber (Ida McKinley sister); Jennie Connolly [identified as Jane Conway below]; George B. Cortelyou; Harvey R. Gaylord [misspelled below]; Marcus Hanna; Joseph O. Hirschfelder; Ethan A. Hitchcock; Evelyn Hunt; Herman G. Matzinger [identified as Hatsinger below]; Ida McKinley; William McKinley; Maud Mohan; Presley M. Rixey; Elihu Root; James Wilson.|
The article is accompanied on the same page with a photograph of the author.
“By Eva Hunt” (p. 5).
My Experiences as a Nurse to Mrs McKinley and the Late President
The Last Days at the Bedside of the Martyred American.
Scenes from the Home Life of President and Mrs. McKinley.
TRULY I have had a long and varied experience
since I last saw California. In this world of ours one never can tell what fate
has in store for us. Little did I think when the telegram came to Lane Hospital
from Dr. Hirschfelder last May with a request that I attend the sick room in
the Scott residence here where Mrs. McKinley lay suffering that in a few months
I would stand by the death bed of the noble man, the devoted husband, he to
whom all the city was paying homage as the President of the United States.
From the very first my experience has been like a dream, a dream full of sadness, yet a sadness that I would not forget, for through its medium I have been taught how beautiful, how sublime it is possible for a human life to be, and how peaceful and grand its ending. Never have the precepts and the doctrines of true Christianity been more forcibly exemplified than in the daily life of our late President, with whom, until his passing, I had the privilege and honor of daily association since my departure from this city just seven months ago.
So much can be crowded into so limited a time, an entire life can be lived in a year. Of course it was all a great surprise and I was more than pleased when they told me that I was to accompany the Presidential party to Washington. I felt then that for all my long hard years of study and hospital work the reward had come, and I was so thankful that I had sacrificed a few pleasures to study, and that that study had enabled me to meet the opportunity when it came.
Of the journey from this city to Washington I have only the pleasantest memories. All the people with whom I came in contact were the kindest imaginable, each one showing the utmost consideration. Through the characteristic thoughtfulness and the kindly spirit of the President, my duties were made during the trip as light as possible, he himself upon several occasions relieving me at the bedside of the invalid. On one occasion while passing along the Ohio River, where the scenery is particularly fine, he came into the sick apartment and said: “Miss Hunt, we are passing through a very nice part of the country, and I am sure you would enjoy it. I have been over this road before and am familiar with it, so you go out and get a breath of fresh air and I will look after the madam,” which he did for the period of an hour or more.
Upon our arrival at the White House, the one thing that impressed me most was the wonderful welcome, the almost reverent expression beaming on the face of every old servant in the place, and how each and every one was rewarded by a kind word, a hand clasp and a cheery smile from the head of the nation. He was a man who thought little things worth while.
The first few weeks after we reached Washington I was closely confined by Mrs. McKinley’s almost fatal relapse, but after that I enjoyed many hours of liberty, and during those hours, when off duty, I was shown about the city with the consideration and kindness that would be accorded an honored guest instead of a trained nurse.
The room occupied by Mrs. McKinley at the White House was all in dainty blue; blue velvet carpet, blue walls, ceiling and blue hangings; the furniture was in antique oak, very massive and very grand. One of the most treasured pictures in my memory is that of the President and Mrs. McKinley in this room. After she had regained her strength and was able to be about, she would have a great arm chair rolled up by the window and there would sit in some soft clinging white gown, with a flimsy shawl thrown over her shoulders, making a picture against the light, as she bent her head listening intently to the smooth round tones of the President’s voice as he read aloud to her.
Every afternoon when official duties relaxed, up to the blue room would come the major, as she called him, armed with a load of daily papers, most of them marked copies. There he would pull up the great chair and read through column after column, generally much amused, though always humoring her wish, that he read all the articles about himself. Sometimes he would relate humorous incidents of the day and his hearty laugh brought many a smile to the sweet face which he always watched with such tender interest. Never in my experience as nurse have I seen devotion like that the late President gave to his wife.
But in the Canton home he was even more the husband and less the man of affairs, for in the old place, which we reached on the 6th of July, he dropped for a time the worries and cares of state life and gave himself up to utter happiness; and his happiness was contagious; everybody seemed to feel it and be happy in sympathy. The chief characteristic of the old Ohio home was simplicity and system. Every morning at 8 o’clock the President, Mrs. McKinley, Secretary Cortelyou and Dr. Rixey would assemble for breakfast, after which the President would read for an hour, sometimes from the little book called Daily Needs, sometimes a chapter from the Bible. Then after a smoke and a look at the stable, a ramble through the garden or a short, brisk walk, he would return and shave himself. This shaving was as important a part of the morning as was the breakfast and was always amusing, for often when a friend would call, possibly an old acquaintance, like Senator Hanna, for instance, he would cry out: “Come in here, I am shaving, but we can chat all the same.” Then out in the hall with a big towel pinned around his neck, soap on his face, and perhaps a razor in his hand, he would rush to meet his friend. Sometimes catching a glimpse of himself in the hall mirror, he would burst into hearty laughter and go back to his room. Always in the morning the President would sing, his voice deep and clear, generally a hymn, but sometimes a popular melody or some pretty little nursery rhyme, like “Rock a-bye, Baby,” and on the piano he would drum out an accompaniment with one finger. During those hours of song and good humor Mrs. McKinley would smile and listen, and her dainty hands made the needle fly in her beloved knitting, or she would bend over some flimsy lace, the mending of which she would not trust to her maid.
After luncheon, which was served at 1, the carriage was ordered, and generally both would go for a drive. Many visitors came to the house to see the President. Sometimes parties of excursionists or tourists would stand out on the porch and send him word that they would like to shake hands with the head of the nation, and these requests were never refused. At times I have seen as many as half a dozen kodaks pointed at him as he stood on his steps, and at this he was always amused, although Mrs. McKinley rather disliked this. She seemed superstitious in a measure, and would never allow, if she knew it, any one to take a snap shot of her. I also had my kodak with me and secured very many pretty views of the house and grounds and some pictures of the President, which I treasure very highly.
The evenings spent in the President’s house were very beautiful. After dinner the lights in the sitting-room were turned up, and here the President and Mrs. McKinley would play cribbage, a game in which he always allowed his partner to win, while he laughed heartily at his own loss. Sometimes Secretary Cortelyou, who is an expert musician, would entertain them, or the President himself would attach an automatic piano player and choose the rolls of music to [fit?] his mood.
At half past 9 another chapter from the Bible would be read and at 10 precisely the lights were all turned out. Not until Mrs. McKinley had retired to her room were any affairs of state attended to. Generally this would keep the President and the secretary until midnight; then, never will I forget how it impressed me, for I slept in a room adjacent to Mrs. McKinley and could not but hear, he would kneel down and pray aloud—touching, fervent appeals to the Creator—that he might be guided to do the best for the nation’s good and that all would be well for the salvation of mankind. Often when I listened to these midnight prayers I would think there is one man that cannot fear death, for if there is such a place as heaven he cannot fail to go there.
Soon the fatal decision was reached to attend the exposition at Buffalo, and to this, strange to say, Mrs. McKinley always objected, although she gave no reason for not wishing to go. However, her objections were laughed aside. The story of the terrible assassination which took place at the Temple of Music in Buffalo is already well known.
Never will I forget the consternation in the Milburn house when the reports of the cowardly attack were brought in. The thought of possible death struck awe to every heart. Mrs. McKinley was resting in her room at the time and, of course, the news was kept from her. Every few moments she would say: “Eva, is it not time for the major to return? I had better dress for dinner,” and I, knowing all the time what fatal news awaited her, would make an evasive reply, so not until she was told by Dr. Rixey did she suspect anything.
Poor little woman, she was very brave through it all.
Upon the President being brought to the Milburn house everything was hushed and quiet. A detail of infantry was ordered to the place from Fort Porter. To keep away the anxious crowd that surged back and forth on the streets near the house a temporary picket line was established. In the house all was impressively silent; velvet shod doctors congregated in the consultation room, white robed nurses slipped softly about, two in attendance all of the time—that is, one nurse and one orderly. There were three nurses—Miss Maud Mohan, Miss Jane Conway and myself—alternating in watches of six hours each. I went on duty at 4 in the morning, and was by the bedside or in the room when the first streaks of early dawn and later little glimpses of sun would shine through the window. Often the President would ask that the curtains be opened, that he might see the sun shining through the trees. “They are so very beautiful,” he would say. Always his thoughts were not of his own suffering nor of himself, but of the frail little woman, the partner of his joys and sorrows, whom he felt from the first would soon be alone.
I never went to his bedside that he did not inquire for her and sigh, “Poor little woman, what will she do?” He knew only too well that his going would mean her entire loneliness. Sometimes he would express a wish to see some of his old friends, but owing to his weakness only his right arm, as it were, the Secretary of War, and Mrs. McKinley were allowed to run the gauntlet of doctors.
On the evening before the fatal end he seemed to know that he was near death, and he asked to see his wife. When she came into the room, once, and that once only, did the brave little woman show her grief. As she knelt by the bedside and grasped his hands in hers she seemed to feel that he was slipping away from her, and when he murmured words of consolation she buried her face in the covers and sobbed aloud, realizing only too keenly her own great sorrow.
Then came the end, that plunged the entire world into sadness. I hope never again to see strong men weep as they wept when the report that the President was dying was taken to those anxiously waiting in the corridor. Secretaries Root, Hitchcock and Wilson and many others came for a moment to the chamber and spoke with us, then, with tears streaming down their cheeks, they sadly made their way down the stairs. At the last I was on duty twenty-four hours without intermission, and was in attendance during his last period of consciousness, and, with many others, during the chanting of the favored hymn “Nearer, My God, to Thee,” turned away that our sobs might not disturb the utter peacefulness and sublimity of one so happy in the face of death. There were some twenty relatives and friends in the chamber at the very last, but when Dr. Rixey gave token that a beautiful soul had fled never to return not a sound was heard—all was hushed and solemn. After the sorrowing watchers had turned away one remained—the life-long friend, Senator Hanna. He broke down and sobbed like a child.
At the autopsy, held the next day by Drs. Garlord and Hatsinger of Buffalo, I was present, and for that fact I shall always feel better satisfied. As the autopsy disclosed the whole course of the bullet had been gangrenous, I knew that all that lay in man’s power had been done. As his last words had indicated, “It was God’s will.”
The funeral I did not attend, for after the President’s death I was always with Mrs. McKinley, returning with her to the Canton home, where I had been the witness of so much happiness.
In Canton there were throngs of people, so silent and so reverent. They all looked as if they had lost a personal friend; and to see Mrs. McKinley in the old home alone made my heart ache. She looked so frail, so dependent, that I felt, though my own health was breaking under the continued strain, I would remain with her and do my best for his sake and hers.
After a few days had passed Mrs. Barber came to stay with her, and then the bereaved wife called for the papers and had her niece read aloud all about the nation’s loss and her own. Until the 18th of October I remained in the Canton home; then, feeling that I must rest, I went to New York, and now at last have returned to my native State.
Some time after my departure I received a telegram from Mrs. McKinley asking me to return, but owing to my physical need of change and rest I was obliged to reply, “Willing but impossible.”