Julia Grant’s Eyes: A Love Story

 

Julia engraving

Julia Dent Grant seldom was photographed – and then, only in profile.

Julia Dent Grant was born with an eye condition medically called strabismus. People called “cross-eyed.”

JDG: A Plain Child

Strabismus is a common anomaly, and today, it is quickly and successfully corrected in very early childhood. But in the 1830s, when Julia Dent Grant (1826-1901) was growing up, that technology was in the far distant future.

Little girls, if they are plain, usually know it by the time they are eight. Julia was plain, along with having a wandering eye, and she was aware of it early on, but it never stopped her from being personable and warm-hearted. Bottom line: she was popular with her peers, and would always make friends wherever she went.

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Young Mr. and Mrs. Ulysses S. Grant

What Julia wasn’t, however, was academic. She spent several years at a St. Louis finishing school, but was never more than an “indifferent” student, by her own admission. Her eye problem understandably caused chronic eyestrain from close work. She learned to read and write and do arithmetic, of course, and even sewed a little and played the piano – but she was never tasked with pushing the scholastic envelope. If she preferred reading novels to Plutarch, sobeit. In the 1830s, academic achievement for women was not a necessity.

Julia’s Secret Engagement

Julia Dent Grant

Julia Dent Grant always knew she was “plain” in features. Grant didn’t care. He loved her anyway.

Julia Dent, was newly graduated and barely eighteen when she met Second Lt. Ulysses S. Grant, recently graduated from West Point. He had been a roommate of Fred Dent, her older brother, and it was love at first sight. The shy Grant found his soul-mate in the plain young woman with the warm heart and engaging personality. They could talk easily, and had an immediate affinity of heart and mind. From that point on, he only had eyes for her.

Only a few months later, Grant was re-assigned and was desolate at the thought of parting from the young woman he had come to love. He asked her to marry him.

Julia loved him, but knew there would be family obstacles. At eighteen, she was too young, and at twenty-two, so was he. In addition, Second Lieutenants were not financially stable, and prospects were poor at best. Grant could not refute those objections, so they decided to wait, and keep their engagement a secret. They did not know it at the time, but their “understanding” would last four years.

Grant wrote regularly. Julia was sporadic. Partly because of her eye condition, and partly because of her disinclination for letter writing, she wrote perhaps one letter to his five. With postal delivery still in primitive stages, the lag between letters could be weeks. Once the war with Mexico began, the lag-and-distance was even longer.

When Grant returned from Mexico, he was twenty-six, and a battle-hardened captain. Julia was twenty-two and old enough. Their affinity still held. They married.

Mr. and Mrs. Grant

Julia Grant_2

During the Civil War both Grant and Mrs. Grant became hugely popular.

Ulysses and Julia Grant were one of the true love stories among First Families. Three years into their marriage, however, Grant was assigned to the California-Oregon Territory shortly after the Gold Rush. It was not a place to bring a pregnant woman and toddler, so Grant went alone. Julia returned to St. Louis to be with her family.

The two-year separation was agonizing for Grant, who adored his wife and the children he barely knew. Once he returned, the Grants would never again be separated for more than a few weeks.

By the time of the Civil War, photography had progressed considerably, and everyone could afford to have a picture taken on occasion. Julia was well aware of her lack of beauty and her “wandering eye,” and frequently referred to herself as Grant’s “plain little wife.” The few photos she ever had taken were always taken in profile, since she had no control over her eye muscle that would not behave.julia-ltjulia-rt-profile

It was her left eye that was affected, although several of her photographs indicate that a right eye might be the culprit. This is merely because the photographic negative has been “flopped.”

The First Lady’s Eye

Julia and Ulysses

Cartes d’visite, or calling cards was popular in the mid-nineteenth century. Thousands were printed of the popular Grants.

By 1864, USG became the general of the Union, and an instant celebrity.  Plain or not, eye problem or not, so was Mrs. Grant. As a shoo-in candidate for President in 1868, they were a hugely popular First Couple. The White House, which had spent eight years of curtailed society due to the Civil War and the unpopular presidency of Andrew Johnson, was now ready to glitter in accordance with the Gilded Age. Both Grants’ photographs and cartes d’visite were in high demand, and Julia had spent decades ducking the camera.

With all the social contacts available to them, they had occasion to meet some prominent medical men. In the forty years since Julia’s girlhood, there had been substantial advances in eye surgery. Mrs. Grant was now advised that her strabismus problem could be surgically corrected successfully, easily and with little danger.

Julia was interested. She consulted a few eye specialists who concurred: the problem muscle could be repaired. She decided to undergo the operation, and made the arrangements to go to Philadelphia, said to have the finest medical experts in the country. She packed her bags.

Grant’s “Eye” Love You

The decision for eye surgery was Julia’s alone. Grant seldom interfered with her personal choices. But this particular decision unsettled him.

Shortly before the First Lady was about to leave for Philadelphia, she received a short note from him.

Dear Julia,

I don’t want to have your eyes fooled with. They are all right as they are. They look just as they did the very first time I ever saw them – the same eyes I looked into when I fell in love with you – the same eyes that looked up into mine and told me that my love was returned…

Julia unpacked her suitcase and cancelled her appointment.

She never had her eye repaired – or complained about it again.

Sources:

Anthony, Carl Sferrazza –First Ladies 1789-1961, William Morrow,1990

Foster, Feather Schwartz – Mary Lincoln’s Flannel Pajamas and Other Stories from the First Ladies’ Closet – 2016, Koehler Books

Grant, Julia Dent – The Personal Memoirs of Julia Dent Grant: (Mrs. Ulysses S. Grant) – 1975, G.P. Putnam’s Sons

Ross, Ishbel – The General’s Wife – Dodd, Mead, 1959

 

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Dolley Madison’s Merry Party

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James and Dolley Madison

The position of Secretary of State is the country’s premier diplomatic post.

James Madison and the Merrys

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British Ambassador (modern term) Anthony Merry

Anthony Merry was the first British Minister Plenipotentiary (considered Ambassador) sent to the United States. He and his uber pretentious wife Elizabeth were pompous and snobbish, according to all who knew them, but in 1803, Great Britain was approaching the apogee of its Great Britain-ness, and the little backwater country across the pond was perceived as a punishment tour of duty.

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President Thomas Jefferson

President Thomas Jefferson was rather obvious about his disdain for all things British, and the Merrys were no exception. They in turn, were enraged by what they perceived as deliberate slights from the President, who had invited them to a pathetically democratic (small ‘d’) dinner party.  No seating plan, a suspiciously offensive invitation to the French Minister (with whom their country was at war), no entrance “honors,” and other breaches of basic British etiquette. While it is always difficult to picture the usually hospitable and sophisticated Virginian as deliberately rude, the Merrys did have a point. President Jefferson’s dinner was a travesty, according to the Ambassador, who made no effort to hide his anger. He had been insulted, plain and simple.

James Madison was Jefferson’s closest friend as well as his Secretary of State. He was also an intellectual and cerebral man, who was put in an awkward position: loyalty to a) his friend, and more importantly the President of the United States, or b) his assigned duty as Secretary of State, to placate an enraged ambassador.

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Secretary of State James Madison

Madison certainly needed to take his lead from the President, although he privately agreed that Ambassador Merry had righteous cause to be upset. European pompousness and pretensions have never set well with Americans, and in 1803, they set even less. But democratic or not, neither he nor President Jefferson was inclined to risk an international incident over trivialities.

Mrs. Madison’s Solution

Mrs. Dolley Madison was an adept hostess, and the widowed President Jefferson frequently called on her to do his honors when one of his daughters was unavailable. The Madisons occupied a fine residence near the White House, and the Secretary of State’s house had become a de facto center for entertaining social-political Washington.

After Jefferson’s fiasco at hosting Anthony and Elizabeth Merry, the Secretary of State stepped in to soothe the roiling waters as it were, and invited the couple to a dinner in their honor a few days later at their home, which was quickly becoming the place in Washington for meet-and-greets.

James Madison came from a well-to-do family with a thriving plantation in central Virginia, happy to have wagonloads of supplies sent from Montpelier to Washington, since all entertaining, official or not, was paid out-of-pocket by the host. Mrs. Madison held nothing back in her preparations for the Merry party; it would be damage control at its best.

The creme of Washington political hierarchy (save for the POTUS) were invited to an informal but sumptuous banquet. Mrs. Madison had an innate sense of classic style, and chose her wardrobe accordingly, elegant but simplistically democratic. Their table was set with their finest chinaware, crystal and silver. Meats and game, fruits, vegetables, baked goods and desserts were in profusion, along with fine wines.  And it was done in a way that still echoed and enhanced the American style that President Jefferson espoused. Some claim Madison offered his arm to Mrs. Albert Gallatin, the wife of the Secretary of the Treasury, although historian Paul Boller says not. Boller adds, however, that the guest list included a local haberdasher and his wife, said by Dolley, to be “good company.”

The Merry sense of august propriety was once again inflamed, and determined that it still wasn’t good enough for the British Minister’s etiquette expectations.

Mrs. Madison Charts A Course

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The haughty Elizabeth Merry

According to First Lady biographer Lewis Gould (and perhaps citing Margaret Bayard Smith, a prominent Washington resident and guest at the party), the smarmy Elizabeth Merry took her venom out on Mrs. Madison, publicly sniping that the Secretary of State’s table was “more like a harvest home supper” than a banquet for the representatives of the most powerful nation in the world.

Dolley by Gilbert Stuart

The incomparable Dolley Madison, Queen of damage-control.

Dolley, being Dolley, did not miss a beat, smiling and remarking that the “profusion of her table that was so repugnant to foreign customs was merely due to the happy circumstances of abundance and prosperity in my country.” There is no indication that the Merrys countered that remark, but the British Ambassador and his wife never attended another function in the Jefferson White House.

Margaret Bayard Smith related this story some thirty years after the event, which may or may not be apocryphal, but the sense of it remains true to core: Dolley Madison was a diplomat in her own way. She could charm when she needed to, use wit and humor on occasion, and always, always be trusted to say and do the right thing.

For eight years, the house of Secretary and Mrs. Madison was the center of social Washington. It was there that Dolley fine-tuned her hosting skills and talents, and formed fast and lasting friendships with politicians of all philosophical persuasions.

When she became mistress of the White House in 1809, the White House would become center stage for society, and she would be Washington’s unchallenged social leader for the rest of her long life, and the epitome of charm and tact that all First Ladies try to emulate.

Sources:

Allgor, Catherine, – Parlor Politics: In Which the Ladies of Washington Help Build a City and a Government, 2000, University of Virginia Press

Allgor, Catherine – A Perfect Union: Dolley Madison and the Creation of the American Nation – 2006 Henry Holt and Company

Boller, Paul F., Jr. – Presidential Anecdotes, Oxford University Press, 1981

Gould, Lewis L. – American First Ladies: Their Lives and Their Legacy – Routledge Press, 1996

 

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Robert Lincoln’s Secret Trip

Robert Todd Lincoln was a private man who assiduously shunned the spotlight.

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Robert T. Lincoln: 1865

Robert Lincoln, the son of Abraham Lincoln, had neither of his parents’ outgoing personalities. He made friends easily enough, but he was a laid-back fellow, who treasured privacy and above all, his dignity.

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Robert Lincoln, about the time of his father’s assassination.

When President Lincoln was assassinated, Robert was twenty-one, and now man of the family. His future plans were aborted. Having been discharged from the Union Army, he had planned to return to Harvard Law School. Now, he would become a lawyer by “reading” law, still an acceptable legal education.

With his mother bedridden with grief, and a kid brother, ten years his junior and babyish at that, it was left to Robert to escort the funeral train and casket back to Springfield, Illinois, the home they would no longer call home. Then he came back to Washington to bring his mother and brother to Chicago, where they had decided to live.

Robert readily found a law firm to take him on (being a veteran, a Harvard graduate, and POTUS son of Illinois did not hurt). But living with a demanding and emotionally fragile and self-absorbed mother, given to loud weeping and wailing, plus a brother who was somewhat spoiled and abysmally educated, was intolerable for the young man’s ability to study. Much as he sincerely wanted to be helpful, he could not help them. He needed to help himself. He moved out.

Robert T. Lincoln: 1871

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Mary Harlan Lincoln, Robert’s wife.

Robert Lincoln studied diligently and was admitted to the Illinois bar. He took a partner and opened a growing practice. He married Mary Harlan, the daughter of an Iowa Senator who he had courted since Lincoln’s Second Inaugural. They bought a house. They had a baby. He was now a proper Victorian gentleman, ready to mentor Tad, the brother he barely knew.

Meanwhile, his mother and brother had been living in Europe for three years. She had gone there to escape an embarrassing episode, to live more economically, and in large part, to see to Tad’s education that had been woefully neglected. Now they wanted to return. Robert and his Mary were delighted to welcome them to their Chicago home.

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Young attorney Robert Lincoln

The welcome was short lived. Mrs. Lincoln Junior, who had previously enjoyed a pleasant association with Mrs. Lincoln Senior, now determined that close quarter living with her difficult and demanding mother-in-law was impossible. The relationship deteriorated precipitously to a point that she packed up, took the baby and ostensibly went to care for her mother now living in Washington. Obviously one house was not big enough to hold two Mary Lincolns.

Tad at 18

Tad Lincoln. Said to be the last photograph taken of the young fellow who died at only 18.

Then Tad sickened, worsened, and died at eighteen. His mother was understandably inconsolable and consumed by grief. And loud weeping and wailing.

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Tad was buried in the Lincoln tomb, along with his father and two older brothers.

Once again, it was Robert Lincoln who escorted a funeral casket back to Springfield to be interred with his father and two child-brothers. He went alone. His wife inexplicably remained in Washington. His mother remained secluded in Robert’s house.

The Trip to the Rocky Mountains

By this time, Robert was exhausted. He was not sleeping nor eating well. He was estranged from his wife and child, the brother he had just begun to know had died, his mother’s grief was draining all his energy, and he could not concentrate on his law practice. He felt horrible. He consulted his doctor who quickly determined that Robert Lincoln was on the verge of a complete breakdown and insisted that he get away immediately.

mary in mourning

Mary Lincoln. Some claim that Tad’s death caused her the worst grief of all, since she was now virtually alone in the world.

In 1871, Sigmund Freud, three years younger than Tad Lincoln, would still have been in high school. But for several decades, medical interest in the psyche had been growing, and theories and treatments were becoming better known. Treating patients perceived to be mentally disturbed had become kinder, pulling away from shunning and isolation in dungeon-like facilities. There was also growing understanding that stressful situations and emotional strain could cause physical reactions.

Robert Lincoln’s doctor recommended a place in the Rocky Mountains that had been established for “troubled young men.” He believed he would benefit from a complete separation from his toxic situation at home, and in an environment where he could breathe fresh air, rest comfortably and have a respite from care, he would regain his ability to take charge of his life again.

Robert took his doctor’s advice. Telegrams were sent, arrangements were made and he departed, advising a friend that his “nerves were shot.” Instead of facing his mother directly regarding his diagnosis-decision, he sent her a letter. (One hopes he also sent a letter to his wife, now living in Washington with her parents.)

Much Much Later

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Proper Victorian gentleman Robert Todd Lincoln.

It is interesting that with all the historical interest in Lincoln, Mary Lincoln and even Robert Lincoln, there is little available knowledge about Robert’s stay out west – other than the fact that he went, and stayed for a month – two weeks longer than he had planned. It is a gaping hole for many reasons, most notably due to his aversion to the public eye, maintaining his personal privacy, and being the de facto custodian of the Lincoln legacy.

In 1975, Robert’s personal file on Mary Lincoln’s insanity trial was discovered in a false-wall in his Vermont home. The trial which he truly believed was for her own protection, caused him unbearable anguish, and for more than a half century after his death at 83, history continued to portray him as a monster-son (his mother’s description) who had his mother “put away.” Among the letters and documents in that hidden file is the correspondence concerning his own private torments in dealing with his troubled mother. One could begin to understand what a burden it was to be the son of Abraham Lincoln.

Sources:

Emerson, Jason – Giant in the Shadows: The Life of Robert T. Lincoln – Southern Illinois University Press, 2012

Emerson, Jason – The Madness of Mary Lincoln – Southern Illinois University Press – 2007

http://rogerjnorton.com/Lincoln66.html

http://rogerjnorton.com/Lincoln69.html

 

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Benjamin Harrison and the Body Snatchers

Grave robbing, and its cousin, body snatching has been around since antiquity.photos-of-ben

Grave Robbers and Body Snatchers

Archaeologists always sigh at the amount of priceless treasure and artifacts and history  lost over the centuries to grave robbers who search tombs and cemeteries for the remains of wealthy or prominent citizens for treasures that may have been entombed with them. Taking one’s valuables to the afterlife was a long-time tradition in many societies.

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Anatomy students dissecting a cadaver.

Body snatching is somewhat different. This entails taking the corpse itself, a practice that had become widespread during the 18th and 19th century in America (older than that in Europe), mostly for the purpose of selling corpses to medical schools for dissection. Students had to learn. Cadavers had to be provided for anatomy classes.

Occasionally, a body might be snatched for truly nefarious purposes, such as the aborted ransom scheme to steal the corpse of Abraham Lincoln in 1876. When the martyred president was re-buried, it was in a steel lined casket, buried in a ten-foot deep crypt, covered by ten feet of cement.

John Scott Harrison: Son and Father

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John Scott Harrison, son-of and father-of presidents.

The only man who holds the distinction of being both the son and the father of a president is John Scott Harrison (1804-1878), youngest son of the 9th President, William Henry Harrison, and the father of the 23rd President, Benjamin Harrison (by his second wife). While John Harrison came from a distinguished family (his grandfather was a signer of the Declaration of Independence), the low birth order and a couple of generations of large Harrison families had diluted their fortune. To wit, he was not wealthy.

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William Henry Harrison, grandfather of Benjamin Harrison.

He had studied early on to become a doctor (much like William Henry Harrison had done), and gave it up to manage his property in North Bend, Ohio. He served for two terms as Whig Congressman in the 1850s, and past that, little is known of him. Until he died.

Benjamin Harrison: Lawyer, General and POTUS-to-be.

Benjamin Harrison (1833-1901) had an undistinguished youth-to-manhood, save for the fact that he  moved to Indianapolis and became an attorney of mediocre success. In a profession where young lawyers were dependent on referral scraps from established colleagues’ tables, Harrison received few opportunities or encouragement, since he had a reputation of being aloof, or a cold-fish, with few friends. He took on several paying-positions within the court system to augment his meager practice.

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Benjamin Harrison, sandwich president between Cleveland administrations.

Then came the Civil War. Northern Governors were tasked to provide volunteer soldiers, and authorized to commission officers. Harrison duly set up a recruiting office, raised a regiment and was commissioned Colonel, despite the fact that he had no military experience. Nevertheless, he served with Sherman’s army capably, competently, learning on-the-fly, and with sufficient distinction to become brevet Brigadier General.

After his discharge in 1865, he returned to Indianapolis where being a lawyer, a Republican and a Brigadier General overcame his lack of personality. Having Grandpa WHH didn’t hurt, either. He became a political figure, ran-and-lost in some local elections, but at only 43, was considered someone to “keep a political eye on” in 1876.

The Death of John Scott Harrison

John Harrison died in 1876, and the family gathered to pay their respects. At the cemetery, however, one of Ben Harrison’s brothers noticed a nearby grave of a friend who had died a few days earlier. It had been visibly disturbed, and the Harrison family was suspicious of mayhem. They insisted their father’s coffin be covered with heavy rocks and cement prior to final interment, and engaged a guard to watch the gravesite for a month.

The next day, Ben’s brother John and a friend, accompanied by three policemen went to investigate the suspected grave-robbery of their friend, a young man in his early twenties, who had died of consumption. Their investigation took them to the Medical College of Ohio, a prime venue for receiving stolen cadavers.  The newspapers even reported that someone had seen “a stiff” wrapped in white cloth being taken into the school in the wee hours of the morning.

The janitor of the school hemmed and hawed, but the body of Augustus Devin, the fellow in question, could not be found. Young Harrison and his friend (and presumably the policemen) pressed on, and investigated further. Their snooping uncovered what looked to be a trap-door in an upstairs floor. When they pried it open, they were stunned to see a naked corpse suspended upside down by a rope, inside the shaft, obviously to hide it from prying eyes until it could be “utilized” by the college anatomy students.

But the amazing surprise was that it was not the body of a young tuberculosis victim – it was the body of their father, the 73-year-old John Scott Harrison! The body snatchers had obviously been watching the interment, and later drilled opened the casket from the “foot” end, pried the body out, yanking it by the ankles.

The Aftermath of the Body-Snatching

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Twelve years after his father’s body snatching incident, Benjamin Harrison was elected president.

Of course it made the newspapers! The medical professors were unapologetic, insisting it was the only way sufficient cadavers could be obtained for research and training purposes. There were no answers and no indictments were brought. But the backlash was strong.

Benjamin Harrison, son-and-lawyer, filed a civil suit against the medical college, but Ohio’s Hamilton County Courthouse burned down in 1884, and all records pertaining to the suit were lost. It was also not an episode that the Harrisons were eager to share, particularly once Ben became a US Senator, en route to the White House in 1888.

But in reaction to the Harrison body-snatching, at least five states amended their grave-robbing laws to include stiff penalties (no pun intended) for illegal stiffs. Medical schools would thereafter rely solely on unclaimed bodies who had died in state care or institutions: paupers, the insane, orphans or prisoners.

Sources:

Sievers, Harry J. – Vol. 2 Hoosier Statesman From The Civil War To The White House 1865–1888 – University Publishers, 1968

http://www.presidentbenjaminharrison.org/

http://afflictor.com/2014/02/28/old-print-article-how-harrison-found-his-fathers-body-new-york-times-1910/

http://blog.constitutioncenter.org/2015/10/two-body-snatching-tales-with-presidential-connections/

http://bioguide.congress.gov/scripts/biodisplay.pl?index=h000272

 

 

 

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William McKinley and Czolgosz the Assassin

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McKinley was a popular President, and easily won reelection in 1900.

William McKinley was one of the best liked Presidents. Why would anyone want to kill him?

William McKinley, the Popular

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President William McKinley

By all accounts, William McKinley was a warm, friendly and agreeable fellow. Born in 1843 in a small Ohio town, he was raised in a hard-working, devout Methodist family, with education a high priority for their children.

At eighteen, McKinley enlisted as a private in the Civil War, and remained for the entire four years. He was popular among his superiors and his peers, despite the fact that he had none of the vices-of-camaraderie. He did not smoke, drink, swear, dance, play cards, gamble or chase women. The soldiers liked him anyway, and never thought him sissified or priggish.

By the end of the War, he had become a brevet Major, and an aide de camp to Ohio General Rutherford B. Hayes, who encouraged the younger man to read law and become an attorney. McKinley took the advice, became a lawyer, moved to Canton, Ohio, a growing community, and proceeded to join every civic and fraternal association in town. He was a popular member with dozens of friends. His law practice grew. He married Ida Saxton, the daughter of the town’s most prominent banker.

In 1876, he was elected to Congress, and served for seven terms, making even more friends. It is said that while he may have some political adversaries, he had no enemies.  It is further said that when a colleague rose to argue a point with him, they usually apologized to him first. Then he became Governor of Ohio.

All told, he was an extremely well-liked man, much like Ike and Ronald Reagan who followed many decades later: While you may not agree with him, it was practically impossible to dislike the man!

Leon Czolgosz, the Loner

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Leon F. Czolgosz, anarchist and assassin.

Loners, and even a fairly new expression, a loner-loser, has become a common description for many terrorists of all kinds today. Most terror attacks, whether they are international, religious, racial, economic or otherwise, and whether they are carried out by bomb-throwing, suicide attacks, vehicle driving, or out-and-out shooting, usually point to the perpetrator as a loner, or someone who has never been able to succeed in a societal atmosphere. They find it hard to find work or make friends. One commonality however, they find it very easy to blame others for their failings.

Such a man was Leon Czolgosz (1873-1901). He was born and raised in Michigan, the son of a hard-working Polish immigrant, considered lower middle-class. Nevertheless, his education ended when he was fourteen, and he became a laborer with varying amounts of skill.

In the early 1890s, there was an economic panic (recession), and Czolgosz became unemployed, along with thousands of other men. Now, essentially an out-of-work loner at twenty, he became interested in the “anarchist” movement in the United States. Their adherents believed that governments, and authorities in general, were responsible for the woes of the world, and in particular, the economic woes. Anarchism had begun in Europe in the early-to-mid 19th Century, and had strengthened increasingly in the later decades. Violence was their nihilistic activity of choice: Tear down governments (authorities) via assassination of rulers.

Czolgosz (pronounced Chol-gotch, but few people could pronounce it) began to read the anarchist newspapers and magazines and attended their rallies. If he attended any smaller meetings or joined any specific clubs, it is vague. Anarchists, by their very essence, loved to talk and pontificate, philosophize and write polemics, but they shunned structured organizations and hierarchies.

The Inevitable Clash

In September, 1901, President McKinley was six months into his second term, and at the height of his popularity. The country, optimistic about its new century and opportunities, flocked to the Pan American Exposition in Buffalo, New York to celebrate its progress. The President planned to attend.

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William McKinley shook hands with the crowd at the Pan American Exposition.

Always affable, McKinley was shaking hands with a crowd of five hundred people waiting in line for the honor. Toward the end of that line was Leon Czolgosz, his hand wrapped in a bandage-like handkerchief, concealing a pistol.

The rest is history. The assassin pumped two bullets into the President, and was immediately pummeled by the crowd, which was quickly becoming a mob. The POTUS admonished them “not to hurt” that man, as he was taken away.

Despite the fact that McKinley was believed to be out of danger and expected to recover, infection set in, and he died within the week. Czolgosz was now not only an assailant, he was an assassin – of the President of the United States.

Disposing of Czolgosz

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Actual photographs were taken of Czolgosz at his execution.

Of course there was a trial. Of course there was an attempt to portray Czolgosz as insane. But most of the general public still remembered the assassination of Lincoln, and of James Garfield twenty years earlier. The mood of the country was not inclined to be overly sensitive to the noisy anarchists let alone generous toward political assassins. Nor did Czolgosz help his case.  He was unrepentant, saying, “I killed the president because he was the enemy of the people – the good hard working people….I am not sorry.”  This of course did not sit well with the people, including the good hard working people.

The jury deliberated briefly. He was found guilty, and sentenced to die in the electric chair. The general reaction was to get it over with, good riddance and to never speak his unpronounceable name again.

With little publicity, before interment, the body was destroyed with quicklime to deter souvenir hunters or martyr-makers.  Concerned that lime was insufficient to decompose the body, they added sulfuric acid.  Some chemists claimed that the combination of the lime and acid merely created plaster of paris.

Whether it did or did not is irrelevant.  The assassin with the unpronounceable name is dead, buried and all but forgotten, which is exactly what was wanted in 1901.

Sources:

Leech, Margaret, In the Days of McKinley – Harper & Brothers, 1959

Morgan, H. Wayne – McKinley and His America – Syracuse University Press, 1964

http://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/president-william-mckinley-is-shot

https://www.whitehouse.gov/1600/presidents/williammckinley

http://papershake.blogspot.com/2011/05/burial-of-leon-czolgosz-assassin-of.html

 

 

 

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Mrs. Coolidge and Baseball: A Love Affair

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President and Mrs. Coolidge at a Washington Senators game.

Calvin Coolidge liked baseball so-so. But First Lady Grace Coolidge was a enthusiastic fan!

Coolidge the Indifferent Sport

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Calvin Coolidge, so-so baseball enthusiast.

Calvin Coolidge was always a hard fellow to figure, unless, of course, you were a New Englander. Then he was easy to understand: Except for politics, he was not a joiner. And even in politics, his “joining” at best, was at arm’s length.

He was a man with no hobbies. He neither enjoyed nor played any particular sport as boy-to-man. There is no record of him being on any team. There is also no record of him enjoying or playing any “solitary” pastime, such as hunting or golf or horseback riding. His interest in fishing came much later in his life, and even then, it was mild.

He was also not a man of games. He collected nothing; not stamps or coins or cigar silks. He did not play chess, checkers or cards, at least not with any regularity. Nor did he sing, dance, play an instrument, play-act or draw.

He read his newspaper regularly. That was about it.

Mrs. Coolidge, Baseball, and Politics

By the mid-nineteen-teens, women were becoming more and more involved in politics, and some of that was the “social” end of politics. Even the more austere menfolk (Coolidge being among that group) were beginning to recognize that their wives had some social-political value.

Young Grace

Grace Coolidge, baseball fan of fans!

Grace Coolidge (1879-1957) was a good looking woman. She was stylish. She had a terrific personality. She made friends easily, where Coolidge was diffident. As he advanced in state office, he had occasion to bring his wife to various functions, and began to recognize that she was indeed an asset.

Also by the nineteen-teens, baseball had become the National Sport. Grace’s knowledge of baseball was an automatic entree into the man’s world of social conversation – especially in a state like Massachusetts, where the Boston Red Sox dominated. Grace knew wherein she spoke. Both the Coolidge sons played on local teams, and she had played catch or pitched the ball to them in the yard. She knew the rules of the game. She could keep the box-scores. She followed the sporting pages. She knew the players and their statistics. She could share the heartbreak with the men, when the Sox traded Babe Ruth, their best pitcher, to the New York Yankees, who were determined to make him their best batter.

The First Lady and Baseball

President William Howard Taft had enjoyed baseball, and began the time-honored custom of throwing out the first pitch on opening day. Woodrow Wilson had loved baseball as a youth, and even managed his college team. Warren Harding continued the baseball tradition.

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Babe Ruth as a Red Sox.

With First Lady Coolidge, only one thing changed. The Washington Senators were the “home team,” and politics mandated that her allegiance needed to be switched from the Red Sox (although that would only be temporary). She was quoted as saying, “I venture to say that not one of you gives a hoot about baseball, but to me, it is my very life.”

Whether he liked it or not (and his interest was only lukewarm), Calvin Coolidge was tasked with becoming a fan. It wasn’t always easy. The White House Historical Association tells of the time the POTUS and Missus went to a World Series game. The score was tied at the bottom of the ninth inning, and President Coolidge rose and declared that he was ready to go home. Mrs. Coolidge yanked his coat tails and insisted that he sit right down. She wasn’t leaving.

The Coolidges and Pop Culture

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President and Mrs. Coolidge went to many baseball games. She loved it.

The Roaring 1920s, known for bootleg whiskey and flappers, can be credited with the boom in what today would be called pop-culture. There were movies, radio, phonograph recordings, vaudeville, magazines, sports of all kinds, and particularly baseball, all of which produced people who were catapulted to fame.

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The Coolidges were a nice couple, but the antithesis of the Roaring Twenties.

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The Coolidges and a few celebrity pals.

Calvin and Grace Coolidge neither roared nor flapped, but in their own ways, were also catapulted to fame. They occupied the White House. And all the ancillary stars of stage, screen, radio, song, sport – and baseball – found their way to the White House to shake hands with the unflappable President, and his charming First Lady.

Frequently, the cream of the celebrities were invited to stay for lunch. A few for dinner. People like Charlie Chaplin and Al Jolson and Will Rogers were delighted to have their photographs taken with the President, and/or the First Lady, and the POTUS did not seem to mind that the photos usually turned up in the newspaper headlines the following day. That included Babe Ruth. He showed up too. One surmises that Mrs. C. forgave him for his apostasy of leaving Boston.

The Faithful Mrs. Coolidge

President Coolidge (1872-1933) did not live that long after his term in office. Five years after retiring as Chief executive, he died. He was only sixty.

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The widow Coolidge and the aging Babe. She forgave him.

Mrs. Coolidge, however, lived for another quarter century. She stayed on in Northampton, MA, still taking her daily hour-long walk in the parks or streets. She was frequently seen knitting on her favorite park bench. Everyone knew her.

Mrs. C. managed to forge a quiet but pleasant life for herself. She spent time with her married son and his growing family. She went to Europe. She flew in an airplane. She compiled a series of essays into a “memoir” of sorts. And she continued her long love affair with baseball.

Every year, practically until her death in 1957, she went to Boston for a Red Sox game – or two or three. She kept up with all the players and all their statistics. There is even a story of a time that she was among a crowded audience when an obscure question about an obscure baseball player was asked, and no one knew the answer. Except one person. Mrs. Coolidge. And she was right!

Sources:

Anthony, Carl Sferrazza –First Ladies 1789-1961, William Morrow,1990

Boller, Paul F., Jr. – Presidential Anecdotes, Oxford University Press, 1981

Foster, Feather Schwartz – The First Ladies – Sourcebooks, 2011

Wikander, Lawrence & Ferrell, Robert (eds) – Grace Coolidge, An Autobiography, 1992, High Plains

https://www.whitehousehistory.org/the-coolidges-and-baseball

http://www.davidpietrusza.com/coolidge-grace.html

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Robert E. Lee at the Crossroads

 

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General Lee and Traveler.

April 9, 1865 was only the beginning of a difficult time in the life of Robert E. Lee.

The Surrender

It was a horrible day for General Robert E. Lee (1807-1870). He has been famously quoted as preferring to die a thousand deaths rather than to go see General Ulysses S. Grant.

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The famous meeting at Appomattox Court House.

But he bit the bullet, donned his last best uniform, complete with sash and sword, and rode off to a modest farmhouse in Appomattox Court House. In little more than an hour, it was all over. The terms were decided and signed, and for all intents and purposes, the four-year American Civil War, which destroyed the cream of a generation of men, was over.

Several more days passed as the business of signing paroles, the usual paperwork and reports, and formally discharging the remains of the Army of Northern Virginia was complete, and General Lee could discharge himself.

But in that interim, one more horrific deed changed every hope the South may have entertained for the “let ’em up easy” policy that President Abraham Lincoln had planned. An assassin’s bullet put an end to that.

Later in April

Appomattox Court House is about a hundred miles from Richmond, the Confederate capital whose charred buildings were visible for miles, and the smells of its self-inflicted burning were still in the air. General Lee rode with no escort nor entourage. Occasionally he encountered another ex-soldier en route in that direction, but past the nominal courtesies, it was a silent ride for the tired soldier. No one would dare to intrude on the General’s privacy.

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Robert E. Lee, about fifteen years before the Civil war.

Lee was only fifty-eight years old, but his white hair and beard, mostly acquired within the last three years, made him look ten years older. From the time he graduated West Point, more than thirty-five years earlier, he had been a soldier. Duty. Honor. Country. Once that country had been the United States, but in his heart, it was always Virginia, his native state, and the state of his distinguished forebears.

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Mary Anna Custis Lee was the great grand-daughter of Martha Washington.

He was a quiet man, not given to close friendships. His personal habits were moderate, a sip of wine on occasion. At 24, he married Mary Anna Custis, the great-granddaughter of Martha Washington. They had seven children, and he no doubt loved his family deeply.  But the Army was Lee’s greatest love.

The Dilemmas of General Lee

It is always difficult to project possible thoughts into long-dead silent men, but the General unquestionably had much on his mind on that long, long hundred mile journey.

Robert E. Lee was a deeply religious man, and assuredly was grateful that his life was spared, as well as the lives of his three sons, all of whom fought bravely and with honor. Their wounds would heal. He just as assuredly mourned those lost sons of America, North and South. Hundreds of thousands of them, at last count. He was never a man of hatred. Like all soldiers, battle memories are intensely private. To a man of silent disposition, even more so.

To a military officer accustomed to action and decision-making all his life, the limbo of not being in control was perhaps the most burdensome.  The once-wealthy Lee-Custis family was now homeless. Their beautiful Arlington plantation overlooking Washington, DC had been confiscated early in the War. Then it was turned into a huge cemetery, making it forever uninhabitable. Another Virginia family property had been burned. Mary Lee, badly crippled by arthritis was now living in a small rented row home in Richmond.

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A sketch of the Lee-Custis home at Arlington, prior to the Civil War. The property would be turned into a national cemetery.

Lee had no occupation and no property. Soldiering was all he knew, other than some mild plantation management. How was he to support his invalid wife and three unmarried daughters?  He could not make any decisions in that regard.

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Mrs. Lee was an arthritic invalid at the end of the Civil War. She was confined to a wheel chair.

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The quintessential General Robert E. Lee.

The assassination of Abraham Lincoln presented yet another problem. The mood of the North had grown increasingly ugly, and there were strident calls for arresting, trying and hanging those rebels responsible for the War. General Robert E. Lee was at the top of the list of those expected to hang. He had signed his parole, pending law-abiding behavior. At least he could make one decision. He intended to honor his pledge and be an example to those who still looked to him for leadership. Nevertheless, the likelihood of his arrest was strong. He would have to prepare his family for the inevitable.

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The row house in Richmond that the Lees had rented.

Then of course, there was his own private secret. His doctors had told him more than two years earlier that the pains and tingling in his arm from time to time were indicative of heart problems. He believed them, but he kept it to himself. That was another decision he could make.  Nothing would be served by disclosing that information to his family – unless, or until such a time as it became imperative. They had enough cares as it was.

He would rest for a while in Richmond, enjoying the comfort of Mary and the girls, who he never got to see very often. He would stay there, at least until his sons could find him and the whole family could be reunited, and perhaps plan some kind of future.

He would wait. He would wait for the soldiers he assumed would be coming to arrest him. But mostly he would wait for the hand of Providence which he firmly believed would guide every decision.

Sources:

Fishwick, Marshall W. – Lee After the War: The Greatest Period in the Life of a Great American – Dodd, Mead & Co. 1962

Flood, Charles Bracelen – LEE: The Last Years – Houghton, Miffli Co. – 1981

http://www.civilwar.org/education/history/biographies/robert-e-lee.html

https://www.nps.gov/nr/travel/national_cemeteries/Virginia/Arlington_National_Cemetery.html

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