Honoring A Fallen Leader

BACK TRACKS

May 12, 1991|By Carleton Jones

One of old Baltimore's most somber and funereal moments came in late April of 1865, when Abraham Lincoln's funeral party paused briefly in the city for a lying-in-state ceremony at the Baltimore exchange and custom house.

But there had been an earlier presidential mourning here -- for the first president to die in office.

William Henry Harrison stands out in history as one of the few U.S. commanders who won any victories in the War of 1812. But his brief time in the White House (31 days) was ended on April 4, 1841, when he died of pneumonia.

The election campaign had been rough, the most tumultuous probably of the "log cabin and hard cider" parades in which the Western states exercised their new-found power. The 68-year-old man caught pneumonia and died during an early-April cold spell. It had been, The Sun said, "so cold as to chill the physical system and touch the mental faculties with frost."

Just before he died in the White House, the ninth president had hoarsely whispered to his aides: "I wish you to understand the true principles of the government. I wish them carried out. I ask nothing more."

When the word of the death got out to the country, acts of mourning, including tolling bells, became general.

"The body was placed in a coffin, covered with black velvet and bound around with silver lace," a reporter noted. The coffin was glass-topped so that viewing throngs could take a last look.

In Baltimore and Annapolis, in York, Pa., and in the Virginia counties, militia units and federal establishments staged elaborate funeral parades. Baltimore church bells tolled all day and funereal cannon fire boomed dolefully from the top of Federal Hill.

Harrison's body lay in state in the foyer of the White House and then was taken to the congressional cemetery on Capitol Hill with an official escort and a catafalque drawn by six white horses. About 20,000 citizens joined a line of march that stretched for 1 1/2 miles.

Behind the official funeral party, soldiers and officers of the Revolutionary War were given the first place in line, followed by officers and soldiers who had served with the general in his Western campaigns, 27 years earlier. Daniel Webster, secretary

of state, headed the official government party in the absence of the president-apparent, John Tyler, not yet sworn in.

Baltimore sent the Ringgold artillery from Fort McHenry, the Maryland Cadets, the Military Association of Baltimore, the Eutaw Artillery and the Columbia Artillery.

There was an outpouring of members of the Tippecanoe clubs, political cells named after General Harrison's famed victory in Indiana in the War of 1812. These organizations had supported his uproarious campaign against Eastern interests. A similar parade, 5 miles long, trailed through a New York City snowstorm in honor of the fallen chief executive.

A week after the funeral, Baltimore held a memorial ceremony in the Baltimore exchange building on the north side of the inner harbor. Severn T. Wallis, Columbus O'Donnell, Gustav Lorman, William Hoffman, Robert Gilmor and other legal and financial grandees of the era organized the event.

The Sun's lead writer was not at a loss for words as he described the service: "True, he died literally full of years and honors, but the last wreath was yet fresh and those who bound it on his brow feel the exit to have been sudden, as that of one cut down in the morning of his days."

President Harrison's present grave is in a state park in North Bend, Ohio, just west of Cincinnati. *

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