Monday, January 01, 2007

The first presidential funeral in Washington D.C. ...President William Henry Harrison in 1841

On April 4, 1841, William Henry Harrison breathed his last.

It was 12:30 am ...It was near exactly one month from the time he had become President.
He was elected in 1840 running with John Tyler. They were Whigs. Tyler was more a Whig in name only. But he was from the south and it evened the ticket. It also led to one of the more colorful campaign slogans..."Tippecanoe and Tyler too".

Harrison who was a general earlier in his life was the victor in the battle against the Indian chief Tippecanoe. There after he was called "Old Tippecanoe"....If he was a great hero or not, the Whigs made him one.

He was selected by the Whigs for the reason basically that he would be a good puppet President and could be under the control of Webster, Clay and others.

He ran on the Hard cider ticket....It encouraged others to partake of hard cider and vote for the Whig candidate. They won, easily beating Martin Van Buran who was running for re-election...

Once Harrison arrived in Washington he was ambushed by tons of office seekers..On March 4th, He gave his inauguration speech..It was freezing outside, the speech was one hour and forty minutes long, Harrison was not dressed in a coat, Harrison was 68 years old, Harrison was frozen by the end of the speech. A few days later he was drenched in a terrible storm and was soaked to the bone. He started to become very ill.

Here is a detailed bit of info on Harrison's illness and death.

He took the oath of office on March 4, 1841, an extremely cold and windy day. Nevertheless, he faced the weather without his overcoat and delivered the longest inaugural address in American history. At 8,445 words, it took nearly two hours to read (even after his friend and fellow Whig, Daniel Webster, had edited it for length). He later caught a cold, which then developed into pneumonia and pleurisy. (According to the prevailing medical misconception of the times, it was believed that his illness was caused by the bad weather, when, in fact, he was likely a victim of the virus that causes the common cold.) He sought to rest in the White House, but could not find a quiet room, as he was deluged with people seeking his favor in the hope that he would appoint them to the numerous offices the president then had at his disposal.

His doctors tried everything to cure him, applying opium, castor oil, Virginia snakeweed, and even actual snakes. But the treatments only made Harrison worse and he went into delirium. He died a month later, at 12:30 a.m., on April 4, 1841, of right lower lobe pneumonia, jaundice, and overwhelming septicemia, becoming the first American president to die in office. His last words were "Sir, I wish you to understand the true principles of the government. I wish them carried out. I ask nothing more."

Now that he was dead, they had to contact the Vice President John Tyler in Virginia.

He took the oath of office, announced he was President. It is interesting that no one else thought so. He was labeled "acting President".

Every man who has assumed the office in succession as Vice President owes a lot to the John Tyler. To put it it bluntly, He had balls!!!!!
He fought everyone till he was considered President, of course many left him and he was dropped by the Whig party...But he held true to his convictions. He was the President. He won, but in doing so lost.

Now there was a dead President to deal with, and no one had any idea what to do! There had never been a death in the Presidency, nor was there any protocol. There was a lot of work to do..

The first major funeral ceremony in Washington D.C. was for William Henry Harrison, the first president to die in office.

Alexander Hunter, a Washington merchant, was commissioned to design the ceremony. He was the hero in all of this.
He had the White House draped in black ribbon and ordered a curtained and upholstered black and white carriage to carry the coffin.

He was laid out in the East Room of the White House in a special coffin that was huge! It was several coffins in one. On the top was a window where the Presidents face was visible. The coffin was placed on ice, as there was no embalming done on the body.

I would imagine the window was closed after a while.

He was first buried in the Congressional Burying Grounds, Washington D.C.; his body was moved later to North Bend, Ohio.

There was also quite an expense for the funeral ceremony.....

Harrison's funeral cost to the United States was $3,088.09, $20 of which was paid for shaving and dressing the deceased.
The rest was for the massive coffin, and the black ribbons, carriage to carry the remains, and the eventual transportation to Ohio. It was also Hunter who set up much of the events at this point.

So through it all the beginnings of a presidential funeral was started...But remember, the man who started it all was Alexander Hunter.... A name truly lost to history.

No comments:

Post a Comment