Death in the White House - John F. Kennedy

John F. Kennedy
35th President 1961-1963

President Kennedy and Mrs. Kennedy arrived in Dallas, Texas, on Friday, November 22, 1963. The President was to proceed to a luncheon at the Trade Mart building. The motorcade began the eleven-mile trip from the airport. The motorcade made a sharp left turn and headed down an incline toward a triple underpass. The Texas School Book Depository building loomed over the turn. From the sixth-floor window, there was an unobstructed view of the street below. Shots rang out and in a matter of seconds it was over. The assassin, Lee Harvey Oswald started working at the Texas School Book Depository on October 16, 1963. He was described as a loner. Discontented and not happy with his life, Oswald started to show violent tendencies. Oswald left the Texas School Book Depository about three minutes after the shooting, before the police sealed the building. The President's car rushed to Parkland Hospital arriving at 12:39 p.m. Agent Hill covered the President's head and chest with his suit jacket to prevent the taking of photographs. For a moment, Mrs. Kennedy refused to release her husband whom she held in her lap. The President was placed on a stretcher and wheeled into trauma room 1. Doctors noted that the President was ashen in color, had slow irregular respiration, made no voluntary movements, had no palpable pulse, and had a few chest sounds that were thought to be heartbeats. Doctors worked intently trying to save the President. The Warren Commission states that in the absence of any neurological, muscular, or heart response the doctors concluded that efforts to revive the President were hopeless. At approximately 1 p.m., after last rites were administered, the President was pronounced dead.

Funeral Procession
The body of John F. Kennedy was returned to the White House at 4:30 a.m., November 23, 1963. The casket was placed in the East Room. The body lay-in-state in the Capitol Building November 24, 1963. Eulogies to the late President John F. Kennedy were delivered in the Rotunda of the United States Capitol on November 24, 1963, by Senate Majority Leader Mike Mansfield, Chief Justice Earl Warren, and Speaker of the House John W. McCormack. The following is part of Mike Mansfield's eulogy:

"There was a sound of laughter; in a moment, it was no more. And so she took a ring from her finger and placed it in his hands.

There was a wit in a man neither young nor old, but a wit full of an old man's wisdom and of a child's wisdom, and then, in a moment it was no more. And so she took a ring from her finger and placed it in his hands.

There was a man marked with the scars of his love of country, a body active with the surge of a life far, far from spent and, in a moment, it was no more. And so she took a ring from her finger and placed it in his hands.

There was a father with a little boy, a little girl and a joy of each in the other. In a moment it was no more, and so she took a ring from her finger and placed it in his hands.

There was a husband who asked much and gave much, and out of the giving and the asking wove with a woman what could not be broken in life, and in a moment it was no more. And so she took a ring from her finger and placed it in his hands, and kissed him and closed the lid of a coffin..."

President Kennedy's funeral began at 10:00 a.m., November 25, 1963. Mrs. Kennedy and the family came to the Rotunda. At 10:50 a.m. the casket was carried from the Capitol Building to the waiting caisson. Six gray-white horses drew the casket across the city, past the White House to St. Matthew's Cathedral, and then to Arlington Cemetery. The procession stopped in front of the White House while the family and dignitaries assembled behind the caisson to walk to the cathedral. A riderless horse, Black Jack, followed behind the casket with boots reversed in the stirrups to mark the death of the rider. This is a symbol of a lost leader.

Over 200 high ranking dignitaries, heads of state, queens, and kings attended the services at St. Matthew's Cathedral and the funeral procession. Caroline and John, Jr. joined their mother in front of the cathedral. After the services they stood waiting at the bottom of the stairs as the casket was carried back to the caisson. Mrs. Kennedy leaned down and whispered to her son. John-John stood apart and raised his hand in a salute as the casket passed.

The bands resumed the march after the service, past the Lincoln Memorial to Arlington. The body was brought to its last resting-place; the bands played the national anthem. Fifty jet planes flew over, one for each state, plus Air Force One. Then Cardinal Cushing said a prayer followed by the presidential salute of 21 guns. Servicemen who had accompanied the body rigidly holding the flag over the casket folded the flag and presented it to Mrs. Kennedy after the playing of "Taps". At 3:16 p.m., the funeral services for John F. Kennedy, 35th President of the United States of America, concluded.


Death in the White House - Franklin D. Roosevelt

Franklin D. Roosevelt
32th President 1933 - 1945

President Franklin D. Roosevelt entered the White House during a time of great despair. The country was crippled by the Depression and FDR promised a "New Deal" and led the country out of the Depression and through World War II. His strong will and good cheer helped make him the people's President. In his "fireside chats" broadcast on the radio, he informed the public of his plans and kept them up to date with the war. FDR had personally struggled with polio contracted in 1921. In 1924, he discovered the restorative powers of the mineral waters at Warm Springs, Georgia, and found that exercising in the buoyant 88-degree waters helped him recover some strength in his paralyzed legs. Over the years he made frequent visits and bought property forming the Warm Springs Institute for Rehabilitation in 1927. He bought the old resort hotel at Warm Springs and began inviting other polio victims to exercise and try the healing powers of the warm water. Then in 1932 while running for President, he built a vacation cottage on Pine Mountain. This home would become the "Little White House."

FDR was in Warm Springs at the "Little White House" to rest and recover from exhaustion. The push for the end of the war was on, and FDR needed to be at his best. He arrived on March 30, 1945. On the afternoon of April 12th he was reviewing official papers. He was afflicted suddenly with a headache and pressed his hand to his temple saying: "I have a terrific headache." He then slumped over into unconsciousness. The doctor was immediately summoned and a secret service officer helped carry FDR to his bed. Another specialist was called from Atlanta; Dr. James A. Paullin arrived within 90 minutes. FDR's doctor in Washington was called, and all agreed that he had suffered a "massive cerebral hemorrhage." At 3:35 p.m. on April 12, 1945, President Franklin D. Roosevelt died in his small bedroom in his beloved cottage at Warm Springs.

Funeral Procession
That evening Eleanor Roosevelt flew to Georgia arriving at Warm Springs at 11:30 p.m. She worked throughout the night on the details of returning his body to Washington, the official services there, and the final funeral at Hyde Park. An appropriate coffin was brought from Atlanta. The American flag flying at the "Little White House" was taken down and draped over the coffin.

FDR left Warm Springs, Georgia, for the last time on April 13, 1945. The tradition of greeting and farewell had always been carried out by FDR whenever he came and went from Warm Springs. He would always greet and bid farewell to his companions and neighbors. This final farewell was carried out by a military escort from Fort Benning, Georgia. The procession traveled to Georgia Hall (the hotel where patients stayed) and to the train. The military band played dirges softly and Graham Jackson, a musician who had often played for FDR, stepped out from the crowd. Jackson with tears streaming down his face played Dvorak's "Goin' Home" on his accordion. The train left Warm Springs around 9:05 a.m. As had previous Presidential funeral trains, the train traveled slowly through the countryside with the windows of the car holding his casket opened so the people gathered along the track and in small towns could view it as it passed. The train arrived in Atlanta around 1:30 p.m. It arrived in Washington just before 10:00 a.m. on the morning of April 14, 1945.

The body was removed to the White House by a horse-drawn caisson. The funeral service was held in the East Room at 4 p.m. Then at 9:30 p.m. the body was returned to the train. FDR had shared with Eleanor that he did not like the practice of a body lying in state at the Capitol for hundreds to pass by, so this was not part of his state funeral. The train departed for Hyde Park after a slight delay and arrived the next morning. The Roosevelt family departed the train at 9:50 a.m. The body was removed to a hearse that carried it a short distance to the foot of a bluff below the family home, Springwood. There it was placed on a caisson led by six brown horses followed by the seventh horse with stirrups turned backwards, the symbol of a fallen warrior. The caisson carried the body to the rose garden at the top of the hill. Following the graveside services the train carrying President Truman returned to Washington, Truman's first sad duty as President concluded.


Death in the White House - Warren G. Harding

Warren G. Harding
29th President 1921 - 1923

Warren G. Harding's administration was plagued with scandals like Teapot Dome. He may have learned enough about the corruption in his cabinet and appointments before his death to realize that his presidency was about to crumble. Harding set out on a cross country trip of good will to explain his policies to the people. He suffered from high blood pressure and an enlarged heart. The strenuous trip took its toll. He was the first President to visit Alaska and seemed to enjoy his time there, but on the return south he fell ill. His train reached San Francisco and on July 29, 1923, he checked into the Palace Hotel, room 8064. Soon after, doctors determined that he had pneumonia. By August 1st his fever and accelerated pulse had subsided. He made plans to go fishing the next day off Catalina Island. That night Mrs. Harding read to him to help lift his spirits. She read a flattering review of his presidency by Samuel Blythe of the Saturday Evening Post. He fell asleep and Mrs. Harding left the room. Later a nurse entered to check on the President and noticed that his face was twitching, his mouth dropped, and his head then rolled to one side. It was concluded that he suffered a stroke. There is evidence that he had long suffered from heart problems and could have had a sudden heart attack. Rumors abound that the actual cause of death may have been food poisoning, perhaps by Mrs. Harding, or the mob. Mrs. Harding did not allow an autopsy to be performed.

Funeral Procession
Harding's sudden death while on a tour of the west turned his train into a funeral train for the return trip to Washington. The train was draped in black, but not elaborately. Harding's body was placed in the drawing room at the Palace Hotel on Friday and moved to the train that evening. The train departed at 7:15 p.m. After passing slowly through many of the towns along the way to allow mourners a view, the train arrived in Washington on Tuesday, August 7th, at 10:22 p.m. Harding's body was removed to the White House, and then on Wednesday laid in state at the Capitol Rotunda where a funeral service was held. Some 10,000 school children were recruited from Washington's playgrounds to strew Pennsylvania Avenue with flowers as the funeral procession moved from the White House to the Capitol. Wednesday evening the train began the journey home to Marion, Ohio, arriving Thursday, August 9, 1923.

The following letter was written by F. R. Rees of Bolivar, Missouri to his wife and children on August 10, 1923. Rees had been visiting his parents in Patriot, Ohio, and decided to travel to Marion for the funeral. The letter is now part of the Marion County Historical Society collection.

"Caught train for Marion this morning at 9:10. Got there about 11. Streets crowded from depot to [George T., the President's father] Harding's home both sides. When we got off of train every body you would ask would say no earthly chance to get to see him. They were lined up for 1½ to 2 miles just as thick as they could stand on the sidewalk. People stood in line from early morn until 2 or 3 o'clock and there were a lot of people that didn't get to see him at all.

I think half of the flags in U. S. A. were there and all the flowers in Ohio and many from other states...

Well I walked 3 or 4 miles and it begun to look like I come a long ways to see the remains of Mr. Harding and would have to come back and tell you I didn't get to see him, so I begun to try and figure out a way. They U. S. soldiers from everywhere and the Boy Scouts directing traffic and people they keep you on the run all the time. That's all you could hear - "Keep moving."

So I decided I was going to get in that line if possible and if you didn't get up at the head end of line you never would get in the house, so I went two squares back of the Harding house climb back fences and thru back yards and finally got in the back yard of home that was beside the Harding home. There were several people sitting in the front yard and they two or three empty chairs there. So just walks up and sits down and rests a while and after I sit there about 15 min I just gets up and slips in line and I was in the house in 5 min after I got in line. After they got in the yard they marched twos and after they got the back porch they went in one at a time. He was in the front room. The casket sit to the right as you come in at the back door. In the room were only 3 men - 2 soldiers and a detective or took him to be. They told you to step fast. It was a mighty fine casket. Mr. Harding I believe look as natural as any any (sic) corps I ever viewed."


Death in the White House - Ellen Wilson

Ellen Wilson
First Lady 1913 - 1914

Ellen Axson Wilson was an important partner to her husband and they deeply cared for one another. None of the candidates in 1912 took a strong stand on suffrage, but privately she supported it. Ellen was an artist and had exhibited her works winning several awards. As First Lady she brought public attention to art and assisted the Southern Industrial Association by using the White House to have mountain crafts displayed for sale. These mountain women did not want charity; they wanted opportunities. Ellen supported the nomination of Catholics to appointed offices. Her strong cause became the National Civic Federation. She helped raise eighty-five hundred dollars to improve the housing of poor black laborers in Washington. Her alley-clearance bill for better housing passed just before she died.

On March 1, 1914, Ellen fell in the White House. After a medical examination it was determined that she was suffering from Bright's disease, a kidney ailment for which there was no known cure. On August 6th, as her condition worsened she told her husband, "I would go away more peacefully if my Alley Bill was passed by Congress." The message was sent to Congress and the legislation passed the Senate that day. The House promised to pass it the next day. The good news was delivered to Ellen at the White House; an hour later she died.

Funeral Procession
Indianapolis News, August 7, 1914, reported,

Washington has not yet recovered from the shock of Mrs. Wilson's death. President Wilson and his daughters remain in grief-stricken seclusion in the White House, the former denying himself to all except his family and his secretary. The funeral plans have not been arranged, but it is expected Mrs. Wilson will be buried either at her girlhood home at Rome, Ga., or at Princeton, where she spent so many years while her distiguished husband was president of the university.

Mrs. Wilson was the third wife of a president to die in the White House. Mrs. Benjamin Harrison died Oct. 25, 1892. Mrs. John Tyler also died there.

The death of Mrs. Wilson came after an interim of twenty-two years without a death in the immediate family of the executive in the mansion. The last death of a member of a residential family in the White House was of Rev. John Witherspoon Scott the venerable father-in-law of President Benjamin Harrison...

Private services were held in the East Room of the White House at 2:00 p.m. on Monday, August 10, 1914. Massed with flowers, the bier was placed at the north end of the East Room near the President and his daughters. After the services the body was removed to the special funeral train. The train arrived in Rome, Georgia, around 2:00 p.m. on Tuesday where final burial rites were held. The chief officiating clergy came from the Presbyterian Church where Mrs. Wilson's father had been pastor for many years. She was buried with her parents at Historic Myrtle Hill Cemetery.

Indianapolis News, August 10, 1914, reported,

The funeral party on the special train will include the president, Miss Margaret Wilson, Secretary of the Treasury and Mrs. McAdoo, Mr. and Mrs. Francis B. Sayre [daughter], Prof. Stockton Axson [brother]... An entire refrigerator car will be required to carry the flowers from Washington to Rome."


Death in the White House - William McKinley

William McKinley
25th President 1897 - 1901

In September 1901, McKinley was enjoying the Pan American Exposition in Buffalo, New York. On September 5th he gave a public address. The morning of the 6th, his party including Mrs. McKinley took a side trip to Niagara Falls. He returned in the afternoon for a receiving line at the Temple of Music on the Exposition grounds. Doors for the receiving line opened about 4:00 p.m. Toward the back of the line was Leon Czolgosz, an unemployed mill worker and self-proclaimed anarchist. He believed that all rulers, governing officials, rich capitalists, and ordained clergy should be eliminated. Waiting behind Czolgosz was a recently laid off, tall black waiter named James Parker. He was a friendly man who tried to make conversation with the quiet Czolgosz. Czolgosz had wrapped his right hand in a white cloth to look bandaged and held his arm as if in a sling, thus concealing the gun. It was a hot day and many people carried handkerchiefs to wipe their foreheads and hands. As McKinley greeted Czolgosz, he fired two shots. One hit a jacket button and did not enter the body. The other entered and passed through the stomach and nicked the left kidney. McKinley fell backwards into the arms of a secret service agent.

Mr. Parker immediately hit Czolgosz several times in the neck and head as a secret service agent joined in the fight. Parker was deemed a hero, but later his role was down played in the trial. The Buffalo Commercial, dated Sept. 13, 1901, quotes Parker as having said,

"I happened to be in a position where I could aid in the capture of the man. I do not think that the American people would like me to make capital out of the unfortunate circumstances. I am no freak anyway. I do not want to be exhibited in all kinds of shows. I am glad that I was able to be of service to the country."

McKinley was rushed to the medical building on the grounds of the Exposition. Doctors operated to close the bullet holes in the stomach, look for the bullet, and close the surface of the wound. The bullet was not found. At first it seemed that McKinley would survive, but four days later they operated again to remove a piece of cloth that had been carried into the abdomen by the bullet. McKinley was now resting at the home of John Milburn. His temperature was coming down, but he then relapsed and during the early morning hours of September 14th he died. The cause of death was determined to be gangrene which had developed around the path of the bullet in the stomach and abdomen.

Funeral Procession
Sunday, September 15th, a private service was held in the Milburn home at 11:00 a.m. At noon the public service began in Buffalo and the body was removed to City Hall. On Monday, the funeral train took the body to Washington where it was taken to the Capitol. That night the body was moved to the East Room of the White House. On Tuesday evening the body was taken back to the train for the final journey home to Canton, Ohio, where on September 18th the body lay in state at the Canton Court House. Thursday, September 19, 1901, the slain President was buried at Westlawn Cemetery in Canton, Ohio.

"The True Story of the Assassination of President McKinley" describes the funeral at Canton:

"Imagine a hearse like a polished piece blocked from the night, small and oblong, but almost appalling with its simple dignity, drawn by horses just as black, carrying for its burden all that remains of the late President of the United States; preceded by its guard of honor, President Roosevelt, the cabinet, and the generals and admirals of the United States; followed by the last tottering veterans of the 23rd Ohio, the regiment in which William McKinley fought for the preservation of the Union, and then by regiment after regiment of volunteer infantry,... on each side of a mile long avenue, solid blocks of people reach back... then add the grey sky that frowns like a pall, and the magnificent picture of sad, sweet desolation is complete."

“An American citizen could not be a good citizen who did not have a hope in his heart.” ~ Benjamin Harrison

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