Death in the White House - Caroline Harrison

Caroline Scott Harrison2001 452 CSH memorial ribbon web
First Lady 1889 - 1892

In the winter of 1891-1892, while she tried to fulfill her social obligations, Caroline was frequently ill with bouts of bronchial infections. In March she developed catarrhal pneumonia, followed by hemorrhages of the lungs. On the advice of family physician Dr. Gardner, she was taken by train 500 miles to Loon Lake in the Adirondack Mountains in July. Benjamin Harrison rented a three bedroom cottage, with a scenic view of the lake, and hung boughs of evergreen across windows and doorways, to support the theory that the fragrance of the sap would enhance healing of lung problems. Dr. Doughty from New York and Dr. Trudeau from Saranac were called for consultations. After initial improvement, Caroline's condition deteriorated. The medical diagnosis was finally announced as tuberculosis, with little hope of recovery. Surgery was performed to drain the fluids from the pleural cavity of the right lung, and repeated two days later. From the time President Harrison arrived at Loon Lake in August after Congress recessed, he was at Caroline's bedside constantly, helping with the nursing care. On September 20, she was brought back to the White House, where she died after a painful but uncomplaining struggle on Tuesday, October 25, 1892.

Funeral Procession
Period newspapers describe at great length the last hours of her life with President Harrison remaining at her side at all times. She died at 1:40 a.m.

Clipping in Scrapbook, Washington, October 25, 1892

"Arrangements for the funeral of Mrs. Harrison were perfected today... About 1 o'clock Mr. Russell Harrison, Mr. McKee and Mr. Halford visited the establishment of the undertaker and selected a casket... made of Spanish red cedar, covered with fine black broadcloth. This casket has a copper metallic inner case, hermetically sealed, and lined with cream-tufted satin. The exterior of the casket has no ornamentation whatever, except the oxidized bar handles, which run its full length, and a solid silver oxidized plate... A view of the casket impresses one with its extreme simplicity and elegance... The funeral will be a personal and not a public one... Invitations will be strictly limited in number, and no person will be allowed to be present without them. The body will not lie in state. The funeral services will be held in the East Room... They [the services] will be conducted according to the Presbyterian forms... Rev. Dr. Bartlett... will assist in the services at the White House. Dr. Bartlett was pastor of the Second Presbyterian Church, Indianapolis, previous to coming to Washington, and a neighbor of the President's family... After the services here the funeral party will leave Washington Thursday at 11:30 a.m. for Indianapolis, where services... will take place."

A private family service took place in the East Room of the White House on the morning of October 27th. A wreath of white roses and orchids offered by President Harrison was placed on the face of the coffin. Vice President and Mrs. Morton's offering stood at the corner of the casket reaching almost four feet high, cross shaped, and made of ivy sprinkled with white chrysanthemums. Queen Victoria also sent a wreath of white roses. The St. John's Church choir sang "Abide with me" and Mrs. Harrison's favorite song "Lead, Kindly Light." The services lasted about forty minutes and the cortege proceeded to the Pennsylvania Railroad station.

All members of the family, except the three grandchildren, accompanied the remains to Indianapolis, including Caroline's father Dr. Scott. The train arrived around 9:30 a.m. Friday morning. It was 10:00 a.m. when the parties accompanying the remains entered the awaiting carriages. The remains were taken directly to First Presbyterian Church, where a simple service was conducted by the Rev. Haines. People lined the streets between Union Station, the church, and Crown Hill. Between Meridian and Pennsylvania on Ohio Street, a line of Grand Army veterans formed on either side and assumed an "attention" position as the hearse and carriages passed. Former President Hayes, members of Harrison's cabinet, General Lew Wallace, and state and local government officials were in attendance. After the service at the church the cortege proceeded to Crown Hill Cemetery passing the Harrison's Delaware Street home along the way.

The family and President Harrison departed on the train back to Washington in the afternoon. Before leaving, President Harrison addressed a note to the newspapers thanking dear old friends and neighbors for their sympathy and love. Many visitors crowded Crown Hill Cemetery throughout the day.