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Bill Thayer

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Chapter 33

This webpage reproduces a chapter of
The Life of Woodrow Wilson

Josephus Daniels

in the
Greenwood Press edition,
New York, 1971

The text is in the public domain.

This page has been carefully proofread
and I believe it to be free of errors.
If you find a mistake though,
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Chapter 35
This site is not affiliated with the US Military Academy.

 p356  Chapter XXXIV
The End of the Road

"The old machine has broken down" — "You've done your best for me" — "But it is better that I should die than live on, a helpless invalid" — "Tell Mrs. Wilson I want her" — "I am ready"

"There is a Providence to which I am perfectly willing to submit." — Wilson

It was on January 31 that the loving and trained eye of Mrs. Wilson observed that her husband was not as well as usual. Alarmed, she called in Dr. Sterling Ruffin, who had been one of his physicians since his first illness in 1919. Dr. Cary Grayson had gone for a brief hunting trip. He was summoned and hastily returned to Washington. After a consultation, Mr. Wilson was ordered to bed. He did not recover from the digestive disorder. He grew weaker and realized his condition. He looked death in the face unafraid, not with the spirit of a stoic, but with the fortitude of the Christian. His mind was clear. No pain benumbed his brain. Waiting for the end, his thought, as always, was first for his beloved wife. He watched for the moment (there were few such moments) when she was not in the room. His thin hand was stretched out under the covering. He drew Dr. Grayson close to him.

"The old machine has broken down," he said calmly and with difficulty. "You've done your best for me, but it is better that I should die than live on, a helpless invalid. Tell Mrs. Wilson I want her. I am ready."

 p357  The loving physician pressed the hand of the friend he was to lose so soon, not trusting himself to speak.

He called Mrs. Wilson, who was near at hand. Quietly and alone these two lovers and partners challenged the last words before his passing. He made known his wishes, but there was little he had not told her in the talks and drives of the months of close companion­ship. She understood. He understood.

That was Friday, February 1. Connected speech was never possible again. Beyond a whispered "yes" or "no" in response to inquiries about his comfort, he could not speak. After Saturday there was no recognition of those about him. The end came as of going to sleep. Loved ones watched and waited. They knew the loosing of the cords was near at hand. The inanimate things he had used — his cherished books, his cane (he called it "my third limb"), the golf sticks long unused — all had a new value to those who loved him.

The hush of the Sabbath came. The nation shared the suspense and anxiety of the watchers. Sympathetic friends wended their way to his home to inquire how went the last battle with "the lame lion of S Street." His brother Joseph, his daughter Margaret, and other loved ones shared the vigils of the loving wife. The faithful colored man who had served and loved him stood near. The minutes passed as his wife held his hand in hers until the pulse ceased. As the church bells summoned the nation to prayer the soul of Woodrow Wilson took its flight.

The War President was dead.

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Page updated: 16 Aug 08