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Bill Thayer

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Chapter 35

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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This site is not affiliated with the US Military Academy.

 p362  Chapter XXXVI
"The Way of Peace"

Impressive and touching simplicity mark the funeral services at the home and at the cathedral — Comrades of the world War bore his body — The vacant chair before the fireplace — Prayer that the high vision of a world at peace might be realized

"A bugle calling softly in the fading day told that Woodrow Wilson had passed today down 'The Way of Peace' to his earned and honored rest.

"It sang the same soldier requiem that once before, at the lips of the same loyal comrade, it sang to lull America's Unknown to his sleep in glory."

With these words the Associated Press commenced its account of the simple but impressive funeral of Woodrow Wilson, the remainder of the article being as follows:º

And as the bugle called, out over the hills that look down on the city, a stricken woman turned away from the entrance of the stone crypt down in the dim chapel, leaving her dead to the mercy of God.

At the end, there still stood beside the vault one staunch friend of the dead president, a friend who had battled death for him to the bitter end, who had shared in the great days of triumph, the bitter days of disappointment, even as now he stood to render the last loyal service. Not until the great slab of stone had been  p363 swung back to close the vault did Dr. Grayson end the vigil he has kept with Woodrow Wilson for more than a half score of years.

To‑night the somber casket of black steel lies in the western niche of the great vault below Bethlehem Chapel. Above, towering from the hillside, looms the gray mass of the cathedral. Below the lights of the city that has turned back from its day of sorrow to the crowding cares of life twinkle through the dark of an overcast night.

On p331, there is an aerial photograph of the partly built cathedral — just the choir — that may have been taken in 1924. If copyright was claimed and registered, and if it was renewed in 1951 or 1952, it just might be copyright thru the end of 2019; I have no ready means of checking this, and therefore don't reproduce it here. Nothing prevents me, however, from sharing it privately: e‑mail me.

© U. & U.º

Washington Cathedral

Where on February 6, 1924, the remains of America's most distinguished citizen were laid to rest

And on that casket, where the great dead lies alone at last for his endless rest, beside the plate that sets forth only his name and the days of his birth and death, there still lies the handful of soft-hued blossoms that were the last touching gift of the grief-worn widow.

Distant rumbling of saluting guns in the cloud-darkened dawn ushered in the day when the nation would pay to Woodrow Wilson the simple tribute that he had claimed of it. The busy life of the Capital surged on for a few hours before its course was checked in the last moments of silent respect for the dead. But to the door of the stricken home and into the dim chapel where the last rites would paid poured an endless stream of flowers that banked and overflowed every space with tender beauty. The names of kings and the great of the earth were on these tributes, and the names of loyal, humble friends and comrades.

As the hour of the double services drew on, thousands took their places along the way from house to chapel to stand long in the chill air, unmindful of the flurries of snow and rain that beat upon them. The wide avenue over which the dead War President would make his last journey was banked with people and kept clear of traffic until he should have passed.

 p364  Before the house, across the street, a solid rank of people had gathered before the first of those who would join with the family in the home service had arrived. They stood oblivious of cold, waiting to bare their heads a moment. Opposite them the guard of honor came to stand in the ranks before the house — soldiers, sailors, and marines.

Singly and in groups the little company that could be admitted to the house came and passed within. Thus came President and Mrs. Coolidge, the honor guard saluting as their Commander-in‑Chief passed to stand beside the bier of a dead colleague. Thus came others who had stood shoulder to shoulder with Woodrow Wilson in his days of greatness and came also those few humble ones who could not be forgotten at such a moment, the faithful friends of the old days.

Within, on the second floor of the house, flowers were everywhere. They covered the walls and sent their soft fragrance down from every niche and corner. There are three rooms and a short hallway on this floor, the living rooms of the house. Wide doors had been opened to make them one room, that all who should be present at this intimate service in the home privacy the dead man loved might at least hear what was said.

In the study, where a great vacant chair before the fireplace stood untouched since last he had sat there to ponder in the warm glow, the casket had been set. On the walls about clustered the old, trusty friends of many years, books ranking row on row from floor to ceiling save in the spaces where old pictures made sacred by ties of memory looked down. At one side stood the piano brought from the quiet, scholar­ly home at Princeton of those other years before greatness had found  p365 Woodrow Wilson out and called him forth to battle and to death.

It was among these surroundings of a quiet, home-loving thinker, the precious memory-laden things of home, that old friends were now gathering to pay him last honors. For a little while before the service began the casket was opened that a few who knew and loved him best might gaze a moment at the still, pain-worn face into which death had brought at last something almost of the placid look of the years long past. Not all of those who crowded the rooms had this opportunity. It was reserved only for intimates, of whatever station in life, who mingled in this silent company.

There was dim light in the rooms. The shades were drawn and only the soft glow of wall lights filled the chambers as those came who gently placed the steel covering above the tired face, and men had known their last sight of Woodrow Wilson. All of the rooms were filled and even the doorways blocked with those standing silently about.

Out in the hallway by the stairs stands a great clock, which ticked solemnly in the hush. As the President and the old friends and companions of the trying days at the White House grouped about the casket, the members of the family came down stairs, leaving only Mrs. Wilson and the two daughters of the dead President in the refuge of the landing above. The three clergymen took their places at the head of the bier.

The mellow chime of the great hall clock beat three solemn strokes through the stillness. As the last tone dwindled and died, Dr. Taylor, the pastor in Washington under whom Woodrow Wilson sat in all his years of Presidential greatness, raised his voice:

 p366  "The Lord is my Shepherd," he read, — the old, comforting words of the Twenty-third Psalm carrying out through all the rooms and up the stairs to the tearful women waiting there in deepest black. As he read, faint sobbing came from the landing where Mrs. Wilson's courage faltered for a moment in the long strain she had known.

As Dr. Taylor said the last word of the psalm there was a murmured "Amen" and he gave place to his colleague from Princeton, Dr. Beach, Mr. Wilson's pastor in those far-off quieter days. With raised hands, the minister bade the company to prayer, pouring out his earnest plea that Divine aid be given in the realization of the high vision of a world at peace the dead President had glimpsed. "Especially we call to remembrance Thy lovingkindness and Thy tender mercies to this Thy servant," the minister prayed. "For the wondrous vision Thou didst give him of universal peace and good will, for his zeal in behalf of the Parliament of Man, in which the mighty nations should be restrained and the rights of the weak maintained, for his unswerving devotion to duty, for his courage in the right as God gave him to see the right, for his unflinching integrity, for the fervor of his patriotism which ever flamed upon the altar of his heart, we give Thee thanks." There was sobbing again as he besought God's compassion on the grief-bowed family.

The prayer over, Dr. Beach gave place to Bishop Freeman, whose deep voice sounded the Scriptural quotations dearest to the dead leader. They had been copied from his little book of devotional exercises it had been his wont to read at night and stirred again the bitter grief of the widow and daughters.

 p367  "Now unto Him that is able to keep you from falling, and present you faultless before the presence of His glory with exceeding joy;

"To the only wise God, our Saviour, be glory and majesty, dominion and power, both now and evermore, Amen."

As the solemn words were spoken, the clock chimed the quarter hour and the simple home service of Woodrow Wilson, plain American, had been said as he wished it said.

Into the room came eight men from the honor guard, their sun-tanned youthful faces set in solemn recognition of the dignity and honor of the place that had been given them. They stood soldierly and erect a moment beside the black casket upon which now lay the cluster of orchids, Mrs. Wilson's favorite flowers, the flowers her dead husband often had sent her in the glad other days. Then the soldier, sailor, and marine comrades stooped and raised the fallen chieftain to bear him out for his last journey.

Outside, the other men of the guard had double-lined the short way across the sidewalk to the waiting hearse. As the house door swung back and the three clergymen stepped out to take their places beside the hearse door, up and down the steep, narrow street the multitude which had waited long for this brief glimpse uncovered in the chill air. The men of the guard stood at stiff salute as their comrades bore the casket down through the double rank and lifted it gently into the hearse.

Behind the casket came Mrs. Wilson in deepest black, with a thick veil guarding her sadness from curious eyes. She leaned on her brother's arm, and was helped into a  p368 waiting car that moved off at once down the hill behind the hearse. The honor guard was formed in rank on each side.

Next from the house came William G. McAdoo.​a The daughters of the dead President were supported on his arms as he helped them to the car awaiting them. Behind these came the other members of the family, the brother and nephew and those less closely akin to the dead. There was but one vacancy in the immediate family circle left by the place Mrs. Sayre, the third daughter, and her husband would have filled had time permitted their arrival.

Behind the family came President and Mrs. Coolidge, heading the group of distinguished men and old comrades who made up the funeral party. They were taken in the slow moving row of waiting cars and gradually the funeral train reached down to Massachusetts Avenue and swung around to the right for its slow journey up to the cathedral.

On p331, there is a photograph of President Wilson's funeral car proceeding down a street lined with crowds easily five, maybe ten or more deep. Since the photograph was taken in 1924, if copyright was claimed and registered, and if it was renewed in 1951 or 1952, it just might be copyright thru the end of 2019; I have no ready means of checking this, and therefore don't reproduce it here. Nothing prevents me, however, from sharing it privately: e‑mail me.

P. & A.º Photos

The last rites

The funeral procession of the nation's dead was marked by the utmost simplicity save for the guard of honor from the Army, Navy and Marine Corps and the many thousands who lined the way

There are few houses along the broad street in its two-mile tree-lined length to the cathedral close. Police and soldiers and marines were strung along the way to keep back the crowding thousands who stood in deep ranks on either side all along the way. The military guardians were without arms, but they and the police, as the cortège passed, silent but for the noise of its own motion, each rendered his stiff salute to the dead. Behind them in the ranks of citizenry that had waited so long, standing five and ten deep at every vantage point, heads were bared and there was weeping among the women.

It had taken long to get the funeral train in motion and still longer for its slow progress up the hill to wind  p369 in through the cathedral grounds to the chapel entrance past other thousands. Already the company that would take part in the last public ceremony was gathered in the narrow compass of the chapel. For an hour the organ had sounded from the building in mournful cadence, and as the funeral train wound in through the cathedral gate, the great chimes rang out in slow tones, sending the old, consoling melody of "Nearer My God to Thee," ringing through the chill air to catch the ear of many thousands in near‑by streets.

Within the chapel, banked with flowers, the Cabinet members and the diplomatic corps were already seated, and with them the delegation from Senate and House and those from societies of veterans. The only vacant chairs were those that awaited the funeral party. Scores stood for hours in the open space behind.

Led by the cross, the choir moved into the aisle leading to the altar, which was banked on either side with the flowers that filled every nook and corner and flowed over into the outer corridor, lining both sides of the approach to the chapel entrance. Thus between walls of bright blossoms the honor guard was lifting the casket down to bear it into its place at the rail.

It is over this outer door of the chapel, cut deep in the stonework, that the inscription, "The Way to Peace," is set. And through that portal of peace Woodrow Wilson was tenderly carried, with the clergymen walking ahead and the saddened widow following after.

As the casket was carried through the inner door and into the aisle, the choir moved slowly toward the altar in hushed silence. Then, from his place as he walked, Dr. Taylor raised his voice:

"I am the Resurrection and the Life, saith the  p370 Lord," he read, and on down through the Scriptural passages until the choir had filed on to its place beside the altar. The clergymen took up their stations, standing before the altar, the two Presbyterian ministers in their black gowns, the bishop and his colleague of the Episcopal cathedral in white vestments.

Just before them the body bearers set down their burden again and withdrew to join their comrades in the standing group at the back of the room. The black-gowned widow, the two daughters and the other members of the family moved to their places on the left, while President Coolidge and the honorary pallbearers and old friends turned to vacant seats on the right, where the Cabinet members already stood.

Then Bishop Freeman began the reading of the Thirty-ninth Psalm. "Lord, let me know mine end," the murmur of the response filling the dim chamber. He read through the lesson: "Now is Christ risen from the dead, and become the firstfruits of them that slept," and at the close, the choir sang softly, and without organ accompaniment, the dead President's favorite among the old hymns. Only the men's voices of the choir shared in the tender melody. The boys were silent.

"Day is dying in the West;

"Heaven is touching earth with rest."

The blending voices, led by a clear, pure tenor, gave the old hymn an infinitely sweet appeal and it seemed that Mrs. Wilson's head was bowed in tears behind her heavy veil.

"Gather us who seek Thy face,

"To the fold of Thy embrace,

"For Thou art nigh."

 p371  The last tones rang softly in the deep cut vaulting of the chapel roof, followed by the solemn chords of an "Amen" and then the Bishop led in the Apostles' Creed.

At the close, as he called the company to prayer, those who were seated sank to their knees with bowed heads until, with raised hand, he pronounced the solemn blessing that ended the service. The organ sounded again softly and the choir moved slowly out again into the aisle, around the sombre bulk of the casket with its single cluster of color. The chanting tones of the recessional hymn sounded: "The strife is o'er, the battle done." Following the choir went the clergymen, down the aisles and off to the right through the doorway, the chanting voices growing softer and softer in the distance and fading at last to a faint whisper as the door was closed:

"That we may live and sing to thee, Alleluia," came the last line, then the faint far-away chords of the last "Amen."

As the organ took up again its softly chanted note of sorrow, Mrs. Wilson was led by her brother out into the chapel robing room on the right and behind her went the members of the family to seek seclusion there until the chapel should be cleared for the private entombment. They did not need to pass through the thronged room again, a door close to the altar letting them escape that trial.

As they left, President Coolidge rose and moved out of the chapel, to be whirled away at once to the White House. Behind him the gathering slowly made its way out to the waiting cars, leaving the honor guard and those who would lift the great slab from the vault entrance all in the dim room.

None but the eyes of the dear ones and closest friends and of the religious comforters and the loyal comrades  p372 of the sister services saw this last moment. The vault entrance lies in the very center of the chapel floor and below it is the place of utter rest many feet down. It was not until the great stone had been put to one side and the honor guard men stood ready to lower the casket gently into the hands of the comrades waiting below to lift it to its secluded niche in the western end, that the family came back for that last farewell. The clergymen stood at the head of the entrance, while Mrs. Wilson took her place at the foot, facing the chapel altar.

At the last the Presbyterian ministers whom the dead man had worshipped with in life joined in saying over him the form of burial service his church knows. Bishop Freeman concluded the service, repeating verses from Tennyson's "Crossing the Bar," with its message of resignation and faith in God's goodness. Then the casket sank slowly into the stone work and from outside, beyond the double walls and where the gray end of a gray day was coming swiftly, the bugle rang out in "taps," the soldier farewell to a fallen comrade. There were only a few remaining about the chapel entrance as that last, clear message was sounded. They stood bare-headed and the soldier and marine guards at salute until the last note died.

Behind them in the chapel, Mrs. Wilson was sobbing as she turned from the vault with the members of the family to go back to the vacant, still house on S Street, where the great chair stood vacant beside the fireplace, and the books waited for the friend to come no more. She took heart, a little, to greet the handful of close friends who had waited without to offer her comfort in her sadness, but it was a grief-bowed woman who went back down the long hill into the city.

 p373  And at the vault still stood the friend and physician who had been with Woodrow Wilson through the years of greatness and world-wide acclaim and the years of pain endured with stoic fortitude that followed; the friend who had pledged his word to another woman in the White House years before, ere she came to her death, that he would watch over his chief to the end.

Not until the great stone had sunk again into its place did this friend turn away, his pledge redeemed to the uttermost.

The honorary pallbearers were: Cleveland H. Dodge of New York, Cyrus H. McCormick of Chicago, Dr. Edward P. Davis of Philadelphia, and Dr. Hiram Woods of Baltimore, all members of his Princeton class; Frank L. Polk, former under secretary and at one time acting Secretary of State; David F. Houston, former Secretary of the Treasury; Newton D. Baker, former Secretary of War; Josephus Daniels, former Secretary of the Navy; Albert S. Burleson, former Postmaster General; John Barton Payne, former Secretary of the Interior; Thomas W. Gregory, former Attorney General; William C. Redfield, former Secretary of Commerce; William B. Wilson, former Secretary of Labor, and Edwin T. Meredith, former Secretary of Agriculture. Vance C. McCormick of Harrisburg, Pa.; Bernard M. Baruch of New York; Norman E. Davis of New York; Jesse E. Jones of Houston, Texas; Dr. F. X. Dercum of Philadelphia and Winthrop M. Daniels of Princeton, N. J., all personal friends.

Senators Glass and Swanson of Virginia and Representatives Garrett and Hull of Tennessee. Charles S. Hamlin, former governor of the Federal Reserve Board; Robert Bridges, a classmate; and Rear Admiral Cary T. Grayson.

 p374  Major General Indicates a West Point graduate and gives his Class.Tasker H. Bliss, formerly Army Chief of Staff and a fellow member of the Peace Commission; Chief Justice William Howard Taft; Justice Louis D. Brandeis; John Sharp Williams; and Charles R. Crane.

The active pallbearers were: Sergeant Raymond M. Daugherty, Lincoln, Neb., who won the Distinguished Service Cross; Joseph Dloughy, San Francisco, Technical Sergeant; David Friesel, New York City, Staff Sergeant; William E. Wheaton, East St. Louis, Ill., Staff Sergeant; Sergeant James G. Bryant, Seattle; Corporal Harold L. Mitchell, Jarratt, Va.; James Chadwick, Roxbury, Mass., private, first class; Louis M. Kell, Baltimore, private, first class.

The Navy guard of honor and body bearers were drawn from the U. S. S. Mayflower. They were: Claud Alexander Ezell, Coxswain, Ware Shoals, S. C.; William La­fayette Cole, Radioman, Naples, Tex.; Oscar Herbert, Sailmaker's Mate, first class, Brooklyn, N. Y.; Arthur Francis Picard, Motor Machinist's Mate, first class, Windsor, Vt.; John Trellis Sharp, Coxswain, Morristown, N. J.; Roy Lester Sherman, Yeoman, third class, Dayton, O.; Louis Silbereisen, Quartermaster, first class, Elkridge, Md.; John Edward White, Seaman, first class, Oklahoma City, Okla.

The Marines were: Ellwyn C. Rowe, Gunnery Sergeant, Sidney, N. Y., who wears the Croix de Guerre with Bronze Star; Willard C. Clopton, Gunnery Sergeant, Smithland, Ky.; John J. Agnew, Staff Sergeant, Baltimore, Md.; John Dunn, Sergeant, Paterson, N. J.; Richard S. Perkins, Sergeant, Montgomery, Ala.; Jesse W. Coleman, Corporal, Lanett, Ala.; Paul O. Moyle, Sergeant, Elm City, N. C.; Frank J. Moran, Corporal, Syracuse, N. Y.

 p375  L'Envoi

The last words of the service were significant of a faith common to great spirits like Tennyson and Wilson. The poem repeated by Bishop Freeman was produced only a few months before Tennyson's death, and by his orders printed as a farewell at the end of every authorized edition of his poems. It is a fitting vale to a career of a great American whose idealism visioned a happier day for all mankind. Well does it express the sense of work accomplished and the simple faith in the Pilot to a brighter life:

Sunset and evening star,

And one clear call for me!

And may there be no moaning of the bar,

When I put out to sea,

But such a tide as moving seems asleep,

Too full for sound and foam,

When that which drew from out the boundless deep

Turns again home.

Twilight and evening bell,

And after that the dark!

And may there be no sadness of farewell

When I embark;

For though from out our bourne of Time and Place

The flood may bear me far,

I hope to see my Pilot face to face

When I have crossed the bar.

Thayer's Note:

a McAdoo was the husband of Wilson's daughter Eleanor (see Chapter 5); he would eventually divorce her and remarry: the article in Time on that occasion is enlightening.

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Page updated: 25 Oct 13