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President Benjamin Harrison - page 4 / 5





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The Kregelo Brothers embalmed the body in the bedroom around six o’clock and left him there for the night. By the next day, Indianapolis was preparing itself for a great funeral. Buildings were covered with black bunting and the greenhouses ran out of flowers as arrangements were sent to the house, many of which had to be left outside. Harrison’s body was moved from the bed into a solid cedar casket, which was completely lined with copper, and placed on its white silk upholstery. Using its six massive silver handles, the casket was moved in front of the large southward facing windows of the bedroom on Thursday afternoon and to home’s front parlor on Friday evening. The Kregelo Brothers spent Friday night, from 8 p.m. to 2:30 a.m. moving flowers, fourteen wagon loads in all, from the house to the State Capitol Building where the body was to lay in state on Saturday.

In the meantime, Crown Hill Cemetery was preparing the burial place next to his first wife. A sturdy mahogany box, built inside a larger box of granite slabs, was built to serve as a vault.

At noon on Saturday, the body was moved to the Capitol Building, accompanied by the pall bearers, Indiana National Guard, and surviving members of Harrison’s 70th Indiana Volunteers. These men took turns standing guard during the public viewing as about 100 people per minute filed by in two lines from 1:00 p.m. to 10:00 p.m. Many more were waiting to enter the rotunda, richly decorated with flowers, flags, black crepe, and a large portrait of Harrison by T.C. Steele, when the doors were closed. The body went back to the house while the industrious Kregelo Brothers began moving the flowers to the First Presbyterian Church at the southwest corner of Pennsylvania and New York Streets. (The huge bell in its tall steeple was last tolled for his funeral. A Tiffany stained glass window in his honor at its new building is now prominently displayed at the Indianapolis Museum of Art.)

President McKinley arrived by train at 6:30 a.m. on Sunday and was the guest of Governor Wilfred Durbin and Senator Charles Fairbanks until the funeral began at 2:30 p.m. He and the other honored attendees arrived at a church draped in black on the outside and, like the capitol, draped with black festoons touched with white silk, flags, flowers, palms, and potted plants, on the inside.The Reverend Doctor M.L. Haines, pastor of First Presbyterian, where Harrison had been an elder for over forty years, gave the funeral sermon, assisted by the Reverend Doctor Samuel Niccols of Second Presbyterian, who read scripture. Kin Hubbard, later creator of Abe Martin of Brown County fame, but then a newspaper reporter, found a seat behind the honorary pallbearers, which included men like James Whitcomb Riley and Booth Tarkington. During a prayer by a visiting clergyman that seemed to drone on and on, he saw that several of the pallbearers were overcome by paroxysms of laughter that they just barely able to contain by stuffing handkerchiefs in their mouths. The cause, he learned, was Riley, who grew so weary of the prayer that he began to whisper to his companions remarks such as “He’s explaining to God all about Ben so God will know how to get along with him.—Now he’s got program laid out to keep God busy for the next couple o’ years.”

The mostly solemn service over, a long, slow procession was started to the cemetery. It arrived just a little after 5 p.m., not long before sundown. With the pallbearers standing to the north, the family to the west, and President McKinley and the clergy standing at the head of the casket, a short graveside service was conducted. Then Crown Hill’s workmen gently lowered the casket into the vault using long strips of webbing. They screwed shut the mahogany vault lid and then cemented the last 1,200 pound granite slab in place over the top of the vault. Mrs. Harrison, who had been standing quietly by during all this activity, began to sob, and all the rest, including President McKinley, were visibly moved. Gradually, the funeral party began to depart and by 6:15 only Crown Hill workers and the Kregelo brothers remained as the grave was filled in and the site covered with flowers.


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