The Boy In The Window

July 2017

Theodore Roosevelt, his widow recalled, watched Lincoln’s funeral from his grandfather’s house

Stefan Lorant has made a double reputation, as a picture-magazine editor in Europe and as an historian in America (The Presidency, Lincoln, The New World). In the pursuit of these two careers he has become the foremost iconographer in his field, with many discoveries to his credit in American pictorial history.

While editing photographs for a recent book on Lincoln, he studied the picture on the opposite page. Following is his own account of what he found:

The picture showed the funeral procession of President Lincoln. The place: New York; the date: April 25, 1865.

The street looked like Broadway. Comparing it with other prints, I was able to ascertain that the photographer exposed his plate facing the southwest corner of Fourteenth Street. I showed the picture to a friend of mine whose hobby is the study of New York’s streets and he pointed out that the house on the corner belonged to one of the wealthiest men in the city—Cornelius van Schaack Roosevelt. I looked in the city directory of that era and found that he was right.

Now the puzzle grew more exciting. Cornelius van Schaack Roosevelt was Theodore Roosevelt’s grandfather. In the second-story window two heads can be seen, apparently the heads of two children. Whom would a grandfather ask to such a celebrated occasion as a President’s funeral other than his grandchildren? If this reasoning was correct, the two little heads in the window would presumably be those of Theodore Roosevelt and his brother Elliott (Eleanor Roosevelt’s father). But how to find out?


Not long after this I had occasion to visit Mrs. Theodore Roosevelt at Sagamore Hill. I took the photograph with me and showed it to her. Aware that she had known her husband since earliest childhood, and hoping that she might have some recollection of the event, I asked Mrs. Roosevelt: “Did you ever hear that your husband saw President Lincoln’s funeral?”

She looked at the picture and the two little heads in the window. Her face lighted up as her memories jumped back to that day in 1865. She said, “Yes, I think that is my husband, and next to him his brother.” And then, chuckling, “That horrible man! I was a little girl then and my governess took me to Grandfather Roosevelt’s house on Broadway so I could watch the funeral procession. But as I looked down from the window and saw all the black drapings I became frightened and started to cry. Theodore and Elliott were both there. They didn’t like my crying. They took me and locked me in a back room. I never did see Lincoln’s funeral.”