December 1969 | Volume 21, Issue 1
(when Taft succeeded Teddy Roosevelt) (at one of the White House’s most unfortunate house parties)
The March rain appeared to be nothing more than the cold, cheerless, unrelenting rain of any winter. But time and place gave it a singular importance: Washington, D.C., the day before the inauguration of a new Republican President, former Governor General of the Philippines and Secretary of War, William Howard Taft. During the past two weeks skeletal scaffolding for seats had materialized all along Pennsylvania Avenue, the route of the Inauguration Day parade. The severity of the weather rendered pathetic and desolate these structures, which one Democratic observer dismissed as “crude and unsightly.” Decorations—flags, bunting, floral baskets—were drenched, desecrated by a savage east wind, their festive purpose defeated.
Theodore Roosevelt started this day, March 4, 1909, his last as President, with a customary hurried breakfast of hard-boiled eggs, rolls, and a large cup of coffee sweetend by saccharin. He then jogged downstairs and walked briskly to his office in the West Wing; there was not, as yet, any external evidence that this particular day was essentially different from any of the almost three thousand others T.R. had spent in the White House. But today well-wishers made up most of the crowd that had already gathered in the waiting room. Beyond it, in the thirty-foot-square office, mail to be signed rose in toppling-high piles on the President’s desk. The White House tennis court, where much of T.R.’s work had been conducted, was empty. This morning there was no meeting of the “Tennis Cabinet.” Instead callers came, brought by congressmen, and T.R. pumped their helpless hands with both of his and talked, as one observer noted, “with all his features working.” Today there was much lively raillery, and the laughter was louder than usual. It was a determined but tranparent attempt to keep T.R.’ last hours as President from being tainted by melancholy. Throughout the confusion, T.R.’ pace was not in the lest affected. He marched up and down—or sat on the edge of his desk, swinging his leg—as he dictated to William Loeb, his secretary.
One letter that was distinctively T.R. and was weighted with largess and solicitous coercion went to Will Taft, his successor. “Dear Will,” he wrote. “One closing legacy. Under no circumstance divide the battleship fleet between the Atlantic and Pacific prior to the finishing of the Panama Canal.”
The activity in the West Wing on that fourth day of March may have been more than the natural momentum of seven and a half years of uninterrupted frenetic activity, for T. R. had reached the point of admitting to himself that he was troubled about the close friend whom he had chosen to succeed him. He even expressed his doubts—curiously enough to a newspaperman. During the afternoon, in the process of saying good-bye, he escorted Mark Sullivan to the door. “He’s all right,” T.R. said of Will Taft. “He means well and he’ll do his best. But he’s weak. They’ll get around him. They’ll”—T.R. put his shoulder against Sullivan and pushed. “They’ll lean against him.”
But Taft still was a very close friend of T. R.’s. “The two men seem to have a personal affection for one another,” Archie Butt, T. R.’s White House aide, had observed. “It is beautiful to see them together.” And T. R. earnestly insisted that his friend would keep his policies alive, that on all fundamentals they were in agreement. To buttress this conviction with a special gesture, he had extended an invitation to Will and Nellie Taft to dine at the White House and to spend the night—literally to move in the evening before the inauguration.
In accepting this pre-inaugural invitation, Taft, clinging tenaciously to an old friendship, had written T.R.:People have attempted to represent that you and I were in some way at odds during this last two or three months; whereas you and I know that there has not been the slightest difference between us, and I welcome the opportunity to stay the last night of your administration under the White House roof and to make as emphatic as possible the refutation of any such suggestion. With love and affection, my dear Theodore.…
Mrs. Taft felt differently about the evening ahead. For Theodore Roosevelt was Nellie Taft’s nemesis. Dark suspicion pervaded her every thought of him. “The subject of my husband’s appointment to the Supreme Court,” she had written sardonically, “cropped up with what seemed annoying frequency.” What motivated T. R.’s persistence was patently clear to her: the desire to keep Will in the “groove” of a lifetime appointment to the court, and out of the Presidency. And even now Mrs. Taft viewed Roosevelt’s advocacy of her husband with distrust.
Early in their marriage Taft described his wife as his “dearest and best critic” and praised her for “stirring me up to best effort,” but as the inauguration drew nearer—relentlessly, inevitably nearer—Taft became irritable and unhappy. In spite of what he had written to T. R., he dreaded the evening ahead, an evening he was later to refer to as “that funeral.”
Taft’s amiability did not prevent him from abhorring politics. It was his wife, his brothers, and T. R. who were determined that he be President. Big Will Taft merely wished for the peace, the calm, the dignity, of a judicial career. Nonetheless, he now found himself only hours from the Presidency.
The dreary March weather matched Taft’s forebodings. Mrs. Taft sent understandably frantic wires to the atelier of Francis Smith and Company in New York City concerning the whereabouts of her white satin inaugural gown. Despite its intricacy—it was embroidered from bust to the end of its long train in a goldenrod design—and the lateness of the date on which she had ordered it, Mrs. Taft expected the gown to be delivered on time. She demanded of others the high standards and discipline that she demanded of herself.
A “ter all, there had been more than twenty years in which, as the wife of a government official whose salary was always unequal to the expenses his position entailed, Mrs. Taft had practiced a rigid frugality. But now the magnitude of her triumph in being the wife of a President-elect was evident in that she could bring herself to order three coats and wraps, a halfdozen hats, and four gowns in addition to the missing inauguration gown. Of these gowns, already arrived, Mrs. Taft chose one of white satin and tulle for that inescapable dinner with the Roosevelts.
Significantly, Mrs. Roosevelt’s gown for the evening was very different from the incoming First Lady’s; it was simple and it was black. But at least the two women agreed on one point. They both felt T. R.’s invitation for that evening was ill-advised.
Like Mrs. Taft, Edith Kermit Carow Roosevelt had an undemonstrative nature and held strong opinions. Always there was an air about her of the detached, amused observer, and there was no question that she regarded her husband as one would a child. At the White House table she often checked his exuberance with an emphatic “Theodorel” And his small-boy plea was invariably, “Why, EE-die, I was only…” No wonder that after the birth of her fourth son she said, “Now, I have five boys.”
As Mrs. Roosevelt in her black silk gown awaited the arrival of die Tafts, she was troubled about Theodore. Taft, she felt, shouldn’t have been “pushed into the Presidency.” And if that hadn’t happened, then her husband wouldn’t have felt the compulsion to go to Africa to hunt big game, to be so far away that no one could possibly say that he in any way controlled President Taft. Though he was young for an ex-President, T. R. wasn’t young enough, his wife was certain, for the hardships of big-game hunting. Mrs. Roosevelt believed that Theodore could hold his own with wild animals, but possible jungle fevers terrified her.
Her worry magnified irritations. Before T. R. was out of office, Mrs. Taft, in her eagerness, announced changes that she planned to make in the White House staff and stated that automobiles would displace all carriages. What aggravated the situation was that in spite of T. R.’s close friendship with Will Taft, Edith Roosevelt and Nellie Taft had never been friends. The relationship had been one of politely exchanged amenities. Just the day before, as Mrs. Roosevelt was showing Mrs. Taft around the White House, Mrs. Roosevelt heard her say in an undertone to a friend, “I would have put that table over there.”
The prospect of giving up this home was in itself emotionally upsetting. Even young Quentin said, “There’s a hole in my stomach when I think of leaving the White House.” With the exception of Quentin, in school in Virginia, and Alice, married to Congressman Nicholas Long-worth and living in Washington, the children—Kermit, Ethel, Archie, and Ted, Jr.—has already left for Oyster Bay by March 3.
Always the good hostess, Mrs. Roosevelt directed that all the fireplaces be lighted; when her guests arrived, she wanted the house to radiate welcome.
In a White Steamer, not by carriage, the Tafts arrived at the White House. Winter had stripped the trees lining the driveway on each side of the North Portico. Wet-black, their branches were powdered with snow that had begun to fall shortly after six that evening and that now sparkled with light reflected from the White House.
Soon after being admitted by attendants, a few minutes after eight, the Tafts were greeted by the President and his wife. Then the future occupants of the Executive Mansion were shown to the suite on the southeast side of the second floor, known in the White House as the Blue Bedroom—a large bedroom and bath, with an adjoining smaller bedroom.
Mrs. Taft found the view inspiring. Beyond the windows were the Washington Monument and the lights of a bridge stretching across the Potomac River, meeting the lights of Arlington and the darkness of the Virginia hills.
Downstairs the other guests were arriving: Admiral and Mrs. William Sheffield Cowles, Mr. and Mrs. Nicholas Longworth, Senator and Mrs. Elihu Root, Mabel Boardman, and Archie Butt. It was a close group, related by family ties or friendship, yet before the end of T.R.’s Bull Moose campaign of 1912, which would divide the Republican party and deny Will Taft a second term, everyone gathered in the State Dining Room that night would take sides in the conflict and become violent opponents.
Will Cowles, a portly figure in his well-cut naval uniform and gold braid, was an affable and gregarious gentleman. Nevertheless, it was his wife, Anna—T. R.’s eldest sister, usually called Bamie or Bye—who commanded attention. Despite the effects of a spinal injury in her infancy, made evident in a slight deformity, Bamie Roosevelt Cowles had the same incisive intelligence as her younger brother, the same political shrewdness. Had she been a man, her admiring niece Alice once contended, “ she would have been President.”
Alice herself was an original. Intellectually honest, with an easy, irresistible manner and a wit that took a mischievous delight in shocking conventional minds, she was predisposed to pleasure. At twenty-five she had a past that included getting drunk on rose wine in Peking, jumping fully clothed into a ship’s swimming pool, smoking cigarettes, and being a factor in a suit involving a scandal magazine that had reported she had entertained Newport gentlemen by dancing in her chemise.
The last of the five married couples assembled at dinner that evening were also the oldest: Elihu Root, senator from New York—formerly Secretary of War for McKinley and T. R. and Secretary of State for T. R.—and Clara, his “funny bustling little wife,” as Alice Longworth described her. Root, austere in appearance, could on occasion be moved to tears. He wore a thick gray bang cut square across his forehead, and had a well-equipped mind that T. R. admired enormously and a sardonic wit that delighted him.
The remaining two dinner guests, Mabel Boardman and Archie Butt, were unmarried. Miss Boardman—tall, formidable, and forty-eight—appeared a congenital spinster. Her devotion to Will Taft and his devotion to her were so well known that after his election her young friends had taken to teasing her, calling her “the Pompadour of the Taft administration.” “Now, Mabel,” they would exclaim, “you’re going to be a Power!”
Archie Butt, military aide to T. R., was at Taft’s request to remain in the same capacity in the new administration. His full name and rank, Captain Archibald Wiliingham de Graflenreid Butt, led the Roosevelt children to recite it with a downhill lilt and claim it sounded like “a big load of coal falling down the stairs.”
Intimate friends though they all appeared to be, grievances lay festering not far beneath the surface of their relationships. Of Senator Root, Mrs. Taft had declared, “As he is perfectly uninterested in me, I can never talk to him.” Rankling within her, moreover, was the conviction that T. R. actually preferred Root to her husband as the man to succeed him. And in Will Taft, too, there lingered in memory the jealousy he had felt when he had succeeded Root as Secretary of War only to hear Root’s virtues in that office extolled. Root’s mordant humor, which T. R. found so outrageously funny, Taft found merely irritating.
Other, more immediate tensions made the smiles stiff, the conversations self-conscious, and the dinner an ordeal. Mrs. Roosevelt avoided any reference to the fact that on the next day Mrs. Taft would be First Lady; there was no housekeeping talk. But disturbingly unavoidable was Alice Longworth, whose imitations of Mrs. Taft were by now a well-known and popular feature of Washington parties. Mrs. Taft’s animosities were rarely short-lived, and Alice’s mockery added fuel to her burning resentment of T. R.
Of all those present, T. R. alone spoke with ease. In lieu of conversa- tion, the President carried on a skilled monologue, and the evening somehow passed. The prediction of one guest that it would be “replete with interesting incident” was wrong. Though tears were seen to drop into Senator Root’s soup, the salad course was reached without overt drama. Then custom sent the women upstairs to the library for their coffee; the men, to the President’s study. There T. R., as always, addressed Taft as “Will” and, as always, gave him unsolicited advice. And Taft continued to address T.R. as “Mr. President.”
Before long, it was time for Taft to leave for the New Willard Hotel, where his fellow Yale men were having a smoker in his honor. “I hope, with nerve,” he was to tell them, “to be able to stand just criticism.… and not care a dern for unjust criticism.” However, one Yale man and future Taft critic, Giftord Pinchot, recalled the President-elect’s speech as “curiously full of hesitation and foreboding. I cannot remember a single confident note in the whole of it.”
Taft’s departure accelerated the exodus of the other White House guests. Archie Butt wrote his sister-inlaw later that night:Finally, there were left only the President, Mrs. Taft and Mrs. Roosevelt and myself. Mrs. Roosevelt finally arose and said she would go to her room and advised Mrs. Taft to do the same. She took her hand kindly and expressed the earnest hope that her first night in the White House would be one of sweet sleep.…
In the Blue Bedroom, which had once been Lincoin’s cabinet room, Mrs. Taft felt a sudden swell of pride as she settled down for the night. However, she lay sleepless, haunted not by the great tragedy of Lincoln and the Civil War but by a cloud of petty details. A messenger had arrived with her gown for the Inaugural Ball; but since she did not know this, it proved an admirable subject for worry. And then there was the despicable weather to fret about. The weather was Mrs. Taft’s special concern, because she had won her war with the Inaugural Committee: after her husband was sworn in, though it meant breaking all precedent, she would ride triumphantly back to the White House with him. Helen Herren Taft—not Theodore Roosevelt—would be sitting beside the twenty-seventh President of the United States.
The snow that had been light and innocent at six in the evening turned into a meteorological nightmare during the night: seventy-mile-an-hour winds toppled telephone and telegraph poles and yanked wires loose, isolating Washington. And the snow became heavy, fell endlessly, as from an inexhaustible feather bed. Washington trolley cars and trains heading into the capital became immobilized. The twenty Pullman cars bearing the 7th Regiment, for example, took up what appeared to the passengers to be permanent residence north of Baltimore.
More than communications and transportation were affected; the residents of Washington, upon aivakening in the morning, saw that the storm, instead of abating, had increased in violence.
Taft had returned early from the smoker the evening before, at eleven o’clock, but still he slept soundly in the morning. His need for sleep was great. Psychologically, sleep fit his temperament, reducing strife to an absolute minimum, offering procrastination without guilt. Public functions had always caused him to doze off. Inured to this, Mrs. Taft would dutifully nudge him awake to the reality of droning speakers.
When Taft finally did wake, he rose ponderously, reluctantly. The storm may have concerned him, but there was work to be done on his inaugural address, work that even he could not put off. The speech was too long, and he eliminated paragraphs, following a long-held theory of Mrs. Taft’s that “no audience can stand more than an hour.”
He did not eliminate a paragraph on tariff reform, which T. R. had regarded as too hot to handle and had left for his successor. “I shall call Congress into extra session to meet on the i5th day of March, in order that consideration may be at once given to a bill revising the Dingley Act.” And in the very second paragraph, he would speak of the reforms of his “distinguished predecessor” and say that “I should be untrue to myself, to my promises, and to the declarations of the party platform upon which I was elected to office, if I did not make the maintenance and enforcement of those reforms a most important feature of my administration.”
As to this intention, Jonathan Dolliver—the huge, shambling senator from Iowa, with a wit always sharp and ready for attack—was to say, “Yes, Taft carried out T. R.’s policies, carried them out on a shutter.”
T. R. greeted Taft genially when the President-elect came down to breakfast that morning. “I knew there’d be a blizzard when I went out,” T. R. said. “You’re wrong,” Taft replied with a chuckle, “it is my storm. I always said it would be a cold day when I got to be President of the United States.”
The President’s laughter, his display of energy, could not conceal that in merely a few hours he would no longer be President and that he was acting as host in a house that was hardly his. Inevitably, sadness and regret colored T. R.’s last full hours as President. But the verbal evidence seemed to prove that the affection felt by T. R. and Taft for each other was as strong as ever. In a souvenir brochure, a bonus accompanying each ticket for the Inaugural Ball, T. R. reviewed Taft’s career and concluded, “No man of better training, no man of more dauntless courage, of sounder common sense and of higher and finer character, has ever come to the Presidency than William Howard Taft.” Not to be outdone, that week a laudatory article by Taft had appeared in Collier ’s. Entitled “My Predecessor,” it stated: When the friction of the last few months shall have disappeared, the greatness of Theodore Roosevelt as President and leader of men in one of the great moral movements of the country’s history will become clear to everyone and he will take his place in history with Washington and Lincoln.
Now these two men, each eulogized by the other, finished breakfast. Then, posing for a photographer, they stood together on the South Portico of the White House in Prince Albert coats, Taft exuding a substantial joviality, T. R. jaunty with a flower in his lapel.
At about ten o’clock T. R. moved with the rapid, jerky short steps of silent movies from the main entrance of the White House. He wore galoshes, and Boston gaiters covered his legs in tight embrace from his feet to his knees. He also held an umbrella as he stepped briskly through the swinging glass doors.
Immediately, he started bowing and nodding vigorously. “Good-bye! Good Luck!” he said repeatedly to the numerous newsmen, photographers, and White House attaches as he made his way to the waiting carriage. Taft, in an overcoat with a fur collar, and wearing a silk hat, smiled and nodded, too. He evoked a picture of a child emulating an older one, reduced by age and status to a position of tagging along.
By nine-thirty that morning Pennsylvania Avenue had already been cleared of snow. To accomplish this, six thousand street cleaners had worked hard, goaded by the urgency of the deadline, and they had spread eighteen thousand pounds of sand.
Even before the avenue had been cleared, spectators began to gather. In the ground-floor window of an undertaker’s parlor near Tenth Street, four aged women sat immobile. With hands folded macabrely, they waited like mourners for the sights to begin. And people filled windows of upper stories, too; store windows had been emptied for this purpose and were being rented for ten to twenty dollars. The amounts paid by the Vanderbilts, Whitneys, and Senator Boies Penrose for the best view of Pennsylvania Avenue from hotel windows were described by an awe-inspired, reverential press as “mysterious.”
Spectators also filled the slushy streets. Thousands wore little cards that ordered gaily, “Smile, Smile, Smile,” for smiling had become synonomous with the big man who was about to become President.
The weather had wiped the smiles from the faces of men selling seats that had been erected outdoors; they were begging that three- and five-dollar ones be taken for a dollar. And ten-cent and twenty-five-cent sandwiches were eagerly being sold for two or three cents.
The principals responsible for all this anticipation and activity sat in their carriage, which had now started to move, drawn by four sleek, perfectly matched bays. Silk hats lent formality to the two Negroes sitting up high on the driving seat. Eight Secret Service men and four detectives from the metropolitan police force walked close beside the carriage.
As the procession emerged from the West Gate, applause sounded and was continuously renewed, and T. R. waved his silk hat at the window in acknowledgement. Taft obviously didn’t know what every politician knew: crowds must be flattered by recognition, if it be no more than a wave of a hand or a nod. During the entire trip, not once did the President-elect look out of the carriage or acknowledge the crowd.
All the way up Capitol Hill, spectators stood in slush; finally, they were rewarded for their patience and discomfort. The carriages arrived, and they saw T. R. and Taft climbing the broad Capitol steps together. But their pleasure proved momentary. It turned to disappointment and anger when government employees announced through megaphones that due to the inclement weather the inauguration ceremonies would be held in the Senate Chamber.
In the front row of the executive galleries at the south end of the chamber, the Tafts sat together. They were all there, too. Mrs. Taft sat arrayed in elegance. This high point in her life demanded elegance: large pearls in her ears, a string of pearls about her throat, a gown of mauve chiffon velvet. Seated on her right, in order of seniority, were Robert, a junior at Yale; then Helen, a freshman at Bryn Mawr; and then Charlie. Young, cheerful, freckle-faced Charlie had made it, though he had the problem of being excused from Taft School, his Uncle Horace’s school in Watertown, Connecticut, whose rules forbade absence on any account during the school year. Resourceful Uncle Horace had formulated a new rule: “Any boy whose father becomes President of the United States might be excused to attend the inauguration.”
Charles P. Taft, after whom young Charlie had been named, sat at his sister-in-law’s left. As she had provided the ambition for her husband’s presidential aspirations, he had provided the money. For eighteen years—from the time Will Taft was Solicitor General of the United States—his half-brother had subsidized him devotedly. The annual contributions had been from six to ten thousand dollars.
Directly behind Charles Taft sat Aunt Delia—white-haired, ancient, but with alert eyes and a new hat. She was Miss Delia Chapin Torrey, oldest sister of the President-elect’s mother, who had also determined that Will should be President.
At 11:45, with tne appearance of the justices of the Supreme Court, in voluminous black silk gowns and headed by Chief Justice Melville Weston Fuller, a stir spread through the galleries and chamber. The inauguration was getting under way. The justices filed in and were seated. The diplomatic corps followed, their elaborate trappings of gold lace, colored sashes, and jewelled orders contrasting sharply with the black frock coats and white linen of the American legislators.
This parading to seats consumed a half hour. Theoretically T. R.’s term of office had ended at twelve noon, and the United States had been without a Chief Executive for over fifteen minutes; no one had even resorted to the old subterfuge of turning back the hands of the clock to circumvent this predicament.
Shortly after 12:15 an announcement heralded the entrance of the President and the President-elect. Then, ceremoniously, a pair of senators and a pair of representatives escorted T. R. and Taft to chairs reserved for them. After being seated, as though continuing the tribalistic formality of their arrival, they looked straight ahead. Finally, Taft ignored the sacred ritual and glanced up at his family and smiled. But T. R., restrained by the inaugural’s prescribed rites, stared grimly ahead.
First came a prayer. Assisted to the platform, Edward Everett Hale, Senate Chaplain, beseeched God with a voice that trembled with infirmity and entreaty.
The prayer ended. Taft arose. For him to be unsmiling made him appear especially somber. He left his seat next to T. R. and walked to the platform. With Taft no longer beside him, T. R. appeared alone, isolated.
It was part of an ironic set of circumstances that Chief Justice Fuller should administer the oath of office to President-elect TaIt. Fuller, small, brisk, with silky white hair that draped on his shoulders, was a relic of another era: he had been appointed by his fellow Democrat Grover Cleveland, and his judicial qualifications were not highly regarded, particularly by T. R. and Taft. In 1904, when he had already sat as Chief Justice for sixteen years, T. R. circulated the rumor that he might retire “and that Governor Tat’t [then in the Philippines] would be a suitable man for the vacancy.” At a dinner given by Fuller, Mrs. Fuller directed a guest who was on his way to the Philippines to “tell Willie Taft not to be in too much of a hurry to get into my husband’s shoes.”
Now, at 12:55 on March 4, 1909, the infirmities of old age were apparent in the Chief Justice. He spoke the words of the oath, but they could not be heard by those assembled in the chamber. Taft, towering over him, repeated his apparent silences in a firm voice that could be heard by everyone on the floor and in the galleries. Then, instead of asking the Presidentelect to swear to “faithfully execute the office of the Presidency,” Fuller said “faithfully execute the Constitution.” (Standing next to Taft, Philander Knox, the incoming Secretary of State, whispered, “Don’t do it!”)
As soon as the last words of the oath, “defend the Constitution of the United States,” had died away, a signal flashed from the dome of the Capitol proclaiming that he had been sworn in. A ten-inch gun responded; it was in the navy yard, a mile and a half away. The boom it created was joined by every noisemaker in the District of Columbia: steam whistles, horns, rattles, cheers. And for fifteen minutes the manufactured echo of that boom continued, an arranged spontaneity insisting shrilly, raucously, deafeningly that the Taft administration was welcome.
“The office of an inaugural address,” President Taft was saying, while the festive noises in his honor continued, “is to give a summary outline of the main policies of the new administration so far as they can be anticipated.”
He then went on to deliver those paragraphs that he had not deleted that morning before breakfast. He would carry out his distinguished predecessor’s policies: fight the domination of trusts; revise the tariff downward; build a “proper army” and a “proper navy” that would insure peace; conserve ihe nation’s natural resources; protect workmen in industry.
Mrs. Taft sat throughout the ceremony with perfect poise and self-command. Serenity, it appeared, had completely displaced worry. But there were thoughts, and some dwelt on the eagerly anticipated ride back to the White House with the President of the United States, for she left immediately after his address in order to meet him in the Rotunda, from which place they would go to the carriage.
But she didn’t leave before T. R. had leaped to his feet and hurried up to lier husband, who later reported to her that T. R. had said, “God bless you, old man. It is a great state document.” (Mrs. Taft thought T. R.’s comment had been, “Bully speech, old man.”) “Goodbye and good luck, again,” T. R. said quickly. “I’m off.”
Rules forbade applause in the Senate Chamber, but it broke out for T. R. as he made a hurried exit, moving as though pursued. At this point the mood changed abruptly, becoming one of celebration, lor a vast number of cheering New York Republicans closed in on T. R., eager to accompany him the three short blocks to the new Union Station. They surrounded the double surrey in which he rocle with his secretary, William Locb, and marched along with it. Spectators also streamed on each side of the street and thus declared their devotion. And at the height of the whole emotional outpouring, a big brass band pounded and blew T. R.’s favorite tunes: “A Hot Time in the Old Town,” “Carry Owen,” and finally “AuId Lang Syne.”
During the two-hour wait at the station, there was an impromptu reception in its presidential suite. And shortly after 3:00 T. R. and Mrs. Roosevelt made their way to the parlor car “Clyde.” To the three thousand people present—two rows, a dozen deep, lining each side of the station—T. R. declared that while he had had a “bully time” as President, he was glad to lay down the duties of office. “Good-bye, all,” he said, lifting his hat. “Good luck to you.”
As the train pulled out, those lining the platform fortified themselves and each other by repeating a comforting phrase, “He’ll be back! He’ll be back!” These emotional farewells substantiated Irvin S. Cobb’s observation that “you had to hate the Colonel a great deal to keep from loving him.”
As the train took T. R. to Oyster Bay, Taft, in furcollared coat and silk hat, stood in the reviewing stand watching the parade in his honor. Not to keep people waiting in the cold for the parade, he had hurried lunch. Mrs. Taft was there beside him, bundled up in a heavy fur coat, not wanting to miss any aspect of the inauguration. Earlier, when she had reached the White House after the trip from the Capitol, she had stood in the entrance hall on the great brass seal that was imbedded in the floor. Around it were the words, “The Seal of the President of the United States.” After reading them she thought (as she said later), “And now that meant my husband!”