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When News of Grant's Death Reached Dayton


This article appeared in the Dayton Daily News, October 21, 1934


When News of Grant’s Death Reached Dayton

By Howard Burba


                Next to the tragic death of Lincoln, the passing of no citizen of national prominence has brought more grief to Dayton that that of Ulysses S. Grant, and no date in local history is more vividly remembered by scores of Daytonians than that memorable morning of July 23, 1885, when news of his death was received here.

            Losing Lincoln meant the loss of a great national benefactor. Grant’s death meant the removal of a close personal friend. Few in Dayton were able to boast having enjoyed personal touch with Lincoln; scores had met and personally conversed with Grant, and the additional fact that he was a native of this state, and that his birthplace and the scene of his boyhood days was within easy distance of this city, served to make their grief more sincere and his death more keenly felt.

            Not only had Grant made personal visits to various parts of the Miami valley, but it was under his administration that the National Military Home in Dayton actually received its first substantial encouragement. He had a deeper personal interest in this institution than any man who has sat in the presidential chair since the Home was erected. Among its very first residents were soldiers who had served under him and fought alongside him. It was but natural that his interest in them and in their welfare should have served to keep him directly interested and in close touch with them.

            It was the suddenness of Lincoln’s death which shocked the nation. The passing of Grant was not unexpected. The nation was prepared for the sad news many weeks before it came. Yet even the fact that they were forewarned served but little to assuage the grief of Dayton citizens, and when at 8:30 o’clock on the morning of July 23 a telegraph key in the old union station clicked out the sad news they were visibly affected. Forty-nine years have passed since that message reached Dayton, yet there still remain many who recall the sorrowful scene which followed in its wake.

            Back in the files of a local newspaper we find a word-picture of that tragic day in the nation’s history. Let us turn to it for a moment, since it now has become a part of local history. Under date of July23, 1885, we find the local newspaper with “turned rules.” That is, instead of the faint line which separated the newspaper columns by what is known in newspaper offices as “column rules,” these lines were long black strips of mourning border. The effect was gained by turning the column rules upside down, the reverse face printing a line three times the width of the ordinary column rule, thus giving the entire page of the paper an unusual and in a way, tragic appearance.

            In the lead column of this black-ruled issued we read this story of how Grant’s death was received in Dayton:

            “The mournful words were received in Dayton Thursday morning at half-past 8 o’clock ‘Grant is dead!’ and in an few moments it was learned by everyone. The months of suffering and the progress of his disease had been closely watched and all knew that the end was near, yet dreaded what must come. But a few minutes after the news had come all the bells in the city were tolling and the fire department bells rang mournfully 63 taps, at intervals of 35 seconds between each tap. As the deep echo of the central bell died out the smaller bells at the western and eastern houses took up the sound and the sharp ring of the alarm gongs followed. Those who knew not why soon guessed the meaning.

            “At the newspaper offices anxious inquiries were made and little groups collected on the corners, discussing the end of the great man’s life, referring to his glorious deeds and wondering who could be greater. Business was stagnated, and every citizen seemed to realize that the greatest man of the 19th century had died. There was none to say aught or speak ill of him, but thousands to praise his manhood. His military record was rehearsed, his qualities as a statesman were applauded and his career as a citizen lauded as a type of the true American. All remembered when one was needed, and that one was found. They had followed him, drifted from him, and in his serious sufferings returned again to hail the glorious man, and now to mourn his death.

            “The men of ordinary walks and leading citizens had but one opinion. He was the greatest military chieftain of the age, a good citizen, a noble statesman and a true friend. He had at heart his nation’s welfare, and his magnanimity seemed inspired from heaven. Soldiers at the Home spoke of the glory of following him; citizens remembered the joy of his victories.

            “The profound feeling that pervaded the thoughts of each person made the streets of Dayton appear sorrowful, and emblems of mourning that began to drop from the buildings showed the great reverence of local people for the nation’s dead. Owing to the continuous rain many people deferred the draping of the buildings until today. The first flags that appeared looped at the center appeared at the Buckeye Iron and Brass Works, Third st. and the canal, and from the newspaper offices. A few minutes later the headquarters of the Grand Army of the Republic had a flag at half mast and were at work draping flags about the windows.

            “Mr. James Ritty covered the Pony House in festoons of crepe and flags. Mr. H. C. Eversole looped a large flag in front of his store and in the center window placed a picture of Gen. Grant and draped the window with a shroud. Mr. Chas. E. Howell dropped the flag at his doorway to half-mast. Among the residents who put up emblems of mourning was Mr. Charles Kidd, of May st.

            “The flags at the Soldiers’ Home were draped at half mast as soon as word was received there and measures will be taken today for proper observance. The government, city and county buildings were neglected, but will be attended to today. At the courthouse the flags were prepared but were not put out on the account of the heavy rain. All the merchants will drape their buildings today and a citizens’ meeting will be held at the City hall this afternoon. The school board passed an appropriate resolution of respect and sorrow at the nation’s loss. “

            The call of the mayor for a mass meeting of citizens on the following afternoon was noted in an issue of the following day, Friday. It found a throng of sorrowing townsmen gathered in the city hall, each deeply interested in the preparations to be made for an appropriate public observance of Gen. Grant’s funeral. There was not a seat left in the hall, and but little standing room remaining when Mayor Bettelon arrived at 3 o’clock and proceeded to call the meeting to order.

            In a few words he stated the purpose of the meeting and then asked that a permanent chairman be selected, that formal steps might be taken toward framing a program. Samuel Craighead was chosen and A. D. Wilt, for years connected with a business college here which bore his name, was made secretary. Maj. W. D. Bickham, editor and owner of a local newspaper and himself a Civil War soldier of distinction, moved that a resolution of condolence be immediately dispatched to Mrs. Grant. It was Maj. Bickham’s hand which indicated the following telegram that the assemblage ordered dispatched without delay:


            “Dayton, Ohio, July 24, 1885. Mrs. U. S. Grant,

            “Mt. McGregor, N. Y.:

            “The citizens of Dayton, O., in mass meeting assembled, beg leave to tender you and your family their heartfelt sympathy.”


            The message was signed by Chairman Craighead and Secretary Wilt. H. R. Parrott then moved that a committee of ten be appointed to secure the skating rink, then located on the present site of Steele high school, or the opera house, now the Victory theater, in which to hold a great public observance on the day of the funeral. Later the committee changed the location to Library park, since it soon became apparent that no public hall in the city would be of sufficient size to accommodate the crowd that would be in attendance.

            L. B. Gunckel moved that the mayor of the city be made chairman of the committee on arrangements, and the chair then named these well-known citizens to constitute it: Mayor Bettelon, Gen, T.  J.  Wood, Rev. W. J. Shuey, George Neder, Rev. H.  J. McDevitt, W. D. Bickham, H. R. Parrott, Col. J. G. Lowe, L. B. Gunckel, A. C. Marshall and John Mull.

            Ed Matthews moved that a request be made through the newspapers to citizens generally to drape their business houses and residences in symbols of mourning, and that the custodians of all public buildings be instructed to take similar action. All business men were requested to close their places of business on the day of the funeral.

            The first public service of tribute to the distinguished dead was held on Sunday evening, July 26, at Broadway Tabernacle, while arrangements were being made for the general memorial later on, when the date of the funeral should become definitely known.

            The tabernacle, with a seating capacity of more than 1000, was crowded that Sunday night. “The grief of those in attendance,” wrote the reporter on the following day, “was not so much displayed by drapery as it was by the sad, sorrowing words of the speakers and the tears of the listeners.”

            D. G. Brown served as chairman of the memorial meeting at the old Broadway Tabernacle, and after prayers by Rev. S. M. Clayton of Davisson Chapel and Rev. Mr. Zwick, a memorial address was delivered by Judge Elliott, at that time one of the city’s leading jurists.

            “A graduate of the log cabin,” said Judge Elliott, “a plow boy, a wood hauler, a military man, an humble servant of his people, with Gen. Grant war was neither a pastime nor a play. Purity and genius were his characteristics in statesmanship , and his heroism in the face of death was sublime.”

            Brief and touching addresses were also delivered on that occasion by L. B. Gunckel and S. O. Royal.

            Out at the Soldiers’ Home, where the loss of the gallant military man was most keenly felt, arrangements for a fitting memorial service were also under way. W. B. Franklin, president of the board of managers of the Home, issued an official order than on the day of the funeral all work and exercises at the Home, except such as might be necessary for the comfort of the members, should be suspended. Col. J. B. Thomas, treasurer and acting governor of the Home, then announced a program of exercises which was carried out at the Memorial Hall on the Home grounds on the afternoon of Saturday, Aug. 8, the day selected for the burial of the dead soldier-statesman.

            The Home band was present for the occasion, and vocal selections were rendered by a quartet consisting of Miss Agnes Stout, Miss Emma Mercer, George Peters and Charles N. Peters. The opening prayer was by Rev. J. H. Greybeill and the memorial address, beautiful and touching, was delivered by Rev. William A. Hale, of the Reformed church.

            On Saturday, Aug. 8, all Dayton turned out to pay its tribute of respect to the departed. The funeral was being held that day in New York, and towns and cities throughout the entire Union decided upon the same hour of the funeral, 3 p.m., as the most appropriate time for holding their local memorial services. Describing the scene here a local paper said:

            “Precisely at 1 p.m. Saturday there was a chill of sorrow sent through the hearts of Dayton people by the tolling of fire and church bells announcing the burial of Gen. U. S. Grant. The dead hero came into prominence by the surrender of Donelson and, from then until the moment of his peaceful death he grew in the confidence, admiration and love of the nation.

            “Dayton, mindful of his services in peace and war, paid a just tribute to his memory soon after his death in a citizens’ meeting. Public buildings, many of the business houses and private dwellings were appropriately draped.

            “Promptly at 12 o’clock minute guns began firing; most of the business houses closed and the shops shut down for the day. Soon after noon men, women and children began to gather on Main st. from Fifth to the monument, and at the park. It is estimated that there were 20,000 people on Main st. to witness the procession. Notwithstanding the great heat, an immense crowd also gathered at the park. At 3 o’clock a procession was formed on Fifth st., the right resting on Main, in the following formation:

            Squad of city police, grand marshal and aides, Metropolitan band, Old Guard Post G. A. R., Dister Post, G. A. R., Hiram Strong Post, G. A. R., Great Western band, Dayton division Uniform Rank, K. of P., Humboldt division, U. R. K. P., Iola division, U. R. K. P., Big Eight band, Dayton Turngemeinde, United Brothers of Friendship, fire department, with engines and reels, fire commissioners, city officials and members of council.

            “At 3:20 p.m. the procession began to move, north on Main to the monument, then countermarching to Second st., east on Second to Jefferson, south on Jefferson to Third and east on Third to Library park.

            “Many felt that a public parade was not the most fitting thing to do and took no part in it, while others remained out on account of the heat. Though not as large as anticipated, it made a fine appearance as by slow and solemn tread it moved through the crowds. On its arrival at the park it was received by thousands who had gone there before.

            “The stand had been greatly enlarged and was beautifully draped. A large number of our prominent citizens were present on the stand, among them many of the city pastors. The services at the park throughout were solemn and interesting, and the large crowd remained to the close. Gen. S. B. Smith had charge of the services. The prayer of the afternoon was delivered by Rev. Prentiss DeVeuve, after which the Masonic quartet sang “Consolation.” The quartet consists of James Breneman, J. E. Bimm, J. N. Bell and W. L. Blumenschein. Selections from the Scriptures were read by Rev. G. A. Funkhouser.

            Col. John G. Lowe was then introduced, delivering a beautiful memorial address. Following a solemn tribute to the departed was paid in an address by Hon. George W. Houk. The principal address was by Rev. R. H. Rust, who spoke on “The Public Services of Gen. Grant.” The benediction was by the Rev. Dr. Herr.”

            Insofar as Dayton was concerned, there was no harsh note to mar the observance of the great man’s passing. There was considerable bitter partisanship in some sections of the country at that time, however, and deep political animosities crept in at some points to mar the spirit of mourning in which the nation, as a whole, was steeped. As proof of this we take the following news dispatch from the local newspaper files of the day following Grant’s death:

            “BUCYRUS, O., July 24. – The citizens here commenced to drape their places of business and to halfmast their draped flags ere the dead general was cold in death. Certain young citizens of the Finley Guards, and of both political parties went to their captain, A. R. Bell, and asked that he order their regimental flag to be draped and duly exhibited. This Capt. Bell declined to have done saying that ‘It was a political matter anyhow and that Gen. Grant had been no better than G-d d-n thief.’ It is said that the Bucyrus Journal will consider such contemptible ruffianism beneath serious notice, but that tomorrow it will publish the following:


            “Dead, in his mountain home, an eagle, lay

            And nations mourned a hero passed away;

            Ere cold in death, a loathsome maggot fell

            And strove to taint him; this was A. R. Bell.”


            The spirit in which Dayton paid her tribute to the memory of the nation’s dead was marked in contrast to that which inspired the dispatch from Bucyrus. True, men there were in Dayton who differed from Grant politically. But none could be found who did not respect him, who did not recognize his military genius and loyalty to the Union. These men, too big to allow their political opinions to blind them to the truth, recognized in the passing of Grant the loss of a noble and a brilliant American. Their grief was sincere, and their tears mingled with those of their fellowmen as they stood with bared heads in Library park to mourn the going away of one who was very close to their hearts.