Benjamin Harrison became president during a pivotal time in our country’s history. While no wars were declared or armies massed, significant national issues divided the electorate and redefined party platforms. Here are some of the ways that President Harrison played an important role in the dawn of the modern era:
Harrison had the first peacetime billion-dollar budget.
For the next few decades, the budget did not significantly increase. Even in 1860, it was under $100 million. The budget increased drastically during the Civil War, rising above $1 billion in 1865, then shrinking to $293 million by 1870. When Harrison took office, the government was running a surplus. There was concern that so much government money was a drag on the economy. Harrison thought the best way to get the money back in circulation was to expand veteran pensions, including pensions for widows and orphans. Other ideas were put up for discussion as well.
With a majority in both houses of congress, Harrison and Republican legislators were able to enact much of their agenda. The 51st congress passed 531 laws, an unprecedented level of accomplishment unmatched until Theodore Roosevelt’s second term. Henry Cabot Lodge wrote, “No Congress in peace time has passed so many great & important measures of lasting value to the people.” Significant measures relating to reorganizing the federal courts, tariffs, internal improvements, and naval expansion were approved. Harrison also signed the Sherman Anti-Trust Act “to protect trade and commerce against unlawful restraints and monopolies,” the first Federal act attempting to regulate trusts. For better or worse, Harrison‘s activism can be seen in the increase of federal workers. In 1871, the federal government employed 51,000 people, but 20 years later in 1891, more than 157,000 people worked directly for Uncle Sam.
Obviously, all of this activity had a cost attached to it. For the first time except in war, Congress appropriated a billion dollar budget in 1890. When critics attacked “the billion-dollar congress,” Speaker Thomas Reed flippantly replied, “Well, this is a billion-dollar country.” His remark sparked criticism from those who felt that the government was consuming too much of the nation’s financial resources.
Harrison was the first president to receive votes from women. New Jersey briefly gave women the right to vote from 1804 to 1807. In that era, people did not vote directly for a president, but rather for electors pledged to support a certain candidate. The Territory of Wyoming, when it was first incorporated in 1869, tried to entice more women to relocate themselves to a rugged west by offering them suffrage. This right was maintained when Wyoming became the 44th state in 1890. Historian George Noles wrote that, “Wyoming gave women the right to vote in all elections; consequently in 1892, for the first time, women voted in a presidential election.” but that’s not the case. Cleveland was off the ballot in Wyoming and five other western states. This was because of the third-party Populists, who felt that their message would resonate more if they won some electoral votes. They made a deal to support the Democratic state candidates if the Democrats removed level and from the ballot. So in Colorado, Idaho, North Dakota, Nebraska, Kansas and Wyoming, it was a Harrison vs. James Weaver contest. Weaver carried five of the six states, but Harrison prevailed in Wyoming. So the first time women could vote in a US presidential
election, they voted for Harrison!
Yellowstone National Park was established by Congress on March 1, 1872. In the summer of 1880, while traveling to Montana to visit his son, Harrison met up with a party that included Senator John Sherman of Ohio and the artist Albert Bierstadt. The group was on its way to Yellowstone, and invited Harrison along. They stayed at Marshall’s Hotel near the Old Faithful geyser, the first hotel built at Yellowstone. Awestruck, Harrison spent several days there, and fell in love with its amazing landscape.
Although a formal park system wasn’t launched until 1916, Harrison got the process started with the National Forestry Reserve Act of 1891, which gave the president the authority to protect western lands from development or exploitation. He preserved more than 13 million acres through this legislation, opening the first urban park (Rock Creek in Washington, D.C.), the first military parks (Chickamauga and Chattanooga), and the first national park in Alaska (Sitka).
Benjamin Harrison’s legacy extended beyond the legislative—he also helped shape our national conscientiousness and sense of self as a nation:
Why did it take so long to get a Christmas tree in the White House? The custom of decorating a Christmas tree was first introduced in Germany during the late 18th Century. It became popular in America in the 1840s, thanks in part to Queen Victoria’s German husband Prince Albert. A woodcut of the British Royal family at Windsor Castle became the first widely circulated picture of a decorated Christmas tree in America. By the 1870s, putting up a Christmas tree had become common in America. Franklin Pierce was the first President to decorate a White House Christmas tree, but he made no attempt to publicize it. The tradition was not begun in earnest until the presidency of Harrison. On Christmas morning in 1889, the Harrison family gathered in the second-floor Oval Room and stood around a tree decorated with glass ornaments, toy soldiers, and lit candles. The Harrisons played an essential role in setting the stage for this tradition. The first family’s Christmas tree is still set up in the same location in the White House chosen by the 23rd President.
American Presidents have a long connection with professional baseball. On June 6, 1892, Harrison became the first to attend a major league game, during which the Cincinnati Reds defeated the Washington Senators 7-4 in 11 innings. One newspaper remarked disparagingly that “the President’s presence did not help the home team much.” (Given Harrison’s birthplace, he might have been rooting for the Reds!) Three weeks later, on June 25, Harrison saw his second game. Once again, the Senators were defeated, this time by the Philadelphia Phillies, 9-2. Sporting Life, a weekly baseball publication, featured a front page article about both games attended by Harrison. The article described Harrison as “a great lover of baseball.” It was at a baseball game at Stanford that future president Herbert Hoover had his first “brush with greatness,” as he described it, when he collected President Harrison’s ticket fee in the stands.
Francis Bellamy, writer of the Pledge of Allegiance, was also Chairman of the executive committee for the National Public School Celebration of Columbus Day in 1892. In this capacity, he asked President Harrison to endorse two agendas: the flying of the U.S. flag over every school, and the education of the country’s youth about the concept of patriotism. With Ellis Island about to open for the first time to new immigrants, the president heartily agreed. On June 21, 1892, he signed the proclamation that stated “Let the National Flag float over every school house in the country and the exercises be such as shall impress upon our youth the patriotic duties of American citizenship!” On Columbus Day, 1892, the first Pledge of Allegiance was published with the president’s approbation.
Our No “Compact of Silence:” Black Civil Rights in the Harrison Era exhibition covered a host of civil rights advocates.
In 1888, Whitelaw Reid, who was Benjamin Harrison’s running mate for the upcoming presidential election, asked Harrison about his thoughts on Black voting rights and the unrest and active suppression in the Southern States. Harrison replied, “I would not be willing myself to purchase the Presidency for a compact of silence upon this question.”
This special exhibit highlighted national and local Black civil rights activists during President Benjamin Harrison’s term in office (1889-1893). It explored the complex dynamics of race in late 19th century America, including the World’s Columbian Exposition in 1893 in Chicago, anti-lynching laws and movements, and Black voting suppression. Prominent individuals featured included Frederick Douglass, Ida B. Wells, William D. McCoy, Dolly Johnson and many more local and national advocates.
The exhibit was open to the public from January 28 through November 1, 2022 and was made possible through the Benjamin Harrison Presidential Site’s New Century Curator collaboration with the IUPUI Museum Studies program. The initiative seeks to share the Presidential Site’s nationally significant collection in meaningful and relevant ways, while providing unique opportunities for emerging museum professionals to engage in collaborative training, hands-on experience, conservation, preservation, and innovative exhibit design.
Since John and Abigail Adams first entered it in 1800, the White House has been home to familiar people who we love to call our own. We know the first family’s personalities, their quirks, the children and grandchildren. And yet, eight presidents and three first ladies have passed in the White House, causing us to also share in their grief. This special exhibit spanned two centuries of the lives–and deaths–of some of the country’s most beloved, controversial and, ultimately, mourned individuals.
“Who Do You Think They Were?” was our 10-month major exhibition in 2014. Harrison heritage is part of United States history. The family helped shape the nation and, in turn, events of their times shaped Benjamin Harrison and his extended families. The exhibit featured family treasures including a letter from Benjamin Harrison V, a lock of John Neal’s hair, Mary Harrison McKee’s DAR applications and certificate, Mary Lord Harrison’s passports, and early genealogy charts.
A shipyard owner, an exporter, a plantation owner, a Major General, a farmer, a congressman, an artist, a graduate of Clinton Academy, a Presbyterian minister, a college professor, and a man and his two daughters all struck by lightning on a fateful July 12, 1745…
Who do you think they were?Learn more about the Harrison Family Tree
“Raising the Hem: Historic Fashions of American Nobility” was our 10-month major exhibition in 2013. It featured dresses of several First Ladies including Caroline Harrison, Mary Lincoln, Grace Coolidge, and Mamie Eisenhower, just to name a few. Many were on loan from the National First Ladies Library. Dresses were rotated during the exhibit with 20 or more on display at any one time.
Dresses, capes, hats, shoes, fans and purses of White House ladies were among the features of Raising the Hem. Guests of all ages will become immersed in the exhibit’s interactive components, which include a life-sized paper dress-up doll, a touch table with decorative fans and a “write-in” activity for those wishing to leave a written mark. Raising the Hem featured: Grace Coolidge, Mamie Eisenhower, Julia Grant, Florence Harding, Harriet Lane, Mary Lincoln, Mary Arthur McElroy, Jane Pierce, Edith Roosevelt, Eleanor Roosevelt, Helen Taft, Bess Truman, Edith Wilson, Caroline Harrison, and Mary Harrison McKee.
More changed in the lives of women than a simple hemline during the 100 years represented. As women’s social status changed and they entered the work force, their clothing style reflected more freedom in mobility. “Raising the Hem” was a beautiful complement to our permanent display of women’s suffrage artifacts in the restored carriage house.
“Indiana’s Favorite Sons” focused on Indiana presidential and vice-presidential candidates through the years. Some were born in Indiana, some grew up in Indiana, and some were nominated or elected from Indiana. Some Indiana “Hopefuls” were also explored (men who tried but were never party candidates).
One of the earliest Hoosier national ticket candidates was George Julian, nominated in 1852, to run as vice president on the Free Democrat ticket under John P. Hale. Other names may sound more familiar: Eugene V. Debs of Terre Haute nominated five times for president, representing the Socialist Party between 1904 and 1920, Wendell Willkie born in Elwood nominated as the Republican Party candidate for president in 1940, and Benjamin Harrison the only president elected from the state.
Do you remember Colfax, Hendricks, Marshall, or Kern? These are just a few of Indiana’s Favorite Sons.
Indianapolis proudly welcomed Super Bowl XLVI! In conjunction with the festivities, we featured “Presidential Huddle” as part of the museum tour. Over the years, the presidency has changed along with the rules of football, gear and safety. The exhibit explored the ties between presidents and American football. Which Commanders in Chief played the game in college? Who was an assistant coach at Yale? What future Chief Executive tackled a future Heisman Trophy winner? Which president played a hand in changing the rules of the game? We answered these questions and discovered many more connections between the country’s greatest game and its highest office.
Football related artifacts and images included those of TR, Hoover, Eisenhower, Nixon, Kennedy, Ford, Reagan, Bush and Obama.
There were many versions of football being played in the mid-1800s. Most were modeled after games being played in Europe, such as rugby and soccer. By the 1870s, colleges and universities in America were meeting to standardize the rules. Harvard played the “Boston game,” a version of football that allowed carrying the ball. The first edition of “The Game”—the annual contest between Harvard and Yale—was played on November 13, 1875, under a modified set of rugby rules known as “The Concessionary Rules.”
Walter Camp is considered the father of American football. Camp played football at Yale and helped evolve the rules of the game away from those of rugby and soccer. Throughout the 1880s, they continued to adjust the rules, established the line of scrimmage, and transformed the game from a variation of rugby or soccer into the distinctly American game of football. During Benjamin Harrison’s time, college football expanded greatly with 43 teams by 1900.
Football of the day entailed men pushing their way through masses of players. Frequent pile-ups would hide punches and jabbing elbows from the referees. In 1905, eighteen players died. Concerned citizens fought to prohibit football.
On October 9, 1905, two days after the highly publicized brutal beating of Robert “Tiny” Maxwell in the Penn-Swarthmore game, President Roosevelt summoned representatives of the Big Three (Harvard, Yale and Princeton—the universities who first played the game and who also set the rules of play) to the White House. Roosevelt convinced them that the rules needed to be changed to eliminate the foul play and brutality. Roosevelt saw merit in the game. He felt that it built bodies, could build character, and created a sense of team spirit and the desire to never give up.
The exhibit followed the Harrisons to their Delaware Street home and traced the progress of Indianapolis from a small state capital to a large metropolitan city.
From 1854 to 1913, Indianapolis was a city growing in commerce, population, political influence, diversity, entertainment and educational opportunities. Looking into the windows of the past, we see the city leadership and the remarkable men and women who interacted to create a thriving, accomplished society.
We see the strong businesses that established themselves, built buildings in which to operate, and contributed products and jobs to grow the economy. We also see the lifestyle, culture and educational attainment that allowed for enhanced living.
The Harrisons were part of the population that moved north as the hustle, bustle, noise and pollution of the city increased. The material culture left behind will teach us much about the strength, courage, insight and inspiration of the Harrisons and their city. The exhibit opened windows to moments in time to discover remarkable facts and amazing figures about the growing city that would become known as the ‘Crossroads of America’.
In 1821 Elias P. Fordham and Alexander Ralston plotted the map for the new Indiana state capital. The “Mile Square” plan provided 100 twelve-lot blocks bordered by broad streets in a grid pattern and a central circle with four diagonal streets completed the design.
The Harrisons moved to Indianapolis in April 1854. Here, Harrison found that establishing a law practice was much more difficult than he had anticipated. In September1854, he wrote: “… I should feel contented if only I had some business to occupy my attention, however trifling the profits might be… But, however much I may be discouraged at the prospect, I never suffer myself to falter in my purpose. I have long since made up my mind that with God’s blessing and good health, I would succeed, and I never allow myself to doubt the result.”
In 1888, a supplement of Harper’s Weekly featured Indianapolis and presidential candidate Benjamin Harrison. The article commended the residents for their “wide, well-shaded streets.” The article described Harrison’s home as “a fair specimen of the most comfortable house in the city.” The city had expanded well out from the mile square and more affluent citizens were moving to subdivisions in the north.
The first five presidents – George Washington, John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, and James Monroe – never rode a train. It was not until the 1830s that transportation by rail began to spread in the United States. The Baltimore & Ohio Railroad began construction in 1828, starting at the port of Baltimore, Maryland, going west to a suitable point on the Ohio River. They reached Wheeling, (now) West Virginia, in 1852. Another spur was started from Baltimore to Washington, D.C. in 1831, and opened in 1835. Railroads began as a way to transport freight, but soon passenger traffic increased.
Railroads were key during the Civil War for transporting troops and supplies. This made them a valuable target as well. By 1869, the first Transcontinental Railroad (known originally as the Pacific Railroad and later as the Overland Route) was built in the United States. It opened for through traffic on May 10, 1869, with the driving of the last spike (“Golden Spike”) at Promontory Summit, Utah. The original gold spike was driven by Senator Leland Stanford.
Presidents at first were just like regular passengers; as time passed, schedule demands and concerns for personal safety called for change. Presidents then rode in a private car coupled to a regular train. By Benjamin Harrison’s presidency, they traveled in special trains of four or five cars in length. By the 1940s, Franklin D. Roosevelt traveled in a full sixteen to eighteen car train. Travel by rail remained the main mode of presidential travel through Dwight D. Eisenhower. Rail still is used today on occasion, usually as nostalgic campaign excursions like the old whistle stop tours.
William Henry Harrison is said to be the first presidential candidate to campaign from the rail, traveling from Wilmington, Delaware, to Trenton, New Jersey, in September 1836, during his first unsuccessful bid for office. Then in 1840 he became the first president-elect to travel by train to his inauguration. After traveling from Cincinnati via boat and stagecoach, he boarded a Baltimore and Ohio train in Frederick, Maryland, traveling through Baltimore to Washington.
Benjamin Harrison Tour Through the South and West 1891
The grand transcontinental trip departed Washington on Monday, April 13, 1891, just after midnight. Harrison stopped in 19 states and 72 cities on this 9,232-mile train trip. The tour went through the south to the Pacific coast and home again through the new states admitted during his administration. The presidential party consisted of President and Mrs. Harrison, Postmaster-General Wanamaker, Secretary J. M. Rusk, Mr. and Mrs. Russell Harrison, Mrs. McKee, Mrs. Dimmick, Daniel M. Ransdell, United States Marshal of the District of Columbia, Major Sanger, the president’s military aid, Mr. and Mrs. George W. Boyd (Mr. Boyd, General Assistant Passenger Agent of the Pennsylvania Railroad and in charge of the train), Mr. E. F. Tibbott, the president’s stenographer, Alfred J. Clark, O. P. Austin, and R. V. Oulahan.
On April 27 and 28, 1891, the party participated in the launching of the USS Monterey in San Francisco, California.
“…returned to the little tug, which conveyed us to the Iron works where I never shall forget the sight. Aunt Carrie & the others met us on the platform which was erected by the cruiser “Monterey” which was to be launched. But before meeting them we were taken through the work shops of the Iron works & were much interested. At the launch each lady was presented with a beautiful bouquet, and we were introduced to many, and soon were a jolly party. The Monterey was decorated with flowers and all stood expectantly. Soon we saw the workmen knocking off the last wedges, and the signal was given. Mrs. Harrison touched the button, a little girl broke the champagne bottle against the ship (before this a clergyman offered a short prayer) and then she slid off in the most beautiful manner, and amidst cheers shouts & the band playing The Star-Spangled Banner. The President waving his hat, & the ladies handkerchiefs. I was perfectly paralyzed and could not move or even make a sound. It was a superb sight as the ship touched the water. Up went the Stars & Stripes, the Union Jack, and the President’s flag on her, and we all shook hands & screamed with excitement. Oh! What a sight it was!” – Mary Lorde Dimmick’s Diary, Tuesday, April 28
The train consisted of five cars, the dining car Coronado, the private car New Zealand, and the observation car the Vacuna. The front baggage car was inscribed in large gilt letters “The Presidential Special.” Returning back to Washington on May 15, 1891, Harrison called everyone on the train to speak to them; he was grateful for the delightful trip and shook everyone’s hand. The train pulled into Washington at 5:30 p.m. and Harrison’s first greeting was to the grandchildren waiting at the station, Baby McKee and his little sister Mary Lodge McKee. The Mail and Express reported that, “In less than five minutes the entire party were homeward bound, and the train was left alone, dust-stained and travel-worn, to tell its tale of the great ten thousand mile journey.”
We exhibited over one hundred original sketches and published political cartoons from 1862 through 1912 examined the evolution of the art form and the lives of popular artists who produced and popularized such symbols as Uncle Sam, Miss Colombia, and even the donkey and elephant party icons.
The exhibit focused upon a fifty-year span during which the political cartoon played a unique role in political persuasion. It represents a time when technological advancement in the print media resulted in a vastly expanded readership, and a period devoid of conflicting and competing forms of media communication that mark the electronic age.
With the onset of the Civil War, the lives of hundreds of thousands of families felt the pain of seeing sons, husbands, and fathers march to the battlefields. A ravenous hunger developed for war news. Weekly newspapers such as Leslie’s Illustrated Newspaper and Harper’s Weekly filled their pages with etchings of camps, battle scenes, officers and political leaders. The images of Grant and Lee, of Lincoln and McClellan, came to be instantly recognizable by the readership at home.
The opinion of the publishers was, from time-to-time, injected in the form of caricature; in the post-Civil War years, the political cartoon came of age. Led by Thomas Nast and his unrelenting attack in Harper’s Weekly upon the corrupt Democratic “Boss” Tweed and Tammany Hall, and by Nast’s efforts to reelect President Ulysses S. Grant, cartooning quickly proved to be a powerful tool in shaping public opinion.
Nast, at Harper’s, and Matthew Morgan, at Leslie’s, were soon joined by Joseph Keppler, Bernard Gillam and a host of others, drawing in a lighter, more satirical vein for newspapers and in an explosion of color for Puck and Judge, magazines that came of age with the development of chromolithography.
The 2009 exhibit explored the life of William Henry Harrison, grandfather of Benjamin Harrison. William Henry Harrison was the First Governor of the Indiana Territory, the Commanding General of the War of 1812, and the ninth President of the United States.
The exhibit featured letters, documents and other artifacts that provided insight into his life from 1790 to his death while in office in 1841. Among the treasured artifacts was William Henry’s 1828 appointment as Envoy to Columbia by President John Quincy Adams. Reaching Bogota in February 1829, he was recalled a month later by Adams’ successor, Andrew Jackson, but he continued to function as minister until his replacement arrived in September. His stern republicanism proved uncongenial to the prevailing Colombian government headed by General Simon Bolivar. Harrison declared, “The strongest of all government is that which is most free.” The appointment is signed by President John Quincy Adams and Secretary of State Henry Clay.
William Henry Harrison’s appointment to Major General in March 1813, signed by John Armstrong, was displayed. The appointment meant a great deal to Harrison, having proven his commitment to service in the military. Armstrong was appointed Secretary of War under President Madison in 1813. He made a number of valuable changes to the armed forces. Armstrong resigned in 1814 after American forces were repeatedly defeated by the British.
We displayed numerous letters including his final writings, a portrait of William Henry Harrison by James Henry Beard, and a piece of Captain Spier Spencer’s flag from the Battle of Tippecanoe.
The Tiffany Touch exhibit encompassed a variety of Tiffany works, some on public display for the first time in Indianapolis. The materials were from the archives in Parsippany, New Jersey, eight pieces were on loan from the Tiffany & Company, four pieces from the Indianapolis Museum of Art at Newfields, and eleven pieces from our collection. Tiffany works touched the Harrison family with presentation pieces and special gifts. The most prized is the Tiffany peacock-patterned goose-neck Favrile glass vase – a wedding present to ex-President Benjamin Harrison and his second wife Mary Lord Dimmick in 1896, Louis Comfort Tiffany’s mark is engraved near the edge of the base.
Several of the pieces in our collection were special presentations to President Harrison. A Silver Cylinder for the 1889 Centennial was made by Tiffany & Co. and created in a repoussé metalworking technique, meaning that the metal is pushed back. The scroll inside states:
“1789-1889 To Benjamin Harrison President of the United States Ap. 30 1889. The undersigned representatives of many of the Civic, Commercial, Industrial, and Educational Organizations and Bodies of the City of New York on the occasion of this Centennial Celebration of the Inauguration of George Washington, the First President, present anew to the President of the United States in his official capacity their allegiance to the Government, Constitution, and the Laws, with their congratulations upon the completion of a Century of constitutional government, and the progress made in that Century.”
Following this statement are signatures of representatives from many of the Civic, Commercial, Industrial, and Educational Organizations and Bodies of the City of New York, including Andrew Carnegie—president of the Oratorio and Symphony Societies and C.L. Tiffany—Manufacturing Silver Smiths. The bottom of the cylinder is marked “Tiffany & Co., Sterling Silver” and states, “This cylinder was made and inscribed in less than a week’s time.”
The New Jersey Historical Society was involved throughout the 1889 Centennial Celebration. In January 1889, they resolved that a medal be struck commemorating the centennial of the inauguration of George Washington. A design would be selected and strikings in gold, silver and bronze would be made. Tardier, the engraver and Tiffany & Co., were engaged to manufacture dies for the medal.
A mistake in the quotation from Washington struck on the first medal was discovered. Illness of the engraver and the need to correct the mistake held up the production until 1894. In the Society’s January 1894 minutes it was resolved that in carrying out the Society’s 1889 resolution, Number 1, being struck in gold, would be presented to ex-President Benjamin Harrison, President of the United States during the Centennial year. The Society sold copies in silver for $10.00 and in bronze for $2.50 to members. It is believed that a total of 72 medals were minted by Tiffany & Co. There were twenty-one silver medals, seventy bronze medals, and only one in gold presented to President Harrison in 1895.
The Centennial Committee commissioned Augustus Saint-Gaudens, a renowned sculptor, to design a special medal honoring George Washington. His assistant Philip Martiny executed the piece, and it was cast by the Gorham Company of New York. This bronze medal (115 mm) was sold to the public. Then the Centennial Committee contracted with Tiffany & Co. to make for its members a ceremonial badge using a smaller version of Saint-Gaudens design.
Twenty-five different badges were made for the dignitaries and committee members. The medals worn by the president and vice president, and the Governor of New York, were gold. The smaller version of the Saint-Gaudens medal hung from a ribbon and all were backed with a ribbon. The other badges differed in design, color of ribbon, and type of metal used for the badge.
Another presentation piece was given to Harrison in 1893. A beautiful Birdseye maple box contained a scroll invitation to the flag-raising on the U.S. Mail Steamship New York.; the box was marked Tiffany & Co. The scroll had heavy parchment tied to an ivory celluloid bar. The Presbyterian Church was very important to the Harrison family. At the time of Benjamin’s death, the First Presbyterian Church was planning a new building at the SE corner of 16th and Delaware Street. His widow, Mary Lord Harrison, commissioned Tiffany & Co. to design and make a stained glass window for the new church. The original window is now in the collection of the Indianapolis Museum of Art at Newfields. Our collection contains the original water color of the Tiffany Memorial Window, titled “Angel of the Resurrection,” a 1903 drawing by “F. W.” – one of Tiffany’s designers. Original photographs of the window installed at the church and the agreement dated 1904 between Tiffany and Mary Lord Harrison were also displayed. Total cost was $1,500 including outside glass protection and installation.
Every four years during the presidential election, our main exhibit explores the history of campaigns. The “Campaigns” exhibit in 2008 focused on parades, which were very popular during Benjamin Harrison’s campaign. We displayed several torches and paper lanterns from Harrison’s time. We borrowed items from several other institutions and collectors to round out our exhibit covering William Henry Harrison to George W. Bush. Parade items changed through the years to include car toppers and bumper stickers.
One piece that was very popular during the late 1800s, is the campaign bandanna. Bandannas and ribbons would have been carried and worn by the parade participants. We were fortunate to include several Harrison examples. Bandannas of the late 1880s came in silk, linen and cotton. Other similar textiles are handkerchiefs that are smaller in size.
Two early textiles of interest in the Harrison Collection are a colored ribbon and a silk inaugural invitation from 1841 for William Henry Harrison. The colored ribbon is rare, as most ribbons for William Henry Harrison in 1840 are printed in black only and usually on a white or cream silk. There are a few examples on a colored silk, but this one has red, blue and green in the decoration on the white ribbon.
Campaign torchlights were first patented in 1837, but did not really catch on until 1860. The “Wide-Awakes”—a marching club for Lincoln began organizing torchlight parades, entertaining communities in the evenings when little else was found for diversion. Marching clubs continued on through the 1800s. The Columbia Club was founded in 1888 as a marching society for Harrison.
Torches come in varying sizes and shapes. Many were homemade, while others could be ordered from suppliers. The basic torch of the canister variety consists of an oil reservoir for coal oil or kerosene, a capped hole to pour in the fuel, a wick, and a wire frame or strap to hold the torch from a pole or broom handle. Few have patent dates while others can be identified with a specific campaign.
The star shape was used in the 1860s. Rifle torches also made their appearance in 1860—at the time of the Civil War—and used through the 1880s. Rifle torches were used in “manual-of-arms” performances given by marching clubs comprised of Civil War veterans; examples were on display in the exhibit. One of the more detailed designs is the eagle torch. One eagle torch is in the Detroit Historical Society collection and is said to have been used in the 1860 campaign. Another example is in the DeWitt Collection and is identified as being used in William Henry Harrison’s 1841 inaugural parade.
Several fine examples of Harrison’s torches were exhibited, including hat shaped torches and a portrait torch. Others found on display were a ballot box torch, punched hole McKinley lantern, fireman’s torch, Harrison collapsible paper lantern and helmet (hat) torches.
This exhibit proudly featured the Harrison family legacy, Benjamin Harrison’s skills as a lawyer and the cases he took before the U.S. Supreme Court, his reputation as a military leader of men, his conservation efforts, his expertise in foreign affairs, and his expansion of the Navy.
The Christmas holiday was a happy time for the Harrison family especially during their first years in the White House. Benjamin and Caroline shared Christmas in the White House with their children, grandchildren, Dr. Scott, Mary Dimmick, Lieutenant and Mrs. Parker, the household staff, and the nation. A newspaper clipping describes the events.
“The tooting of a horn in a series of more or less musical notes was the signal for the commencement of the Christmas celebration at the White House this morning shortly after 10 o’clock. When Mrs. Dimmick blew this juvenile instrument, faces came smiling from every door all around her in the corridor upstairs, and soon all the members of the presidential family had assembled in a laughing procession.”
“Mary’s (Lodge McKee) gifts had a full set of baby doll furniture, with baby doll, lady dolls and boy dolls, a piano, a kitchen outfit and a quantity of other feminine necessities in the world of babydom, while Benjamin (Baby McKee) had a steam engine, a couple of train cars, a full suit of armor, books, pictures, and all manner of things to tickle a boyish fancy.”
Benjamin Harrison was the first President to have a decorated Christmas tree in the White House, and his home in Indianapolis reflects his fondness for celebrating the holiday. During the holiday season the house represents a gala Victorian Christmas at its finest. Outside, the house is festooned with garlands of greenery and bows on the wrap-around porch. Upon entering the house, guests will feel drawn back in time to a 19th century Christmas.
The front parlor features a large tree similar to one Benjamin Harrison decorated for his grandchildren in 1889 in the White House. Authentic decorations such as wooden soldiers, cotton batting ornaments, hand-blown glass figures, and candles adorn this tree. Victorian toys, many of them Harrison originals, will be displayed under the tree as the children might have found them on Christmas morning.
Due to inclement weather, the Benjamin Harrison Presidential Site will be closed for tours on Wednesday, January 25, 2023.
Thank you for being an important part of the Presidential Site and sharing a legacy in action!