Artifacts I Have Known and Loved
at the Hayes Presidential Center
By James B. Snider
From the age of twelve, Rutherford B. Hayes recorded his experiences in a diary. These volumes cover his life almost to the day of his death. Just as he
preserved the memories of his life's journey, he also saved things that had meaning for him. They are now some of the artifacts in the collections of the
Rutherford B. Hayes Presidential Center. Once the "stuff" of his life, now they are the "stuff" of history.
His mementoes speak as eloquently as his diaries of the man, his family, and his life and times. Some pertain to a major event in Hayes's life and career, while others have appeal simply because they illustrate the personality or character of their owner. What follows is a brief commentary on just a few of them.
Hayes saved the ice skates worn by his older brother, Lorenzo, who fell through the ice and drowned in Delaware, Ohio, when the future president was quite young. As a result of his older brother's early and tragic death, Hayes's mother and older sister hovered over him constantly, afraid that they would lose him also. The skates bear mute testimony to his family's grief, and the subsequent effect of his brother's death on Hayes's life. Sickly and nervous as a child and over-protected by his mother and older sister, Hayes really did not come into his own until the outbreak of the Civil War when he was thirty-nine.
Hayes entered the masculine world of war with a vengeance. He became one of the "good Colonels" in General Grant's phrase, a compliment Hayes revered as much as he cherished his rank of brevet major general earned before leaving the field in 1865. Forever afterward, Hayes recalled the war period as his "golden years," when he found vigorous good health and bolstered his self-confidence. His war record helped propel him into the presidency.
Hayes's Civil War mementoes, captured from the Confederates by his 23rd Ohio Volunteer Infantry (OVI), illustrate, arguably, the most traumatic event in United States history. A wooden crutch, the armrest covered with a ragged, faded piece of carpet, fits some of the fifth-grade boys who visit the Hayes Museum. Perhaps its Confederate owner was a young boy, or maybe the crutch simply testifies that the average soldier was shorter then. A crudely made shoe with a wooden sole is a reminder of the woeful shortage of supplies in the South. A camp chair made from bedding of a dead Confederate soldier evokes an image of the carnage. But a pair of slave shackles is perhaps the ultimate symbol of the conflict.
The uniform coat Hayes wore when he was wounded at South Mountain in the Antietam campaign, with the bloody bullet hole still in the sleeve, shows that Hayes was lucky as well as courageous. Lucy Hayes justifiably took comfort in the fact that her brother, Dr. Joseph Webb, was the regimental surgeon. His prompt attention to his brother-in-law's wound saved Hayes's arm and probably the life of the future president.
Lucy loved her "Boys in Blue." The soldiers of the 23rd OVI gave her a silver plaque inscribed to "the Mother of ours," proving that the devotion was mutual. An old painting above the fireplace in the downstairs hallway of the Hayes home, by the artist Charles T. Webber, shows Lucy helping to care for wounded soldiers in the field hospital while visiting her husband's camp.
Many of Lucy's personal articles survive. Some of her jewelry, several gowns she wore in the White House, and the wedding dress that she made in 1852 are a few examples. There are several of Rutherford's and Lucy's silver wedding anniversary gifts in the museum. Lucy's cameo brooch set in platinum with four large diamonds and Rutherford's matching cuff links, their gifts to each other, certainly are the finest of this collection. No more moving symbols of Hayes's husbandly devotion survive, however, than several combs that adorned Lucy's hair. She wore her hair almost always pulled back behind her head in a plain yet becoming style. In a tribute to Lucy in his diary shortly after her death in 1889, Hayes recalled her beautiful eyes and her hair, with a few gray strands that could not detract from its raven-black hue even at the end of her life. Actually, a large braid cut from her head toward the end of her life, showing ample gray, is poignant proof that Hayes's lifelong devotion naturally colored his romantic perception of Lucy even to the end of their days together.
President Hayes was a calm man whose judgement was not influenced easily by emotion. Even so, he recorded in his diary a few months after Lucy's death that her favorite grandfather clock, one that still stands in the Hayes home, had not kept time nor struck the hour regularly since Lucy died. The Hayes home is, in its own right, a living artifact of the Victorian period. It reminds visitors daily of the vibrant nineteenth century family who lived in it so happily.
Other artifacts, large and small, illustrate the White House years. A Plains Indian collection includes gifts from Native Americans to their "Great White Father" in Washington. A muslin tepee liner is of particular interest. The Sioux Indian Little Big Man covered it with pictographs depicting events in his life. The first Morgan silver dollar struck at the United States Mint thrills coin collectors and reminds scholars of Hayes's opposition to the expanded coinage of silver because of his fear of inflation. Chairs occupied by Presidents Grant and Hayes at Hayes's inauguration are popular with visitors, as are Presidential autographed letters and inaugural medals.
Another chair, made of elk horns and presented to Hayes during the campaign of 1876, also is in on display. There is a photograph of the rather uncomfortable looking candidate sitting on the chair with the lap robe of bear skin. The robe long since has passed into dust but the chair and photograph survive to remind us that presidential hopefuls, then as now, had to endure the presentation of strange gifts while trying to look pleased during the inevitable photo opportunity. This chair is a poignant reminder of a bygone era in America. Looking at it, one thinks of that period in our history when we wantonly slaughtered elk, buffalo, Indians, and anything else that got in our way as we moved west. But, for me, the overriding mental image is of Hayes sitting in that uncomfortable chair trying to maintain a modicum of presidential dignity. We lent the chair not too long ago to the Herbert Hoover Presidential Museum for their "Thirty-Nine Men" exhibit. I was delighted when Richard Norton Smith, the Hoover Museum's director, pronounced the chair "grotesque." I knew exactly what he meant.
Other examples of unusual gifts to President Hayes during his tenure in office are a "George Washington" hatchet carved from wood - showing the postage stamped on one side of the blade, a small cross fashioned from a single piece of wood by a prison convict, and a small pig made from a lemon with match stick legs and a curly tail made of twine. A few years ago, we lent all three to the Jimmy Carter Presidential Museum for an exhibit celebrating strange and unique gifts from ordinary people to presidents. I enjoyed seeing these three curiosities have a brief moment in the spotlight. I like to think that President Hayes would have been pleased to know how many people enjoyed looking at his lemon pig.
Grander mementoes of the White House years include the Hayes carriage, examples of the official Hayes White House china - which Lucy helped design to celebrate American flora and fauna - and the large mahogany sideboard from the family's private White House dining room. Other examples are an excellent secretary desk and chair from the Grant years, a few pieces of Lincoln's White House china and his bedroom slippers, and crystal stemware from Jackson, Lincoln, and Hayes, just to mention a few. Nothing is more popular with visitors that the two large, Victorian doll houses. The youngest of the Hayes children, Scott and Fanny, played with them while Hayes occupied the White House.
President Hayes's second son, Webb Cook Hayes, built the Hayes Presidential Center, then known as the Hayes Memorial, with the support of his brothers and sister to honor his parents. Quite an accomplished man in his own right, Webb, know as "Colonel" to his friends, won the Medal of Honor in the Philippines in 1899. He may have been the only American soldier to have served in Cuba, Puerto Rico, and the Philippines in the Spanish-American War, finishing in 1900 with a brief tour in China during the Boxer Rebellion. Col. Hayes brought back many souvenirs from these and other places visited in his travels around the world.
As his father did before him, Col. Hayes saved and labeled the mementoes of a lifetime placing many of them in the Hayes Memorial in 1916, the first presidential library and museum in the United States. Even some of the original museum cases survive, now artifacts in their own right and presently on display. One of particular interest is a Japanese display case from the Philadelphia Centennial Exposition in 1876 that President Hayes purchased during his first year in the White House. In the museum on the President's twenty-five acre estate known as Spiegel Grove, the Hayes collections are stored, cared for, and displayed for all to see year around.
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