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No. 11 NOVEMBER 2002

GENERAL BENJAMIN AND CAROLINE HARRISON AT THE BERDAN COTTAGE
ON LAKE ERIE'S MIDDLE BASS ISLAND.

During the latter half of the nineteenth century extreme wealth brought greater leisure to America's upper class. For a time, many thought the islands in Lake Erie's western basin, would rival the "watering holes of the East" as a summer destination. Its gentle breezes, sandy beaches, and superb fishing attracted wealthy industrialists and powerful statesmen seeking an escape from the crowded cities and summer heat.


President Harrison is seated on the far right.

A wealthy group of 200 was ensconced on Middle Bass Island where they had established the elite Middle Bass Club. Gibraltar Island sported the castle-like summer home of Civil War financier Jay Cooke. Put-in-Bay was the site of the palatial Victory Hotel. And for a few brief days during the summer of 1888, the attention of the entire nation was focused on the Erie Islands.

The occasion was the arrival of General Benjamin Harrison, the Republican Party nominee for the presidency, for a meeting with former President Rutherford B. Hayes and Ohio's governor. Exhausted from weeks of campaigning, Harrison looked forward to a few days of rest and relaxation on Middle Bass Island. But more importantly, he was seeking advice from the well-regarded former president. Winning the presidency, Harrison knew, depended to a great extent on a candidate's Letter of Acceptance that would appear in every major newspaper in the country. Party leaders advised Harrison that Hayes' Letter of Acceptance was "the best ever written."

Hayes was just wrapping up the annual reunion with his Civil War comrades at nearby Lakeside, Ohio. And so, the former president and the future president discussed political strategy at the Berdan Cottage. With Hayes was J. W. Oswald of Toledo, Ohio, a former comrade and professional photographer. Oswald took this image of General Benjamin Harrison and his wife Caroline relaxing with friends on the verandah of Middle Bass Island's Berdan Cottage. Oswald gave the photograph to Hayes as a remembrance of his meeting with Harrison.

By Labor Day, Harrison had completed the critical document. He then traveled the short distance to Put-in-Bay for the annual celebration of Commodore Oliver Hazard Perry's Victory on Lake Erie. It was there that Perry had delivered his triumphant message to Harrison's presidential grandfather: "We have met the enemy and they are ours!" Thousands of well-wishers lined the shore and hundreds more cheered from boats in the harbor as Harrison promised to continue "the American way of life" his grandfather had defended.

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