Nellie Bly Visits Spiegel Grove:
Mrs. Rutherford B. Hayes’Quiet Home at Fremont, Ohio

By Elizabeth Cochrane

Volume I, Number 2
Fall, 1976

[Editor’s Note:

Elizabeth Cochrane, better known as "Nellie Bly," entered the journalistic profession before she was twenty years of age when the editor of the Pittsburgh Dispatch gave her a job as reporter at a time when most newspaper correspondents were men. She decided to adopt for her by-line the name of "Nellie Bly," after the title of a song by Stephen Foster, which was suggested to her by the editor.

Nellie Bly was born in Armstrong County, Pennsylvania, in the small town of Cochran’s Mills, near Pittsburgh, on May 5, 1865, although there is some question as to the exact year of her birth. She was the third child of a large family, her parents being Michael Cochran, for whom the town was named, and his second wife, Mary Jane Kennedy. It was Elizabeth who added the "e" to her family name.

Nellie Bly became an investigative reporter for the Pittsburgh Dispatch, a more aggressive role than that usually taken by women reporters of her time. In searching for her stories, she examined and wrote about the social conditions of working class people, their welfare, and life in slums. She also wrote about problems which faced a young girl trying to earn a living in Victorian America.

The Dispatch sent her on a trip to Mexico during the winter of 1886-1887. In her letters to its columns she described her observations of political corruption, and the sharp contrast between the lives of the wealthy and the poor. Her letters, widely circulated, caused her expulsion from Mexico. Next, she took an assignment as an undercover reporter for the New York World to expose the neglect and brutality in the care of the mentally ill in public asylums. This she accomplished by having herself committed as an incompetent to the asylum on Blackwell’s Island. Her articles on the treatment she and her fellow inmates received led to a public investigation and the initiation of reforms. To expose social ills in still other institutions, she regularly worked as an undercover reporter for the press.

The most famous venture of Nellie Bly, however, was to be more theatrical than reform minded. The editor of the World, Joseph Pulitzer, sent her, in November 1889, on a trip around the world. Using only available transportation, and in an effort to break the record of the fictional hero in Jules Verne’s Around the World in 80 Days, Nellie Bly managed to complete the trip and return to New York on January 25, 1890, a journey which lasted 72 days, 6 hours, 11 minutes, and 14 seconds.

In October 1888, about a year prior to her trip around the world, Nellie Bly visited the homes of all former living First Ladies for an article in the New York World, Sunday, October 28, 1888, which was entitled, "Our First Ladies: Women Who Have Graced the White House." As an introduction to her lengthy article, she wrote: "There are now living, besides Mrs. President Cleveland, but seven women who have held sway in the White House as the First Ladies of the Land. I have visited them at their homes in various parts of the country and listened to their narratives as they frankly told me little bits of their personal history which have never before been written." She traveled to the places of residence of Mrs. John Tyler, in Richmond, Va.; Mrs. James K. Polk, at "Polk Place" in Nashville, Tenn.; Mrs. Harriet Lane Johnson, niece of President James Buchanan, in Baltimore, Md.; Mrs. U. S. Grant, in New York City; Mrs. Rutherford B. Hayes, in Fremont, O.; Mrs. James A. Garfield, in Mentor, O.; and Mrs. John S. McElroy, sister of President Chester A. Arthur, in Albany, N.Y.

Five years after her adventurous trip around the world, Nellie Bly, while returning from one of her assignments, met Robert L. Seaman, a businessman who was considerably older than she, and to whom she was married on April 5, 1895. She gave up her journalistic career to live quietly in New York City until her husband died in 1910. Failing in her efforts to operated her husband’s business, she went to Europe and lived some time in Austria-Hungary during World War I. In 1919 she came back to the United States and, returning to journalism, obtained a position on the New York Evening Journal through its editor, an old friend, Arthur Brisbane. After about only three years on the Evening Journal

staff, she died in New York City on January 27, 1922, at the age of 56 years.

Elizabeth Cochrane wrote and published three books: Ten Days in a Mad House (New York: N. L. Munro, 1887); Six Months in Mexico (New York: American Publishers Corporation, 1888), and Nellie Bly’s Book: Around the World in Seventy-Two Days (New York: The Pictorial Weeklies Company, 1890).

Mrs. Hayes was not at home when Elizabeth Cochrane came to see her in Fremont early in October, 1888. Lucy Hayes and daughter Fanny were visiting with a favorite relative of her husband’s, Charles L. Mead and family, in New York City.

On calling at Spiegel Grove, Elizabeth Cochrane was met instead by Lucy Elliot Keeler, the President’s young cousin, who made a brief record of the incident in her diary:

Oct. 11, [1888] . . . Today, I went to the Grove [Spiegel Grove] for hickory-nuts. Soon after I got there a young lady drove up & the servant brought her to me. She is Miss Nellie Bly, of New York World, a pretty person of about my own age. She is writing up the Ladies of the White House. She had waited several days to see Mrs. Hayes who is still in New York. I showed her the house & told her a good deal about different things. She went away yesterday noon, going to Nashville, Tenn., to see Mrs. James K. Polk . . .]

Among The Cows And Chickens

A large two-story brick house, with wide windows and long, broad verandas filled with green and red cane chairs, down in the heart of a twenty-acre grove of very handsomest old trees, is the home of Mr. and Mrs. Hayes. It is just within sight of the village of Fremont, Ohio. I do not think it is more than twenty minutes walk from the centre[sic] of town. I waited several days for the return of Mrs. Hayes from New York, and then, as I could not wait any longer, I decided to see the much talked-of farm and chickens. I had heard so much about the sweetness of Mrs. Hayes and the genial manner of her husband that it was a disappointment not to meet them.

"Why, they have hundreds of visitors," said a gentleman in the town, "and they are most kind to everybody. They show every one over the farm and all through the house. No one is ever refused admission. Even travelling men go out there after having finished with their customers, and frequently miss their trains because they get so interested and forget to leave. And then Mrs. Hayes. Why, she is as sweet and unaffected as a child. She will stop on the street and speak to the poorest in the town. And charitable! Let folks who talk about what Mr. Hayes spent in Washington compare their charity list with that of the Hayeses. His whole life is devoted to charitable work, and he never gives away less than $10,000 a year for the benefit of humanity. Yes, and the chickens. I don’t think that Mr. Hayes ever looks at the chickens except to please Mrs. Hayes. She loves animals and fowls and she has all kinds. Sell chickens! Why, bless my soul, no sick person in town ever wants for fresh milk or tender chickens. She just gives the chickens and milk away all the time until she has to buy when they need either for themselves. Yes, they can talk, but I’d like to compare the charity lists, bless my soul if I wouldn’t."

The Homestead Was A Legacy

The homestead is known as Spiegel Grove. It was named by Sardis Birchard, who was the owner of it. At his death he willed his property to his nephew, Rutherford B. Hayes. Outside the grove is a good Ohio farm where vegetables and corn are raised, where there is a cultivated blackberry patch and hotbeds and roses. The site of the grove is very pleasant for its historic memories. In 1812 a famous battle was fought by William Henry Harrison, grandfather of Presidential Candidate [Benjamin] Harrison, where the town library now stands in Fremont. While going into camp here, Harrison made a cut through Spiegel Grove, and so they point out the way, which is always kept clear of growth, called "Harrison’s Walk."

And then they will take [the visiting] one away across the Grove [along the Harrison Trail], towards the southwest, and point out "Grandfather Webb’s tree." Grandfather [James] Webb, Mrs. Hayes’ grandfather [father], as one may rightly suppose, belonged to Harrison’s regiment. He, with another man, was sent out to find provisions. It was most bitterly cold, so cold in fact that they could not make their way back to camp. They built a fire at the foot of this great oak and kept themselves warm. All of the soldiers in the camp had their feet frozen that night, but Grandfather Webb and his companion were saved by the fire. The great oak stands there as if proud of the part it has played, wholly unmindful - or bearing it as a brave soldier bears his scars - of the large hole in its side, the result of the night’s fire.

After they [the Hayeses] have finished with [showing] this oak, they will take you to another, much larger, much grander - one whose bark is rough and seared. People who understand such things say its age is easily four hundred years, and it looks good for a hundred more. And then there is a tiny shoot to see, a sprout of the Magna Charta Oak. Near by is a slender young willow with its drooping , graceful branches flying in the breeze. It is the Napoleon willow from George Washington’s grave. They say the willow was transplanted from Napoleon’s grave to Washington’s, and this is the product of a branch of it. And one cannot return to the house without having seen the mossy knoll1, away to the south, which is the famous burial-ground. All the pets are given a resting place in this quiet nook and a large slab on their graves. Among the most notable there are two pet greyhounds, General Hayes’ old war-horse, Whitey, Miss Fanny Hayes’ riding horse, Pompey, who strayed into the orchard, and, like a bad boy, ate too many crab-apples - result: a place in the famous graveyard. Nimrod also lies there. He was a great, wise, old white horse that Mrs. Hayes drove everywhere. When any of the townspeople would catch a glimpse of Nimrod they would say "Here comes Mrs. Hayes," so much were they together.

A Visit To The House

I went to the house and two little dogs came running out, barking frantically and almost upsetting me in their enthusiasm. They soon saw that I was a stranger and looked very much disappointed, yet kept close to me, as if not altogether averse to making friends provided I was received. I met Mrs. Hayes’s niece, Miss Lucy Keeler,2 and she kindly consented to show me the Hayes homestead.

The house is of ultra Southern style. The halls are in the centre of the house and are very wide. The floors are of hard wood, covered with rich rugs. The first thing, almost, that met my eye was a large Stuart of George Washington, and beside it was a silver-plated log cabin, which was presented to Mrs. Hayes during the celebration of their silver wedding in the White House in 1877. On the left wall was an oil portrait of Sardis Birchard. The cane he always used was hanging to the edge of the frame. Back of the arch, just where the carved balustrade winds up to the other floors, is an open fireplace, where a natural-gas fire burns brightly. Above the mantel, artistically placed, is a collection of weapons.3 In the centre is a brass Venetian plaque bearing the date 1400, and above it hangs an English cap, Don Quixote shape, which was taken at the battle of Lexington. Surrounding these are old flintlock pistols, quaint Japanese swords with chop-sticks conveniently attached, Mexican and Indian swords and pipes, a tomahawk and swords taken by General Hayes. The solitary ornament on the mantel is a solid cast of Lincoln’s hand in bronze.

In the corner near this attractive mantel is a chair made of horns. It was made by an Indian scout and trapper [Seth Kinman] who, they say, makes one for every President. Above it is framed the General’s [military] coat-of-arms and a small portrait of himself when a beardless boy.

In The Library

To the right is the large library4. I wish I could convey the feeling of comfort and homelikeness it gives. The room is very large and fine portieres hide the hall from view as well as keep out the draught. At the other end is the fireplace, made in the deep old style when there were nothing but great logs to burn. It is natural gas, however, that twinkles and burns blue and red in its dance over its quaint brass bed. The beautiful bric-a-brac on the mantel is reflected in the large mirror at its back.

All around the room are low open bookcases holding costly and rare books.5 In one corner near the cheerful fire, stands an upright piano. Tables are set around conveniently on which are books, magazines, photographs and some few fresh flowers. On either side of the entrance door are life-size oil-portraits of Mr. and Mrs. Hayes, painted by Andrews while they were in the White House. It [one] represents Mrs. Hayes in the white flowered silk and lace and shows her to be a very sweet, lovely woman. Mrs. Hayes inherits her beauty from her family, as is shown by a portrait of her grandmother - a very handsome woman - which hangs close by. Its companion piece is a portrait of General Hayes’s only sister, Fanny, who had the reputation of being a wondrously beautiful girl. She died while still quite young.

Miss Keeler then showed me some rare books and souvenirs belonging to Mrs. Hayes. The most beautiful souvenirs are the six volumes of American autographs of all the people, poets and writers of note. It is dedicated to the total abstinance cause and was presented to Mrs. Hayes by the ladies of Illinois. Throughout the volumes is exquisite pen ornamentation. The first name in the volumes is that of Mrs. James Knox Polk and the second, if I mistake not, is that of Schuyler Colfax. One of the tables, a fine rosewood, in this library, was bought at the auction in the White House during Garfield’s time.

A Thrilling Experience

One painting Mrs. Hayes values very highly. It is a scene on the rapids of the New River, in West Virginia, a wild spot, beautiful in its very ruggedness. One time during the war the General’s regiment was encamped nearby, and Mrs. Hayes [who was visiting her husband in camp during a lull in the fighting] started off for a ride with her brother Joseph, a surgeon in the army. On their return they found the picket line had been removed, and they were pursued by the Rebels. It was a ride for liberty on one side and a ride for a valuable prize on the other. Several shots were fired, but Mrs. Hayes and the surgeon escaped.

A room directly at the back of the library is Mr. Hayes’ study. It is a regular student’s or rather scholar’s den. The open bookcases reach to the ceiling and are piled full of books. A small table is covered with papers, letters and pens. A leather lounge in one corner makes a good thinking spot. In this study Mr. and Mrs. Hayes spend the most of their life. They read and study together. War tales and reminiscences are their chief topics in reading and conversation. Among other things, on the mantel, or I might say in the position of honor, is a full figure in bronze of Lincoln. It represents him in the position so familiar to the public - sitting in a chair. General Hayes says, so Miss Keeler told me, that he thinks, next to Christ, Lincoln was the most wonderful of men. The seal that President Lincoln always used is in the posession of Mr. Hayes. This beautiful study, with its cheerful fire made me feel like sitting down and enjoying a feast among those books. The exquisite dressing-case6, hung with all the little knick-knacks that a woman gathers about her, is of solid mahogany. The upstairs corresponds in beauty with the lower floor. To me it was the finest spot in the Hayes homestead.

The [red] parlor is across the hall from the library [now the drawing room]. The hardwood floors are a russet brown. Rich wine-red rugs, with long, soft pile, deaden the sound of walking. On the walls in the parlor are many paintings, conspicuous among the lot being a full-length portrait of Fanny Hayes, the only daughter. Between the parlor and the dining room is Mrs. Hayes’s bedroom. The windows, hung with real lace curtains, open to the south and command a beautiful view of the Grove. Some fine oil-paintings adorn the walls. The bedstead is of solid mahogany, with the long, old-fashioned posts. It was the property of Mrs. Hayes’s grandmother.

The Chickens And Cows

We then went out to see the chickens and the cows, the dogs running ahead and barking, then coming back to us, as if afraid we would not follow. A few beautiful Jersey cows were out in a meadow. In the stable were three calves, which lifted their cute great, human eyes and whisked their little tails and jumped around in their stalls, as if to show us how frisky there were.

"That’s a pure Jersey," said the man in charge, pointing out the solitary one. "These here twins are not. They were born since Mrs. Hayes went East. She’ll be so delighted and so surprised to see them when she comes home."

The chickens, common breed of a motley kind, number sixty. This does not include the ducks.

"I don’t know that the General ever looks at the chickens, but Mrs. Hayes is very fond of them. She doesn’t kill any except for sick people. Lay eggs? No. We have so many old hens, and we don’t get an egg now. Mrs. Hayes has lots of pigeons," pointing to the dove-cote around which the doves were as thick as bees and as busy. "They all know her. She comes out into the yard and she has a little call at which they all come and sit on her arms and pick her cheeks, and bolder ones sit on her head until she feeds them.

"Out this way Mr. Hayes has planted some walnut trees in the shape of a church - spire, choir, naves and all. It is perfect in outline. ‘In two hundred years from now,’ Mr. Hayes said, when the work was completed, ‘it will be a church worth owning!’"

And Mrs. Hayes! Every one says that she is handsome. She is large and well formed and dresses well, but very quietly. She has black hair, worn smooth over the ears, and large gray eyes which grow black with excitement. She is most lovable and sweet, so all say who know her. She is very fond of music, and still sings. In the Summer she is to be seen every day working in her flower garden or driving. She is very full of fun, and enters into sports with the young folks like a school girl. Her dogs, Dot and Jet, who announced me by their barking are very dear to her.

Mrs. Hayes's Family

Mrs. Hayes is the idolized mother of four boys and one daughter. Birchard, the eldest boy, is named in honor of his grand-uncle, Sardis Birchard. He married Miss [Mary Nancy] Sherman, of Norwalk, O., two years ago, and resides in Toledo, O. He is a graduate of Harvard and a lawyer, of the firm of Swayne, Swayne & Hayes. He is father of the first and only grand-child, Rutherford Birchard. Webb Hayes, the second son, is in Cleveland, engaged in electrical manufacturing. Rutherford lives at home, and is cashier of the Fremont Savings Bank, of which General Hayes is President. Fanny Hayes is the only daughter, and is said to resemble her father. Scott Russell, the youngest, is very handsome. He is attending Cornell.

Mrs. Hayes entertains a great deal, and is fond of company. Her children make a companion of her, and their choicest jokes are saved for her. Sometimes they are mischievous enough to play their pranks on her.

One time when Mr. and Mrs. Hayes were travelling West, Mrs. Hayes endeavored to keep away from the autograph hunters who besieged their train. She kept out of sight until it was time for the train to start, then she seated herself at the window. There was a crowd outside, and instantly some one handed in an autograph book. Of course she had to write. Then came margins of newpapers, cards and more albums, until she was almost tired out. When the train started Rutherford came in and showed his mother an album that he had been passing in through the window to her. He had her autograph fifty-six times in one album!


1 On the knoll, adjacent to the graves of the favorite animals of the Hayes family, is the monument over the graves of President and Mrs. Hayes. The former President and his wife were originally buried in the family lot in Oakwood Cemetery, Fremont, but on April 3, 1915, their bodies were removed to the present memorial site in Spiegel Grove.

2 Lucy Elliot Keeler was a daughter of Janette Elliot and Isaac M. Keeler, of Fremont; her mother was a first cousin of President Hayes.  

3 This collection of items is now in the Hayes Museum, and a portrait of Mrs. Hayes is above the mantel.

4 This room is now known as the drawing room, and the President’s study is the library.  

5 The President’s personal collection of books, comprising about 10,000 volumes, forms the nucleus of The Rutherford B. Hayes Library.  

6 The "dressing-case" mentioned by Nellie Bly, is now in the master bedroom on the first floor.