Francis Howard Williams.

The bride of the White House online

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|<^T the time of President Cleveland's inauguration
none but the boldest of prophets would have
*Q% ventured to predict the social revolution which
has occurred within the White House. Mr.
Cleveland having reached that period in life when a
man's habits are commonly supposed to have crystallized
into a confirmed bachelorhood, nobody seems to have
thought of his marriage as a possible contingency.
Miss Rose Elizabeth Cleveland had been duly installed
as " the first lady in the land," and the graceful way in
which she filled the somewhat complicated duties of
that position had added a sense of satisfaction to the
general public acquiescence in what appeared to be the
inevitable arrangement of the Presidential domestic

Miss Cleveland had, moreover, put forward a claim
to public attention quite apart from that naturally at-
tending her high social position. It had long been
known that she was a lady of considerable culture with
strong literary leanings, but it was a matter of genuine
surprise when, in the autumn of 1885, sne published her
volume of essays — "George Eliot's Poetry and other
Studies" — a work which, though somewhat unequal in



execution, is nevertheless marked by much critical
acumen, and embodies the conclusions of a mind at once
clear in its processes and logical in its inferences.

The reception accorded this volume was sufficiently
favorable to encourage further ventures in the field of
literature, and the American public began to plume
itself upon the possession of a genuine authoress within
the precincts of the Executive Mansion. But greater
surprises were in store. It began to be whispered that
the President seriously contemplated matrimony, and
although these rumors did not immediately take definite
shape they exhibited a persistency which compelled cre-
dence, and even the refusal of those most nearly con-
cerned to confirm them failed utterly to silence " Mrs.
Grundy " in her assertion that where there was so much
smoke there necessarily must be some fire.

Presently, the reports took more definite shape ;
names and localities began to be mentioned ; the ubiqui-
tous reporter, with his ever-ready tablet and his ever-
pointed pencil, made himself exceedingly active ; his
keen professional scent could not be baffled ; and bit by
bit the rather startling intelligence that Mr. Cleveland
would exchange his bachelor freedom for the comforts
of the connubial state became public property. It was
learned that Miss Folsom, of Buffalo, was the lady of
the President's choice; but, beyond this, little was known,
and as the prospective bride was then in Europe the
opportunities of the gossips were limited. The main
facts of the lady's life soon became known, however,




and much interest was manifested in anticipation of the
changed social conditions at the Capital. The facts
were concisely as follows :

Miss Frank Folsom, whom the American public seem
to have determined shall be rebaptized Frances, was
born on the 21st of July, 1864, in the house No. 168
Edward street, Buffalo, New York, and was conse-
quently in her 2 2d year. At a later date the family
removed to a dwelling in Franklin street subsequently
occupied by Mr. George J. Letchworth, and, in 1875,
they had gone to the Tifft House, where they were
stopping at the time of Mr. Folsom's death. This sad
event threw a deep gloom over the family, and, prob-
ably with a view to a closer drawing of domestic ties,
they went to Medina, taking up their abode with Mrs.
Harmon, the widowed mother of Mrs. Folsom.

The decease of the husband and father appears to
have been a turning-point in the destinies of the family.
Oscar Folsom was a man of genial good nature, gener-
ous and open-hearted in a remarkable degree, and his
death made a void not easily filled.

From him his daughter inherited much of that power
of winning the love and allegiance of friends which in
her subsequent school-life was a noted characteristic.

In appearance she was described as tall and grace-
ful, with soft brown hair worn loosely drawn back from
the forehead. Her eyes violet blue, her nose rather
large and prominent; her mouth mobile and of singular
beauty, and a distinct individuality imparted to the face
by heavy eyebrows which nearly meet.


As a child, Frank had attended the French Kinder-
garten of Mme. Brecker, and the quickness of appre-
hension which she then displayed received a fuller
exemplification when, upon the return of the family to
Buffalo, she entered the Central School and almost im-
mediately became the pronounced favorite of both
teachers and her fellow-pupils. She threw her energies
into her studies in a way which augured well for her
future success in whatever field she should elect to
occupy, and the development of her character in this
matter of earnest application becomes a valuable pointer
in aiding us to reach a just estimate of her personality,
and to form a sound judgment as to her ability to fill
with dignity the high social position to which she has
been called.

It was during the period of her attendance at the
Central School that the incident occurred which has
since led to some confusion regarding her Christian
name. It seems that, owing to the masculine quality
of the name Frank, Miss Folsom frequently found her-
self figuring on the boys' lists — a circumstance which
led to many errors on the part of others, and to no little
annoyance to herself; she therefore temporarily adopted
Clara as a middle name, and the insertion of the initial
C after Frank was sufficient to bring about the quite
common mistake of writing her name Frances.

Mrs. Folsom at this time boarded with Mrs. Jonathan
Mayhew, and afterwards occupied the house of Mrs.
Boyd on Franklin street ; but the home-life of the family


seemed to be much broken up, and the daughter was
glad to avail herself of her Central School certificate,
which admitted her to the sophomore class at Wells
College without preliminary examination. Here again
she became a prime favorite, and it was during her
sojourn at this institution that the flowers sent her from
Albany, and the many evidences of regard which the
Governor bestowed, began to cause a whisper that his
attachment amounted to something more than mere
friendly kindliness. The whisper grew into a much
more definite utterance when Miss Folsom oraduated
and was the recipient of really magnificent floral tributes
from the White House conservatories. Governor Cleve-
land had meanwhile become President of the United
States, and the fact that he was a bachelor, coupled with
the other fact that his exalted position kept him ever in
the bright light of public scrutiny, conspired to set many
tongues wagging as to the possible outcome of his ac-
quaintance with the fair graduate, who, in June, 1885,
said farewell to Alma Mate)' and went to spend the
summer, or a part of it, at the residence of her- grand-
father, the late Colonel John B. Folsom, in Folsomdale,
Wyoming county, N. Y., two miles out of Cowlesville.
This orentleman, whose recent death has made his errand-
daughter the heiress to a considerable property, was
familiarly called by her " Papa John," and a warm affec-
tion seems ever to have existed between them. The
old place is a typical homestead, possessing all the
homely characteristics of farm-life combined with much


of solid comfort and refinement, and its associations are
such as to form an excellent background for the experi-
ences of an American girl in Europe — experiences which
were soon to be those of the subject of this sketch.

Exactly what understanding existed between the
President and Miss Folsom at the time she went abroad
may not be definitely known outside of the circle im-
mediately interested, but it is likely that they were
betrothed ere her departure. Both parties maintained
a guarded silence, and it is an extraordinary circum-
stance that, in these days of intensely personal jour-
nalism, so delectable a morsel of gossip should have
escaped parade in the newspapers until a date so near
the occurrence of the nuptials. The fact points to the
possession of much fortitude on the part of the Presi-
dent, and much discretion on the part of the lady whom
he had selected for his bride. Indeed, she seems to
have gone to Europe for the purpose of recreation, and
with the determination to maintain her privacy as a
necessary condition thereto.

Little was heard from Miss Folsom until, on the 27th
of May, the Red Star steamer Nooi'dland, from Antwerp,
sailed into the port of New York, having just transferred
to a United States revenue cutter Miss Folsom, her
mother, and her uncle, Mr. Benjamin Folsom. The
cutter ran up the bay with an occasional salute of steam-
whistles, but the party came comparatively unannounced.
Colonel Lamont was present as the President's repre-
sentative. At the pier the bride-elect was welcomed


by Miss Cleveland, and the party was speedily installed
at the Gilsey House. Mrs. Lamont, Mrs. Whitney, and
Mrs. Endicott paid their respects early the following
day, and on Sunday, the 30th, the President arrived in
New York, and immediately repaired to the hotel to
greet his future wife. He was accompanied by Secre-
taries Whitney and Lamar, but these gentlemen left
him at the ferry, and he met Mrs. and Miss Folsom
alone in their private parlors.

The hurried manner in which an American President
is obliged to attend to personal matters, even of the
first magnitude, is well exemplified in Mr. Cleveland's
trip from Washington to New York to greet his bride-
elect. A correspondent gives the following graphic
description :

" President Cleveland's last Sunday in bachelorhood
was one of quiet but busy preparation for his journey
to New York, and the other and most interesting event
of the coming week. He attended church to-day (May
30) with Miss Cleveland and Miss Nelson, but the good
and oratorical Dr. Sunderland, the President's pastor,
who is very proud of the part he has to perform on
Wednesday, did not refer to the blissful event in prayer
or sermon. After the service they drove to Secretary
Manning's. They found Mr. Manning bright and cheer-
ful, and he declared his purpose to attend the wedding.

il The President left the White House at a little before
four p. m. for the Baltimore and Potomac station. He
drove around the back way, to and across the govern-


ment reservation south of Pennsylvania avenue, so that
the loungers on that popular thoroughfare did not get
a chance to give him a parting glance and God-speed.
He was at the back door of the station before anybody
knew it.

" The fact that the President was to leave Washington
for New York on the regular Congressional express had
been announced for some days in the daily press, and
the announcement was officially confirmed at the White
House. It was stated also that there was to be no
special train. The official utterances of the White
House, however, are not implicitly relied upon in the
days of the honey-moon, and the fact was not considered
as well established until it was confirmed by the railroad
officials. . . . The Cabinet members of the President's
party evidently understood that the train was to leave
as on other days and came to the station early.

" Some time before the Presidential party came, two
mysterious-looking men, who kept their own counsel
and whom no one knew, arrived, took up their position
near the entrance to the private car, and seemed to
make it their business to know who was present. There
was a business headquarters look about them which
reminded the lookers-on of similar strangers who were
in attendance upon the President at the time of the
inauguration, and who, it was afterwards discovered,
were New York detectives, furnished by the President's
excessively prudent friends as a body-guard.

" One of these ever-present, ever-watchful strangers,


save for his face which had a much happier look, might
have been taken for the President himself.

" The Cabinet party began to arrive, and the strangers
moved from the gate a little to keep a close watch upon
the car. If it was their purpose to keep the reporters
away from the President they were unsuccessful, for the
reporters were there in force. If they came to keep
any one else away they were in like manner unsuccess-
ful, for no one else had curiosity enough to come to the
station in the hot sun.

" Postmaster-General and Mrs. Vilas were the first of
the Presidential party to arrive, accompanied by Assist-
ant Postmaster-General Knott, of Maryland. The
latter, known by virtue of his position to most railroad
officials, had the side gate at once opened, and the
Postmaster-General, Mrs. Vilas, Mrs. Lamont (who
went as a guest of the party), Mr. and Mrs. Endicott,
and Secretary Lamar at once walked down the long
platform. They were the only members of the com-
pany, except the President himself and his valet, Henry,
for whom there was a long wait. The ladies at once
entered the saloon parlor, at the rear of Vice-President
Thomson's car. The drawing-room in the front part of
the car was reserved for President Cleveland, and every
blind and curtain in it was closely drawn. . . .

" The lone wait that followed created uneasiness. . . .
The train was held three or four minutes. . . . The
President had not come. Then there was a movement
and the word was passed along the scattered line :
' There he comes. He is coming the back way ! '


" Mr. Cleveland came in sight on the long platform
from the South End about five minutes after the time
for the regular leaving of the train. . . He was accom-
panied by an assistant station-agent, who, in case of an
accident, had apparently been stationed as a picket in the
outfield. . . . He had hardly put foot upon the plat-
form when the belated train rapidly pulled out of the

Such a description is certainly a commentary on the
rather dyspeptic manner in which Americans, as a
people, get through with the business of life !

Miss Folsom kept herself as secluded as possible
during the remainder of her stay in New York, but, as
the wedding-day had been fixed for the 2d of June,
there was much busy preparation and excitement.
There had been considerable public comment as to
whether the marriage ceremony should take place in
the White House or at the Folsom residence, and as
social annals failed to furnish a precedent some of the
more conservative members of society doubted the
good taste of a wedding in the White House. Never-
theless this was finally decided upon, and elaborate
preparations were set on foot. The Executive Mansion
became the scene of the hasty labors of upholsterers,
decorators, and florists ; there were crowds of callers,
most of whom were unsuccessful in seeing the President,
who escaped much annoyance by driving out to his
country place, " Pretty Prospect," and turning his visitors
over to the tender mercies of the doorkeepers.


By Wednesday, June 2d, the preparations were com-
plete. The Blue Room, in which the ceremony was to
take place, had been converted into a Psyche's Bovver
of loveliness. The south side was a solid bank of dark-
areen foliaee, against which stood out the red and pink
and white of azaleas and camellias. The fire-places
were filled with potted plants, while the mantels were
nearly concealed beneath banks of flowers. The east
mantel was covered with purple pansies, bordered with
a line of yellow, and fringed with ferns. On this purple
bed appeared the inscription, "June 2d, 1886," in white
pansies. On the west mantel was a bank of crimson
roses, bordered with maiden's-hair fern, and bearing
the monogram " C. F." in white moss roses. The mir-
rors were bordered by parti-colored garlands composed
of roses and other rare flowers. Great palms stood,
sentry-like, on either side of the doorway leading to the
main hall, and a scroll, composed of pinks and bearing
the national motto, "E Pluribus Unum" was fixed im-
mediately above the centre doorway.

The East Parlor was decorated in a style quite differ-
ent, but equally handsome ; there were fewer flowers,
but the display of foliage, especially rare palms, was
exceedingly fine. The Green Parlor was comparatively
devoid of ornament, but such decoration as had been
attempted there was in excellent taste and showed in
pleasing contrast with the greater elaboration bestowed
upon the other apartments. In the dining-room the
ornamentation was in oreneral character similar to that


of the East Parlor. Potted plants, arranged in pyramids,
filled the corners, and roses festooned the mirrors. The
side-boards were covered with rare plants, and a floral
piece in the centre of the table represented a ship under
full sail, the national colors flying from her mast-head,
with a pennant bearing the monogram " C. F."

It was nearly seven o'clock in the evening when the
wedding guests assembled in the Blue Room. Owing
to the President's desire that the affair should be as
private as possible, the Diplomatic Corps had not been
invited, and the following guests were the only persons

Mrs. Folsom, the mother of the bride ; Rev. W. N.
Cleveland, the President's brother; Mrs. Hoyt and
Miss Cleveland, the President's sisters ; Mr. Bayard,
Secretary of State ; Mr. Manning, Secretary of the
Treasury, with Mrs. Manning; Mr. Endicott, Secretary
of War, with Mrs. Endicott; Mr. Whitney, Secretary
of the Navy, with Mrs. Whitney ; Mr. Vilas, Postmaster-
General, with Mrs. Vilas ; Mr. Lamar, Secretary of the
Interior ; Colonel Lamont, Private Secretary, with Mrs.
Lamont ; Benjamin Folsom, Esq. ; Mr. and Mrs. Rogers,
of Seneca Falls, N. Y. ; Mrs. Cadman and Miss Hud-
dleston, of Detroit; Mr. and Mrs. Harmon, of Boston;
Miss Nelson, of New York ; W. S. Bissell, Esq., of
Buffalo, and Dr. and Mrs. Byron Sunderland. The
Attorney-General, though invited, was not present.

The guests placed themselves in the form of a semi-
circle, Mr. Bayard being at the extreme left and Rev.
Mr. Cleveland at the extreme right.



The Marine Band, which was stationed in the ante-
room, gave forth the dulcet strains of the perennial
wedding march of Mendelssohn, as the Rev. Dr. Sunder-
md took his position at the south end of the room, and
immediately after the bridal party entered. Miss Fol-
som leaned upon the President's arm, looking exceed-
ingly pretty in her wedding dress of cream white satin.
One skilled in the phraseology of the modiste has
described this costume as follows :

The dress was of thick ivory satin, with high, plain
corsage, elbow sleeves, and very long train. The front
breadth just below the waist was draped from side to
side with soft silk India muslin, attached on the left
side, and nearly joining the court train. The muslin
was bordered with a narrowband of orange flowers and
leaves that outlined the draping. The train, which was
attached to the plain bodice just below the waist, meas-
ured over four yards in length, was slightly rounded,
and fell in full plaits on the floor, with no trimming but
its own richness. Two scarfs of the muslin, starting
from the shoulder seams, crossed the bosom in Grecian
folds and were bordered with a narrow band of orange
flowers to correspond with the skirt. The scarfs disap-
peared under a girdle of satin, crossing the bodice from
left to right. The sleeves were trimmed with folds of
the mull and two or three orange buds and blossoms.
The tulle veil, six yards in length, was fastened with a
coronet of myrtle and orange blossoms above the high
coiffure, its folds lightly covering the entire train. The


general effect was that of exquisite simplicity, suited to
the beauty of the bride. She wore no jewelry and
carried no hand-bouquet, but lightly held a superb white

The President wore the canonical evening- suit of
black. The bearing of the couple was dignified and im-
pressive. They were followed by the few guests who
were closely related to the contracting parties, and as
soon as the usual hush of such occasions had fallen upon
the assemblage Dr. Sunderland offered up the following
prayer :

"Almighty and Everlasting God, the Father of our
spirits, the Framer of our bodies, the Giver of every
good and perfect gift — Thou who canst see the end
from the beginning, who knowest what is best for us
Thy children, and hast appointed the holy rite of mar-
riage to be sacredly observed throughout all genera,
tions — regard now, we beseech Thee, Thy servant, our
Chief Magistrate ; endow him plenteously with Thy
grace, and fill him with wisdom to walk in Thy ordi-
nances. Be very nigh to him in the midst of many
cares and grave responsibilities ; day by day may Thy
law direct him and Thy strength uphold him, and be
Thou forever his Sun and Shield. And be graciously
pleased to look down upon this Thy daughter, even as
Thou didst favor the chosen Rebecca and many noble
women that have adorned the world. May she indeed
be a precious boon of God to her husband, to cheer
and help him continually — a woman gifted with the



beauty of the Lord and shedding the sweet influence of
a Christian life upon the nation in whose sight she is to
dwell. Wilt Thou approve what we, Thy servants,
come to do in Thy name, by Thine authority and under
the laws of the land in which we live ; and graciously
assist them, this man and this woman, who are here to
be united in the bonds of holy wedlock according to the
institution of Thy words. Mercifully be pleased, Al-
mighty God, to vouchsafe to each of them Thy grace,
that they may well and truly weigh the unfailing vows
which they are now about to make to each other in the
presence of this company and before Thee, and that
they may be enabled hereafter at all times so to live
together as to rejoice in the solemnization of this union
with joy unspeakable and full of glory through Jesus
Christ our Lord. Amen."

The reverend doctor then performed the marriage
ceremony in a manner at once solemn and impressive,
the bride and groom making their responses in clear
tones. The ring was then passed and placed upon the
bride's finger, and the two were pronounced man and
wife. The following benediction was spoken by the
Rev. Mr. Cleveland: "God the Father, God the Son
and God the Holy Ghost, bless, preserve and keep you,
the Lord mercifully fill you with all temporal and all
spiritual blessings, and grant that you may so live to-
gether in this world that in the world to come you may
have life everlasting. Amen."

The ceremony occupied ten minutes. The Rev. Mr.


Cleveland came forward first to offer his congratulations,
and kissed the bride. Mr. Whitney followed and then
Mr. Lamar and the rest. Upon Colonel Lamont's invi-
tation the guests then entered the dining-room, where a
collation was served. Very elegant white satin boxes
containing pieces of the wedding cake were distributed
as souvenirs, the date, June 2, 1886, being embroidered
in colors on the covers.

Shortly after eight o'clock the President and Mrs.
Cleveland left the supper-room, and presently re-
appeared in travelling dress, prepared to take a special
train to Deer Park, where they were to pass the honey-
moon. Hasty good-byes were exchanged, and the
couple made their exit from a private door at which the
President's landau was awaiting them. It was a difficult
matter to escape the crowd, but by a little judicious
manoeuvring this was accomplished in a reasonably
satisfactory manner. While the Marine Band was dis-
coursing " Lohengrin," " Maritana " and Mendelssohn's
"Spring Song," the President and his bride made good
their escape and were soon swiftly whirling away in the
direction of the Baltimore and Ohio railroad station. It
was a drive of two miles, and as they took a circuitous
route they did not reach the station until a quarter
after nine. President Garrett's private car, with an-
other coach and a baggage car, had been waiting their
arrival for half an hour; baggage was stowed away,
servants were in attendance, and everything in order,
so that when the happy pair stepped aboard there was



Online LibraryFrancis Howard WilliamsThe bride of the White House → online text (page 1 of 2)