Grave Sightings: Benjamin Harrison

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Stacy Conradt

For years, every time we so much as touch a toe out of state, I’ve put cemeteries on our travel itinerary. From garden-like expanses to overgrown boot hills, whether they’re the final resting places of the well-known but not that important or the important but not that well-known, I love them all. After realizing that there are a lot of taphophiles (cemetery and/or tombstone enthusiasts) out there, I’m finally putting my archive of interesting tombstones to good use.

Poor Benjamin Harrison. No one ever seems to remember that he was president, perhaps because he was just a one-termer from 1889 to 1893.

In fact, on the way out of the White House after Grover Cleveland lost the election to Harrison, First Lady Frances Folsom Cleveland apparently told one of the staff, “Don’t change much—we’ll be back." And they were, four years later. In the interim, Benjamin Harrison presided over the Oval Office, following in grandfather William Henry Harrison’s footsteps.

In his four short years, Harrison did accomplish a few things. He signed the Land Revision Act of 1891, which gave the president the right to set aside forest reserves. Harrison authorized his first forest reserve in Yellowstone a month after the law was passed.

He also championed civil rights—or at least tried to, endorsing the Federal Elections Bill that would give blacks the right to vote in the south. The bill was filibustered in the Senate and failed to pass. One law that did pass was the Sherman Anti-Trust Act, which aimed to break up monopolies and remains in effect today.

Of course, Harrison had his failures, too. The Battle of Wounded Knee happened under his watch, and many people felt that he and Congress wasted the economic surplus by providing generous pensions to Civil War vets. The money in the coffers had all but vanished by the end of his term, and voters noticed.

Grover Cleveland won the 1892 election by the biggest margin in 20 years. This, combined with the fact that Caroline Harrison had died two weeks before the election, resulted in Harrison leaving office pretty quietly. He gave some lectures, supported William McKinley’s bid for presidency, and remarried in 1896. Because the 37-year-old woman he married was younger than his daughter, neither of his children attended his second wedding.

Photo by Stacy Conradt

In February 1901, he came down with what he thought was the flu. It was determined to be pneumonia when it claimed his life less than a month later. He was buried at Crown Hill Cemetery in Indianapolis, along with his first wife. Mary, his second wife, joined them when she died 47 years later.

Harrison had two fun presidential "firsts" under his belt: He was the first president to have electricity in the White House, although he and his wife Caroline were not entirely comfortable with it. They often went to bed with the lights blazing because they were concerned they would be electrocuted if they touched the light switch.

Harrison was also the first president to have his voice recorded.

See all entries in our Grave Sightings series here.

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