Saturday, August 20, 2011

Rutherford B. Hayes and his Lucy ...

"Nobody else can know as I do her wonderful goodness and amazing powers. She touched life in more points than anyone else I ever heard or read of." ~ an excerpt from the diary of Rutherford B. Hayes after the death of his wife, Lucy.

I have a fascination with photos and the way they, especially old prints, can ignite a memory or strange feeling inside. The moment I saw a black and white picture of President Rutherford B. Hayes and his wife, Lucy, something stirred within me, but as I toured their home and the Rutherford B. Hayes Presidential Center in Fremont this week, it unveiled what it was I felt -- love.

While I was already out in the Sandusky area, the Hayes museum seemed to be the recommendation I was getting from those I'd talked to in Bellevue, so I decided to go. Admittedly, I didn't remember a whole lot about President Hayes from history class going in, just that he was our 19th president and won in a hotly disputed election, and was the only president to serve one term by choice. So my mind was virtually a blank sheet waiting to be written on.

When I approached the front desk of the museum, the white-haired man sitting there wearing glasses asked whether I wanted to walk through the museum, take a guided tour of the Rutherford home or both. I smiled at him and said, "both." I only glanced at a few exhibits of the museum before one of the tours of the home started.
Rutherford B. Hayes Home

They wouldn't let us take pictures inside the 1863 home, but as you see on the outside, the home, built by Hayes' uncle Sardis (who was his father figure as his own father died two months before he was born), held a warm coloring, was simple, but elegant in architecture, It also allowed for spectacular views of the nature surrounding it. This was very reflective of the style inside. And everything about that home made me feel warmth and welcome.

The day quickly became more about this couple and their family and intimate lives and less about Hayes' political career and time as president. Though for the record, his main focuses were on equal treatment regardless of race, reconciling the divisions that resulted in the Civil War, improvement through education and civil reform.

It's hard to convey this on paper, but when I think about exactly what spoke to me the strongest about that home and the Hayes' personal items and letters, it was that Rutherford Hayes, without a doubt, deeply adored his wife their entire lives together. It showed in everything we passed, from their shared taste in styles, books, nature, to his letters describing her "dark raven hair" and "perfect eyes."

Taken from his diary: "She was very beautiful in her prime and changed with years less than most persons do. Her eyes were simply perfect -- large, hazel, dark, flashing, tender. I saw once a panther in Quebec, down at a little collection of native animals and birds of Canada, when traveling with her in 1860. I told her and Clinton Kirby, 'There are Lucy's eyes when excited.' Not like hers, but reminding you of hers in their force. Her hair was always a beautiful raven black, with a single red hair or dark auburn here and there. The few gray hairs now have not changed its general appearance, so it has often been said lately, 'Her beautiful hair is as black as ever.'"

The couple, who met in Cincinnati and were married in 1852, had eight children, seven boys and one girl, named Fanny (after Hayes' sister). However, three of the boys died before the age of 2 of childhood diseases. I couldn't even imagine what that felt like for Lucy, especially when they lost one of them during her time visiting her husband -- whom she encouraged to fight in the Civil War to end slavery -- while tending soldiers at the camps. She was equally loved by the soldiers, who would call her "Mother." Hayes kept a locket with Lucy's picture on him from the time he was in the war up to his death in 1893.

Their home reflected their love of books, especially Hayes, who had at least 12,000 books in his library and who called his office where he retreated to read or work his "inner sanctum." The home, which had several additions as the family grew, had a very top floor that was akin to a lantern as it had windows facing all directions letting light flood into the room and serving as an indoor greenhouse of sorts for Lucy. As I walked through the red parlor (nostalgically named by Hayes in honor of the red room of the White House), the master bedroom and library, everything about this couple continued to draw me in. The woodwork was done using a richly colored local tree called butternut and some of the accent pieces in the house as well as the door hinges were oriental in design.

Lucy, who played piano, guitar and sang, was also the very first president's wife with a college education and the first to be referred to as "The First Lady." Our guide, Ann, said when Hayes was governor, he would affectionately refer to Lucy as his "first lady," and the term carried on into his presidency where the press picked it up. The couple also saved most if not all of their letters -- Hayes in particular kept a steady journal -- and diaries and the family kept most of the original furnishings in good condition, creating a treasure trove of pieces and accurate information for the museum staff to utilize. One of my favorites, a 1779 grandfather clock that belonged to Hayes' grandparents, which was 10 years before George Washington was president.
Uncle Sardis

Another tid bit about Lucy that I loved, there was a gorgeous cherry oak side board, or buffet in the dining room with wooden sliding doors on the side and Ann said when Lucy was a little girl, she'd hide inside the side board and listen to the conversations at the dinner table.

And one area I identified with Fanny, being the only girl, is she was completely doted on by her father. He gave her a lavishly furnished bedroom with baby blue colors, similar to the one she had as a child in the White House and gifts such as a large, intricate dollhouse that is currently in the museum.

Lucy, who was also the first person to ever bring a Siamese cat to the states, which was a gift given to her from Siam, loved sewing and looking out the window while doing so. During the 1889 expansion of the house, Hayes had a sun nook that overlooked the backyard grounds --which he walked almost every day -- incorporated into one of the upstairs bedrooms for this reason, however, a few months before the expansion was complete, Lucy passed away while doing some mending in her chair at the age of 57. Ann said she lived three days after that with Hayes at her side.
Hayes' locket with a picture of Lucy
He mourned her deeply and passed away a few years later in 1893 from a heart attack he had on his way home from delivering a speech in Cleveland. Hayes had refused medical help and told his son he wanted to be home when he passed -- he wanted to be where Lucy was when she passed.

The more I read about this couple's lives together, their struggles, their shared passions and inner strength, the more I was reminded that love like that -- the kind of love that nurtures, respects, gently pushes, supports and cherishes -- does exist. There was no denying it as I walked those grounds, read those yellowed letters and entries, saw those pictures and even felt the energy of that home. I felt loved.

So, I will leave this entry with the last part of Hayes' diary excerpt after his wife's passing:

"She had a many-sided nature ... was fond of looking on at the dancing in a ballroom, of all great gatherings, of soldiers marching and drilling. She would say: 'I am not very far from being so good as they say. But I do want to treat others as I want them to treat me. I would do this with all of God's creatures. It makes me happy to do it. I try to do it and am miserable if conscious of a failure.'

This was her religion -- treating all others according to the Golden Rule. A Christian? Yes, Darling, you were indeed." ~ R.B. Hayes.

~ C ~

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