I have been keeping an informal, penciled list on a folder for some months, of all the famous individuals who visited Wellington during the nineteenth century. I thought it might be fun to share as a post. I will add to this compilation if I discover additional names.
The image above shows the funeral train of President Abraham Lincoln, assassinated in 1865. I wrote recently about the replica train now under construction. The original train, carrying the president’s remains, traveled through Wellington on April 29, 1865. Huge crowds turned out at two o’clock in the morning, in a driving rain, to see the slain leader pass.
Rutherford B. Hayes was close friends with local businessman Sidney Sardus Warner. Hayes gave a speech in Wellington after taking office as Governor of Ohio in 1868. He and wife Lucy Hayes were frequently mentioned in the local newspaper, particularly after they left the White House in 1881, visiting the village by rail. Some of Warner’s personal papers are now housed at the Hayes Presidential Center in Fremont, Ohio. Warner’s daughter, Orrie Louisa, was a guest of Mrs. Hayes in Washington D. C. during the 1881 inauguration of James Garfield.
I have written about Garfield’s connections to Wellington. He visited the village at least twice prior to his election to the presidency. In November 1860, he dedicated the Disciples Church, still standing at 123 Union Street. Nearly two decades later he returned, in the autumn of 1879, to give a political speech at the (second) Town Hall.
Lincoln and Garfield were the two U. S. presidents murdered in the nineteenth century; William McKinley was the first of two to be assassinated in the twentieth. McKinley had a lengthy political career in Ohio, including serving as governor, prior to being elected to the White House in 1896. He spoke in Wellington while running for Congress in 1884, and made a whistle stop in the village during his successful campaign for a second presidential term in 1900.
Mademoiselle Rhea may not be a household name now, but she was quite a famous actress in the late 1800s. I described her performances at the 1886 opening of the Opera House in a previous post.
Horace Greeley is the newspaper editor and political activist who famously wrote, “Go West, young man,” in support of America’s territorial expansion, our so-called “Manifest Destiny.” He spoke before the Wellington Lecture Association in February 1861. His topic was “America West of the Mississippi,” and drew a very large audience despite inclement weather.
Frederick Douglass was one of the most famous authors and public speakers of nineteenth-century America. He gave a lecture in town in the spring of 1868. “The Colored Orator of world wide reputation” was invited by the Wellington Reading Room Association. “Don’t fail to hear Fred Douglass on Friday,” cautioned The Lorain County News, “We do not often have an opportunity of hearing as distinguished a man as Fred” (3-25-1868, pg. 3).
Salmon P. Chase served as a senator and governor of Ohio, U. S. Treasury Secretary, and Chief Justice of the Supreme Court during his long career. He passed through Wellington while traveling to Columbus by train in June 1860. Chase had lost the presidential nomination to Abraham Lincoln at the Republican National Convention in Chicago just one month earlier. It was a heavy blow to his pride, particularly since the defection of several Ohio delegates in support of Lincoln began the turn of the overall political tide in his favor. Still, the notice of Chase’s brief visit quotes him as saying that “the administration of Abraham Lincoln would be characterized by its honesty and ability” (The Lorain County News, 6-13-1860, pg. 3). For those interested in a deeper exploration of what Chase privately thought of Lincoln (spoiler alert: not much) I highly recommend Doris Kearns Goodwin’s excellent Team of Rivals.
Not a person, I realize, but an iconic object nonetheless. The Liberty Bell stopped in Wellington on April 27, 1893, on its way to the World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago. The bell was traveling via train on the Big Four railway line, so Mayor George Couch wrote to the committee organizing the exposition (of which Charles Horr’s brother was conveniently a member) and asked that the train stop here. The village organized a series of celebratory activities, including a parade of student scholars, a welcome address, and a public viewing of the famous visitor. The train depot was decorated patriotically and local photographers H. H. Saunders & Son took an image of the bell that they later offered in print form for $0.25 to $0.50. The visit lasted thirty minutes.
UPDATE: The eagle-eyed among you will note that I have removed the image and text related to Mark Twain. Subsequent research uncovered the fact that the person who arrived in Wellington in June 1868 and introduced himself as the famous author was, in fact, a charlatan. “Twain” agreed to deliver a lecture at the Methodist Church, going so far as to announce it via a letter published in The Wellington Enterprise. But when he was told that a visitor from California was in the village whose husband knew the celebrity, “Twain” caught the next train out of town, leaving behind an unpaid hotel bill “and five cents for a collar at Shrier’s” (The Lorain County News, 6-24-1868, pg. 3). As Mark Twain famously did not observe, “There’s a sucker born every minute.”
I’m pretty sure that the photo labeled William McKinley on the train during his 1900 campaign is really a photo of William Jennings Bryan, his opponent in that election. First, he looks too young and thin to be McKinley; and second, I believe McKinley campaigned mostly from the front porch of his home during that election, and not be train.
Correction… “by train.”