Behind the Scenes
by Elizabeth Keckley
Chapter 15: The Secret History of Mrs. Lincoln's Wardrobe in New York
- Year Published: 1868
- Language: English
- Country of Origin: United States of America
- Source: Keckley, E. (1868) Behind the Scenes London, England: Partridge and Oakey
- Flesch–Kincaid Level: 7.4
- Word Count: 10,842
- Genre: Memoir
- Keywords: 19th century literature, african american literature, american history, american literature, autobiography, behind the scenes, biography
- ✎ Cite This
Keckley, E. (1868). Chapter 15: The Secret History of Mrs. Lincoln's Wardrobe in New York. Behind the Scenes (Lit2Go Edition). Retrieved June 03, 2023, from https://etc.usf.edu/lit2go/87/behind-the-scenes/1477/chapter-15-the-secret-history-of-mrs-lincolns-wardrobe-in-new-york/
Keckley, Elizabeth. "Chapter 15: The Secret History of Mrs. Lincoln's Wardrobe in New York." Behind the Scenes. Lit2Go Edition. 1868. Web. <https://etc.usf.edu/lit2go/87/behind-the-scenes/1477/chapter-15-the-secret-history-of-mrs-lincolns-wardrobe-in-new-york/>. June 03, 2023.
Elizabeth Keckley, "Chapter 15: The Secret History of Mrs. Lincoln's Wardrobe in New York," Behind the Scenes, Lit2Go Edition, (1868), accessed June 03, 2023, https://etc.usf.edu/lit2go/87/behind-the-scenes/1477/chapter-15-the-secret-history-of-mrs-lincolns-wardrobe-in-new-york/.
In March, 1867, Mrs. Lincoln wrote to me from Chicago that, as her income was insufficient to meet her expenses, she would be obliged to give up her house in the city, and return to boarding. She said that she had struggled long enough to keep up appearances, and that the mask must be thrown aside. "I have not the means," she wrote, "to meet the expenses of even a first–class boarding–house, and must sell out and secure cheap rooms at some place in the country. It will not be startling news to you, my dear Lizzie, to learn that I must sell a portion of my wardrobe to add to my resources, so as to enable me to live decently, for you remember what I told you in Washington, as well as what you understood before you left me here in Chicago. I cannot live on $1,700 a year, and as I have many costly things which I shall never wear, I might as well turn them into money, and thus add to my income, and make my circumstances easier. It is humiliating to be placed in such a position, but, as I am in the position, I must extricate myself as best I can. Now, Lizzie, I want to ask a favor of you. It is imperative that I should do something for my relief, and I want you to meet me in New York, between the 30th of August and the 5th of September next, to assist me in disposing of a portion of my wardrobe."
I knew that Mrs. Lincoln's income was small, and also knew that she had many valuable dresses, which could be of no value to her, packed away in boxes and trunks. I was confident that she would never wear the dresses again, and thought that, since her need was urgent, it would be well enough to dispose of them quietly, and believed that New York was the best place to transact a delicate business of the kind. She was the wife of Abraham Lincoln, the man who had done so much for my race, and I could refuse to do nothing for her, calculated to advance her interests. I consented to render Mrs. Lincoln all the assistance in my power, and many letters passed between us in regard to the best way to proceed. It was finally arranged that I should meet her in New York about the middle of September. While thinking over this question, I remembered an incident of the White House. When we were packing up to leave Washington for Chicago, she said to me, one morning:
"Lizzie, I may see the day when I shall be obliged to sell a portion of my wardrobe. If Congress does not do something for me, then my dresses some day may have to go to bring food into my mouth, and the mouths of my children."
I also remembered of Mrs. L. having said to me at different times, in the years of 1863 and '4, that her expensive dresses might prove of great assistance to her some day.
"In what way, Mrs. Lincoln? I do not understand," I ejaculated, the first time she made the remark to me.
"Very simple to understand. Mr. Lincoln is so generous that he will not save anything from his salary, and I expect that we will leave the White House poorer than when we came into it; and should such be the case, I will have no further need for an expensive wardrobe, and it will be policy to sell it off."
I thought at the time that Mrs. Lincoln was borrowing trouble from the future, and little dreamed that the event which she so dimly foreshadowed would ever come to pass.
I closed my business about the 10th of September, and made every arrangement to leave Washington on the mission proposed. On the 15th of September I received a letter from Mrs. Lincoln, postmarked Chicago, saying that she should leave the city so as to reach New York on the night of the 17th, and directing me to precede her to the metropolis, and secure rooms for her at the St. Denis Hotel in the name of Mrs. Clarke, as her visit was to be incog. The contents of the letter were startling to me. I had never heard of the St. Denis, and therefore presumed that it could not be a first–class house. And I could not understand why Mrs. Lincoln should travel, without protection, under an assumed name. I knew that it would be impossible for me to engage rooms at a strange hotel for a person whom the proprietors knew nothing about. I could not write to Mrs. Lincoln, since she would be on the road to New York before a letter could possibly reach Chicago. I could not telegraph her, for the business was of too delicate a character to be trusted to the wires that would whisper the secret to every curious operator along the line. In my embarrassment, I caught at a slender thread of hope, and tried to derive consolation from it. I knew Mrs. Lincoln to be indecisive about some things, and I hoped that she might change her mind in regard to the strange programme proposed, and at the last moment despatch me to this effect. The 16th, and then the 17th of September passed, and no despatch reached me, so on the 18th I made all haste to take the train for New York. After an anxious ride, I reached the city in the evening, and when I stood alone in the streets of the great metropolis, my heart sank within me. I was in an embarrassing situation, and scarcely knew how to act. I did not know where the St. Denis Hotel was, and was not certain that I should find Mrs. Lincoln there after I should go to it. I walked up to Broadway, and got into a stage going up town, with the intention of keeping a close look–out for the hotel in question. A kind–looking gentleman occupied the seat next to me, and I ventured to inquire of him:
"If you please, sir, can you tell me where the St. Denis Hotel is?"
"Yes; we ride past it in the stage. I will point it out to you when we come to it."
"Thank you, sir."
The stage rattled up the street, and after a while the gentleman looked out of the window and said:
"This is the St. Denis. Do you wish to get out here?"
"Thank you. Yes, sir."
He pulled the strap, and the next minute I was standing on the pavement. I pulled a bell at the ladies' entrance to the hotel, and a boy coming to the door, I asked:
"Is a lady by the name of Mrs. Clarke stopping here? She came last night, I believe."
"I do not know. I will ask at the office;" and I was left alone.
The boy came back and said:
"Yes, Mrs. Clarke is here. Do you want to see her?"
"Well, just walk round there. She is down here now."
I did not know where "round there" exactly was, but I concluded to go forward.
I stopped, however, thinking that the lady might be in the parlor with company; and pulling out a card, asked the boy to take it to her. She heard me talking, and came into the hall to see herself.
"My dear Lizzie, I am so glad to see you," she exclaimed, coming forward and giving me her hand. "I have just received your note"—I had written her that I should join her on the 18th—"and have been trying to get a room for you. Your note has been here all day, but it was never delivered until to–night. Come in here, until I find out about your room;" and she led me into the office.
The clerk, like all modern hotel clerks, was exquisitely arrayed, highly perfumed, and too self–important to be obliging, or even courteous.
"This is the woman I told you about. I want a good room for her," Mrs. Lincoln said to the clerk.
"We have no room for her, madam," was the pointed rejoinder.
"But she must have a room. She is a friend of mine, and I want a room for her adjoining mine."
"We have no room for her on your floor."
"That is strange, sir. I tell you that she is a friend of mine, and I am sure you could not give a room to a more worthy person."
"Friend of yours, or not, I tell you we have no room for her on your floor. I can find a place for her on the fifth floor."
"That, sir, I presume, will be a vast improvement on my room. Well, if she goes to the fifth floor, I shall go too, sir. What is good enough for her is good enough for me."
"Very well, madam. Shall I give you adjoining rooms, and send your baggage up?"
"Yes, and have it done in a hurry. Let the boy show us up. Come, Elizabeth," and Mrs. L. turned from the clerk with a haughty glance, and we commenced climbing the stairs. I thought we should never reach the top; and when we did reach the fifth story, what accommodations! Little three–cornered rooms, scantily furnished. I never expected to see the widow of President Lincoln in such dingy, humble quarters.
"How provoking!" Mrs. Lincoln exclaimed, sitting down on a chair when we had reached the top, and panting from the effects of the climbing. "I declare, I never saw such unaccommodating people. Just to think of them sticking us away up here in the attic. I will give them a regular going over in the morning."
"But you forget. They do not know you. Mrs. Lincoln would be treated differently from Mrs. Clarke."
"True, I do forget. Well, I suppose I shall have to put up with the annoyances. Why did you not come to me yesterday, Lizzie? I was almost crazy when I reached here last night, and found you had not arrived. I sat down and wrote you a note—I felt so badly—imploring you to come to me immediately."
This note was afterwards sent to me from Washington. It reads as follows:
ST. DENIS HOTEL, BROADWAY, N.Y.
"Wednesday, Sept. 17th.
"MY DEAR LIZZIE:—I arrived here last evening in utter despair at not finding you. I am frightened to death, being here alone. Come, I pray you, by next train. Inquire for
"Room 94, 5th or 6th Story.
"House so crowded could not get another spot. I wrote you especially to meet me here last evening; it makes me wild to think of being here alone. Come by next train, without fail.
"I am booked Mrs. Clarke; inquire for no other person. Come, come, come. I will pay your expenses when you arrive here. I shall not leave here or change my room until you come.
"Your friend, M. L.
"Do not leave this house without seeing me.
I transcribe the letter literally.
In reply to Mrs. Lincoln's last question, I explained what has already been explained to the reader, that I was in hope she would change her mind, and knew that it would be impossible to secure the rooms requested for a person unknown to the proprietors or attachés of the hotel.
The explanation seemed to satisfy her. Turning to me suddenly, she exclaimed:
"You have not had your dinner, Lizzie, and must be hungry. I nearly forgot about it in the joy of seeing you. You must go down to the table right away."
She pulled the bell–rope, and a servant appearing, she ordered him to give me my dinner. I followed him down–stairs, and he led me into the dining–hall, and seated me at a table in one corner of the room. I was giving my order, when the steward came forward and gruffly said:
"You are in the wrong room."
"I was brought here by the waiter," I replied.
"It makes no difference; I will find you another place where you can eat your dinner."
I got up from the table and followed him, and when outside of the door, said to him:
"It is very strange that you should permit me to be seated at the table in the dining–room only for the sake of ordering me to leave it the next moment."
"Are you not Mrs. Clarke's servant?" was his abrupt question.
"I am with Mrs. Clarke."
"It is all the same; servants are not allowed to eat in the large dining–room. Here, this way; you must take your dinner in the servants' hall."
Hungry and humiliated as I was, I was willing to follow to any place to get my dinner, for I had been riding all day, and had not tasted a mouthful since early morning.
On reaching the servants' hall we found the door of the room locked. The waiter left me standing in the passage while he went to inform the clerk of the fact.
In a few minutes the obsequious clerk came blustering down the hall:
"Did you come out of the street, or from Mrs. Clarke's room?"
"From Mrs. Clarke's room," I meekly answered. My gentle words seemed to quiet him, and then he explained:
"It is after the regular hour for dinner. The room is locked up, and Annie has gone out with the key."
My pride would not let me stand longer in the hall.
"Very well," I remarked, as I began climbing the stairs, "I will tell Mrs. Clarke that I cannot get any dinner."
He looked after me, with a scowl on his face:
"You need not put on airs! I understand the whole thing."
I said nothing, but continued to climb the stairs, thinking to myself: "Well, if you understand the whole thing, it is strange that you should put the widow of ex–President Abraham Lincoln in a three–cornered room in the attic of this miserable hotel."
When I reached Mrs. Lincoln's rooms, tears of humiliation and vexation were in my eyes.
"What is the matter, Lizzie?" she asked.
"I cannot get any dinner."
"Cannot get any dinner! What do you mean?"
I then told her of all that had transpired below.
"The insolent, overbearing people!" she fiercely exclaimed. "Never mind, Lizzie, you shall have your dinner. Put on your bonnet and shawl."
"What for! Why, we will go out of the hotel, and get you something to eat where they know how to behave decently;" and Mrs. Lincoln already was tying the strings of her bonnet before the glass.
Her impulsiveness alarmed me.
"Surely, Mrs. Lincoln, you do not intend to go out on the street to–night?"
"Yes I do. Do you suppose I am going to have you starve, when we can find something to eat on every corner?"
"But you forget. You are here as Mrs. Clarke and not as Mrs. Lincoln. You came alone, and the people already suspect that everything is not right. If you go outside of the hotel to–night, they will accept the fact as evidence against you."
"Nonsense; what do you suppose I care for what these low–bred people think? Put on your things."
"No, Mrs. Lincoln, I shall not go outside of the hotel to–night, for I realize your situation, if you do not. Mrs. Lincoln has no reason to care what these people may say about her as Mrs. Lincoln, but she should be prudent, and give them no opportunity to say anything about her as Mrs. Clarke."
It was with difficulty I could convince her that she should act with caution. She was so frank and impulsive that she never once thought that her actions might be misconstrued. It did not occur to her that she might order dinner to be served in my room, so I went to bed without a mouthful to eat.
The next morning Mrs. Lincoln knocked at my door before six o'clock:
"Come, Elizabeth, get up, I know you must be hungry. Dress yourself quickly and we will go out and get some breakfast. I was unable to sleep last night for thinking of you being forced to go to bed without anything to eat."
I dressed myself as quickly as I could, and together we went out and took breakfast, at a restaurant on Broadway, some place between 609 and the St. Denis Hotel. I do not give the number, as I prefer leaving it to conjecture. Of one thing I am certain—the proprietor of the restaurant little dreamed who one of his guests was that morning.
After breakfast we walked up Broadway, and entering Union Square Park, took a seat on one of the benches under the trees, watched the children at play, and talked over the situation. Mrs. Lincoln told me: "Lizzie, yesterday morning I called for the Herald at the breakfast table, and on looking over the list of diamond brokers advertised, I selected the firm of W. H. Brady & Co., 609 Broadway. After breakfast I walked down to the house, and tried to sell them a lot of jewelry. I gave my name as Mrs. Clarke. I first saw Mr. Judd, a member of the firm, a very pleasant gentleman. We were unable to agree about the price. He went back into the office, where a stout gentleman was seated at the desk, but I could not hear what he said. [I know now what was said, and so shall the reader, in parentheses. Mr. Brady has since told me that he remarked to Mr. Judd that the woman must be crazy to ask such outrageous prices, and to get rid of her as soon as possible.] Soon after Mr. Judd came back to the counter, another gentleman, Mr. Keyes, as I have since learned, a silent partner in the house, entered the store. He came to the counter, and in looking over my jewelry discovered my name inside of one of the rings. I had forgotten the ring, and when I saw him looking at the name so earnestly, I snatched the bauble from him and put it into my pocket. I hastily gathered up my jewelry, and started out. They asked for my address, and I left my card, Mrs. Clarke, at the St. Denis Hotel. They are to call to see me this forenoon, when I shall enter into negotiations with them."
Scarcely had we returned to the hotel when Mr. Keyes called, and Mrs. Clarke disclosed to him that she was Mrs. Lincoln. He was much elated to find his surmise correct. Mrs. L. exhibited to him a large number of shawls, dresses, and fine laces, and told him that she was compelled to sell them in order to live. He was an earnest Republican, was much affected by her story, and denounced the ingratitude of the government in the severest terms. She complained to him of the treatment she had received at the St. Denis, and he advised her to move to another hotel forthwith. She readily consented, and as she wanted to be in an out–of–the–way place where she would not be recognized by any of her old friends, he recommended the Earle Hotel in Canal street.
On the way down to the hotel that morning she acceded to a suggestion made by me, and supported by Mr. Keyes, that she confide in the landlord, and give him her name without registering, so as to ensure the proper respect. Unfortunately, the Earle Hotel was full, and we had to select another place. We drove to the Union Place Hotel, where we secured rooms for Mrs. Clarke, Mrs. Lincoln changing her mind, deeming it would not be prudent to disclose her real name to any one. After we had become settled in our new quarters, Messrs. Keyes and Brady called frequently on Mrs. Lincoln, and held long conferences with her. They advised her to pursue the course she did, and were sanguine of success. Mrs. Lincoln was very anxious to dispose of her things, and return to Chicago as quickly and quietly as possible; but they presented the case in a different light, and, I regret to say, she was guided by their counsel. "Pooh," said Mr. Brady, "place your affairs in our hands, and we will raise you at least $100,000 in a few weeks. The people will not permit the widow of Abraham Lincoln to suffer; they will come to her rescue when they know she is in want."
The argument seemed plausible, and Mrs. Lincoln quietly acceded to the proposals of Keyes and Brady.
We remained quietly at the Union Place Hotel for a few days. On Sunday Mrs. Lincoln accepted the use of a private carriage, and accompanied by me, she drove out to Central Park. We did not enjoy the ride much, as the carriage was a close one, and we could not throw open the window for fear of being recognized by some one of the many thousands in the Park. Mrs. Lincoln wore a heavy veil so as to more effectually conceal her face. We came near being run into, and we had a spasm of alarm, for an accident would have exposed us to public gaze, and of course the masquerade would have been at an end. On Tuesday I hunted up a number of dealers in secondhand clothing, and had them call at the hotel by appointment. Mrs. Lincoln soon discovered that they were hard people to drive a bargain with, so on Thursday we got into a close carriage, taking a bundle of dresses and shawls with us, and drove to a number of stores on Seventh Avenue, where an attempt was made to dispose of a portion of the wardrobe. The dealers wanted the goods for little or nothing, and we found it a hard matter to drive a bargain with them. Mrs. Lincoln met the dealers squarely, but all of her tact and shrewdness failed to accomplish much. I do not care to dwell upon this portion of my story. Let it answer to say, that we returned to the hotel more disgusted than ever with the business in which we were engaged. There was much curiosity at the hotel in relation to us, as our movements were watched, and we were regarded with suspicion. Our trunks in the main hall below were examined daily, and curiosity was more keenly excited when the argus–eyed reporters for the press traced Mrs. Lincoln's name on the cover of one of her trunks. The letters had been rubbed out, but the faint outlines remained, and these outlines only served to stimulate curiosity. Messrs. Keyes and Brady called often, and they made Mrs. Lincoln believe that, if she would write certain letters for them to show to prominent politicians, they could raise a large sum of money for her. They argued that the Republican party would never permit it to be said that the wife of Abraham Lincoln was in want; that the leaders of the party would make heavy advances rather than have it published to the world that Mrs. Lincoln's poverty compelled her to sell her wardrobe. Mrs. L.'s wants were urgent, as she had to borrow $600 from Keyes and Brady, and she was willing to adopt any scheme which promised to place a good bank account to her credit. At different times in her room at the Union Place Hotel she wrote the following letters:
CHICAGO, Sept. 18, 1867.
"MR. BRADY, Commission Broker, No. 609 Broadway, New York:
"I have this day sent to you personal property, which I am compelled to part with, and which you will find of considerable value. The articles consist of four camels' hair shawls, one lace dress and shawl, a parasol cover, a diamond ring, two dress patterns, some furs, etc.
"Please have them appraised, and confer by letter with me.
"Mr Brady No 609 Broadway, N.Y. City
"**** DEAR SIR:—The articles I am sending you to dispose of were gifts of dear friends, which only urgent necessity compels me to part with, and I am especially anxious that they shall not be sacrificed.
"The circumstances are peculiar, and painfully embarrassing; therefore I hope you will endeavor to realize as much as possible for them. Hoping to hear from you, I remain, very respectfully,
"MRS. A. LINCOLN."
"Sept. 25, 1867.
"W.H. BRADY, ESQ.:—My great, great sorrow and loss have made me painfully sensitive, but as my feelings and pecuniary comforts were never regarded or even recognized in the midst of my overwhelming bereavement—now that I am pressed in a most startling manner for means of subsistence, I do not know why I should shrink from an opportunity of improving my trying position.
"Being assured that all you do will be appropriately executed, and in a manner that will not startle me very greatly, and excite as little comment as possible, again I shall leave all in your hands.
"I am passing through a very painful ordeal, which the country, in remembrance of my noble and devoted husband, should have spared me.
"I remain, with great respect, very truly,
"P.S.—As you mention that my goods have been valued at over $24,000, I will be willing to make a reduction of $8,000, and relinquish them for $16,000. If this is not accomplished, I will continue to sell and advertise largely until every article is sold.
"I must have means to live, at least in a medium comfortable state.
The letters are dated Chicago, and addressed to Mr. Brady, though every one of them was written in New York; for when Mrs. L. left the West for the East, she had settled upon no definite plan of action. Mr. Brady proposed to show the letters to certain politicians, and ask for money on a threat to publish them if his demands, as Mrs. Lincoln's agent, were not complied with. When writing the letters I stood at Mrs. Lincoln's elbow, and suggested that they be couched in the mildest language possible.
"Never mind, Lizzie," she said; "anything to raise the wind. One might as well be killed for a sheep as a lamb."
This latter expression was a favorite one of hers; she meaning by it, that if one must be punished for an act, such as theft for instance, that the punishment would be no more severe if a sheep were taken instead of a lamb.
Mr. Brady exhibited the letters quite freely, but the parties to whom they were shown refused to make any advances. Meanwhile our stay at the Union Place Hotel excited so much curiosity, that a sudden movement was rendered expedient to avoid discovery. We sent the large trunks to 609 Broadway, packed the smaller ones, paid our bills at the hotel, and one morning hastily departed for the country, where we remained three days. The movement was successful. The keen–eyed reporters for the daily papers were thrown off the scent, and when we returned to the city we took rooms at the Brandreth House, where Mrs. Lincoln registered as "Mrs. Morris." I had desired her to go to the Metropolitan Hotel, and confide in the proprietors, as the Messrs. Leland had always been very kind to her, treating her with distinguished courtesy whenever she was their guest; but this she refused to do.
Several days passed, and Messrs. Brady and Keyes were forced to acknowledge that their scheme was a failure. The letters had been shown to various parties, but every one declined to act. Aside from a few dresses sold at small prices to secondhand dealers, Mrs. Lincoln's wardrobe was still in her possession. Her visit to New York had proved disastrous, and she was goaded into more desperate measures. Money she must have, and to obtain it she proposed to play a bolder game. She gave Mr. Brady permission to place her wardrobe on exhibition for sale, and authorized him to publish the letters in the World.
After coming to this determination, she packed her trunks to return to Chicago. I accompanied her to the depot, and told her good–by, on the very morning that the letters appeared in the World. Mrs. Lincoln wrote me the incidents of the journey, and the letter describes the story more graphically than I could hope to do. I suppress many passages, as they are of too confidential a nature to be given to the public:
"CHICAGO, October 6th.
"My DEAR LIZZIE:—My ink is like myself and my spirits failing, so I write you to–day with a pencil. I had a solitary ride to this place, as you may imagine, varied by one or two amusing incidents. I found, after you left me, I could not continue in the car in which you left me, owing to every seat's berth being engaged; so, being simple Mrs. Clarke, I had to eat 'humble–pie' in a car less commodious. My thoughts were too much with my 'dry goods and interests' at 609 Broadway, to care much for my surroundings, as uncomfortable as they were. In front of me sat a middle–aged, gray–haired, respectable–looking gentleman, who, for the whole morning, had the page of the World before him which contained my letters and business concerns. About four hours before arriving at Chicago, a consequential–looking man, of formidable size, seated himself by him, and it appears they were entirely unknown to each other. The well–fed looking individual opened the conversation with the man who had read the World so attentively, and the conversation soon grew warm and earnest. The war and its devastation engaged them. The bluffy individual, doubtless a Republican who had pocketed his many thousands, spoke of the widows of the land, made so by the war. My reading man remarked to him:
"'Are you aware that Mrs. Lincoln is in indigent circumstances, and has to sell her clothing and jewelry to gain means to make life more endurable?'
"The well–conditioned man replied: 'I do not blame her for selling her clothing, if she wishes it. I suppose when sold she will convert the proceeds into five–twenties to enable her to have means to be buried.'
"The World man turned towards him with a searching glance, and replied, with the haughtiest manner: 'That woman is not dead yet.'
"The discomfited individual looked down, never spoke another word, and in half an hour left his seat, and did not return.
"I give you word for word as the conversation occurred. May it be found through the execution of my friends, Messrs. Brady and Keyes, that 'that woman is not yet dead,' and being alive, she speaketh and gaineth valuable hearers. Such is life! Those who have been injured, how gladly the injurer would consign them to mother earth and forgetfulness! Hoping I should not be recognized at Fort Wayne, I thought I would get out at dinner for a cup of tea. * * * will show you what a creature of fate I am, as miserable as it sometimes is. I went into the dining–room alone; and was ushered up to the table, where, at its head, sat a very elegant–looking gentleman—at his side a middle–aged lady. My black veil was doubled over my face. I had taken my seat next to him—he at the head of the table, I at his left hand. I immediately felt a pair of eyes was gazing at me. I looked him full in the face, and the glance was earnestly returned. I sipped my water, and said: 'Mr. S., is this indeed you?' His face was as pale as the table–cloth. We entered into conversation, when I asked him how long since he had left Chicago. He replied, 'Two weeks since.' He said, 'How strange you should be on the train and I not know it!'
"As soon as I could escape from the table, I did so by saying, 'I must secure a cup of tea for a lady friend with me who has a head–ache.' I had scarcely returned to the car, when he entered it with a cup of tea borne by his own aristocratic hands. I was a good deal annoyed by seeing him, and he was so agitated that he spilled half of the cup over my elegantly gloved hands. He looked very sad, and I fancied 609 Broadway occupied his thoughts. I apologized for the absent lady who wished the cup, by saying that 'in my absence she had slipped out for it.' His heart was in his eyes, notwithstanding my veiled face. Pity for me, I fear, has something to do with all this. I never saw his manner so gentle and sad. This was nearly evening, and I did not see him again, as he returned to the lady, who was his sister–in–law from the East. * * * What evil spirit possessed me to go out and get that cup of tea? When he left me, woman–like I tossed the cup of tea out of the window, and tucked my head down and shed bitter tears. * * At the depot my darling little Taddie was waiting for me, and his voice never sounded so sweet. * * * My dear Lizzie, do visit Mr. Brady each morning at nine o'clock, and urge them all you can. I see by the papers Stewart has returned. To–morrow I will send the invoice of goods, which please to not give up. How much I miss you, tongue cannot tell. Forget my fright and nervousness of the evening before. Of course you were as innocent as a child in all you did. I consider you my best living friend, and I am struggling to be enabled some day to repay you. Write me often, as you promised.
"Always truly yours,
It is not necessary for me to dwell upon the public history of Mrs. Lincoln's unfortunate venture. The question has been discussed in all the newspapers of the land, and these discussions are so recent that it would be useless to introduce them in these pages, even if I had an inclination to do so. The following, from the New York Evening Express, briefly tells the story:
"The attraction for ladies, and the curious and speculative of the other sex in this city, just now, is the grand exposition of Lincoln dresses at the office of Mr. Brady, on Broadway, a few doors south of Houston street. The publicity given to the articles on exhibition and for sale has excited the public curiosity, and hundreds of people, principally women with considerable leisure moments at disposal, daily throng the rooms of Mr. Brady, and give himself and his shop–woman more to do than either bargained for, when a lady, with face concealed with a veil, called and arranged for the sale of the superabundant clothing of a distinguished and titled, but nameless lady. Twenty–five dresses, folded or tossed about by frequent examinations, lie exposed upon a closed piano, and upon a lounge; shawls rich and rare are displayed upon the backs of chairs, but the more exacting obtain a better view and closer inspection by the lady attendant throwing them occasionally upon her shoulders, just to oblige, so that their appearance on promenade might be seen and admired. Furs, laces, and jewelry are in a glass case, but the 'four thousand dollars in gold' point outfit is kept in a paste–board box, and only shown on special request.
"The feeling of the majority of visitors is adverse to the course Mrs. Lincoln has thought proper to pursue, and the criticisms are as severe as the cavillings are persistent at the quality of some of the dresses. These latter are labelled at Mrs. Lincoln's own estimate, and prices range from $25 to $75—about 50 per cent less than cost. Some of them, if not worn long, have been worn much; they are jagged under the arms and at the bottom of the skirt, stains are on the lining, and other objections present themselves to those who oscillate between the dresses and dollars, 'notwithstanding they have been worn by Madam Lincoln,' as a lady who looked from behind a pair of gold spectacles remarked. Other dresses, however, have scarcely been worn—one, perhaps, while Mrs. Lincoln sat for her picture, and from one the basting threads had not yet been removed. The general testimony is that the wearing apparel is high–priced, and some of the examiners say that the cost–figures must have been put on by the dressmakers; or, if such was not the case, that gold was 250 when they were purchased, and is now but 140—so that a dress for which $150 was paid at the rate of high figures cannot be called cheap at half that sum, after it has been worn considerable, and perhaps passed out of fashion. The peculiarity of the dresses is that the most of them are cut low–necked—a taste which some ladies attribute to Mrs. Lincoln's appreciation of her own bust.
"On Saturday last an offer was made for all the dresses. The figure named was less than the aggregate estimate placed on them. Mr. Brady, however, having no discretionary power, he declined to close the bargain, but notified Mrs. Lincoln by mail. Of course, as yet, no reply has been received. Mrs. L. desires that the auction should be deferred till the 31st of the present month, and efforts made to dispose of the articles at private sale up to that time.
"A Mrs. C— called on Mr. Brady this morning, and examined minutely each shawl. Before leaving the lady said that, at the time when there was a hesitancy about the President issuing the Emancipation Proclamation, she sent to Mrs. Lincoln an ashes–of–rose shawl, which was manufactured in China, forwarded to France, and thence to Mrs. C—, in New York. The shawl, the lady remarked, was a very handsome one, and should it come into the hands of Mr. Brady to be sold, would like to be made aware of the fact, so as to obtain possession again. Mr. Brady promised to acquaint the ashes–of–rose donor, if the prized article should be among the two trunks of goods now on the way from Chicago."
So many erroneous reports were circulated, that I made a correct statement to one of the editors of the New York Evening News. The article based upon the memoranda furnished by me appeared in the News of Oct. 12, 1867. I reproduce a portion of it in this connection:
"Mrs. Lincoln feels sorely aggrieved at many of the harsh criticisms that have been passed upon her for travelling incognito. She claims that she adopted this course from motives of delicacy, desiring to avoid publicity. While here, she spoke to but two former acquaintances, and these two gentlemen whom she met on Broadway. Hundreds passed her who had courted her good graces when she reigned supreme at the White House, but there was no recognition. It was not because she had changed much in personal appearance, but was merely owing to the heavy crape veil that hid her features from view.
"She seeks to defend her course while in this city—and with much force, too. Adverting to the fact that the Empress of France frequently disposes of her cast–off wardrobe, and publicly too, without being subjected to any unkind remarks regarding its propriety, she claims the same immunity here as is accorded in Paris to Eugenie. As regards her obscurity while in this city, she says that foreigners of note and position frequently come to our stores, and under assumed names travel from point to point throughout our vast domain, to avoid recognition and the inconveniences resulting from being known, though it even be in the form of honors. For herself she regards quiet preferable to ostentatious show, which would have cost her much indirectly, if not directly; and this she felt herself unable to bear, according to the measure of her present state of finances.
"In a recent letter to her bosom friend, Mrs. Elizabeth Keckley, Mrs. Lincoln pathetically remarks, 'Elizabeth, if evil come from this, pray for my deliverance, as I did it for the best.' This referred to her action in placing her personal effects before the public for sale, and to the harsh remarks that have been made thereon by some whom she had formerly regarded as her friends.
"As to the articles which belonged to Mr. Lincoln, they can all be accounted for in a manner satisfactory even to an over–critical public. During the time Mr. Lincoln was in office he was the recipient of several canes. After his death one was given to the Hon. Charles Sumner; another to Fred. Douglass; another to the Rev. H. H. Garnet of this city, and another to Mr. Wm. Slade, the present steward of the White House, who, in Mr. Lincoln's lifetime, was his messenger. This gentleman also received some of Mr. Lincoln's apparel, among which was his heavy gray shawl. Several other of the messengers employed about the White House came in for a share of the deceased President's effects.
"The shepherd plaid shawl which Mr. Lincoln wore during the milder weather, and which was rendered somewhat memorable as forming part of his famous disguise, together with the Scotch cap, when he wended his way secretly to the Capitol to be inaugurated as President, was given to Dr. Abbot, of Canada, who had been one of his warmest friends. During the war this gentleman, as a surgeon in the United States army, was in Washington in charge of a hospital, and thus became acquainted with the head of the nation.
"His watch, his penknife, his gold pencil, and his glasses are now in possession of his son Robert. Nearly all else than these few things have passed out of the family, as Mrs. Lincoln did not wish to retain them. But all were freely given away, and not an article was parted with for money.
"The Rev. Dr. Gurley of Washington was the spiritual adviser of the President and his family. They attended his church. When little 'Willie' died, he officiated at the funeral. He was a most intimate friend of the family, and when Mr. Lincoln lay upon his death–bed Mr. Gurley was by his side. He, as his clergyman, performed the funeral rites upon the body of the deceased President, when it lay cold in death at the City of Washington. He received the hat worn last by Mr. Lincoln, as we have before stated, and it is still retained by him.
"The dress that was worn by Mrs. Lincoln on the night of the assassination was presented to Mrs. Wm. Slade. It is a black silk with a little white stripe. Most of the other articles that adorned Mrs. Lincoln on that fatal night became the property of Mrs. Keckley. She has the most of them carefully stowed away, and intends keeping them during her life as mementos of a mournful event. The principal articles among these are the earrings, the bonnet, and the velvet cloak. The writer of this saw the latter on Thursday. It bears most palpable marks of the assassination, being completely bespattered with blood, that has dried upon its surface, and which can never be removed.
"A few words as regard the disposition and habits of Mrs. Lincoln. She is no longer the sprightly body she was when her very presence illumed the White House with gayety. Now she is sad and sedate, seeking seclusion, and maintaining communication merely with her most intimate personal friends. The most of her time she devotes to instructive reading within the walls of her boudoir. Laying her book aside spasmodically, she places her hand upon her forehead, as if ruminating upon something momentous. Then her hand wanders amid her heavy tresses, while she ponders for but a few seconds—then, by a sudden start, she approaches her writing–stand, seizes a pen, and indites a few hasty lines to some trusty friend, upon the troubles that weigh so heavily upon her. Speedily it is sent to the post–office; but, hardly has the mail departed from the city before she regrets her hasty letter, and would give much to recall it. But, too late, it is gone, and probably the secrets it contains are not confidentially kept by the party to whom it was addressed, and soon it furnishes inexhaustible material for gossip–loving people.
"As some citizens have expressed themselves desirous of aiding Mrs. Lincoln, a subscription–book was opened at the office of her agent, Mr. Brady, No. 609 Broadway, this morning. There is no limitation as to the amount which may be given, though there was a proposition that a dollar should be contributed by each person who came forward to inspect the goods. Had each person who handled these articles given this sum, a handsome amount would already have been realized.
"The colored people are moving in this matter. They intend to take up collections in their churches for the benefit of Mrs. Lincoln. They are enthusiastic, and a trifle from every African in this city would, in the aggregate, swell into an immense sum, which would be doubly acceptable to Mrs. Lincoln. It would satisfy her that the black people still have the memory of her deceased husband fresh in their minds.
"The goods still remain exposed to sale, but it is now announced that they will be sold at public auction on the 30th of this month, unless they be disposed of before that at private sale."
It is stated in the article that the "colored people are moving in this matter." The colored people were surprised to hear of Mrs. Lincoln's poverty, and the news of her distress called forth strong sympathy from their warm, generous hearts. Rev. H. H. Garnet, of New York City, and Mr. Frederick Douglass, of Rochester, N.Y., proposed to lecture in behalf of the widow of the lamented President, and schemes were on foot to raise a large sum of money by contribution. The colored people recognized Abraham Lincoln as their great friend, and they were anxious to show their kind interest in the welfare of his family in some way more earnest and substantial than simple words. I wrote Mrs. Lincoln what we proposed to do, and she promptly replied, declining to receive aid from the colored people. I showed her letter to Mr. Garnet and Mr. Douglass, and the whole project was at once abandoned. She afterwards consented to receive contributions from my people, but as the services of Messrs. Douglass, Garnet, and others had been refused when first offered, they declined to take an active part in the scheme; so nothing was ever done. The following letters were written before Mrs. Lincoln declined to receive aid from the colored people:
"183 BLEECKER ST., NEW YORK, October 16th, 1867.
"J. H. BRADY, ESQ.:—
"I have just received your favor, together with the circulars. I will do all that lies in my power, but I fear that will not be as much as you anticipate. I think, however, that a contribution from the colored people of New York will be worth something in a moral point of view, and likely that will be the most that will be accomplished in the undertaking. I am thoroughly with you in the work, although but little may be done.
"I am truly yours,
"HENRY HIGHLAND GARNET.
"P.S.—I think it would be well if you would drop a line to Mr. Frederick Douglass, at Rochester, New York.
"H. H. G."
"ROCHESTER, Oct. 18, 1867.
"MY DEAR MRS. KECKLEY:—You judge me rightly—I am willing to do what I can to place the widow of our martyr President in the affluent position which her relation to that good man and to the country entitles her to. But I doubt the wisdom of getting up a series of lectures for that purpose; that is just the last thing that should be done. Still, if the thing is done, it should be done on a grand scale. The best speakers in the country should be secured for the purpose. You should not place me at the head nor at the foot of the list, but sandwich me between, for thus out of the way, it would not give color to the idea. I am to speak in Newark on Wednesday evening next, and will endeavor to see you on the subject. Of course, if it would not be too much to ask, I would gladly see Mrs. Lincoln, if this could be done in a quiet way without the reporters getting hold of it, and using it in some way to the prejudice of that already much abused lady. As I shall see you soon, there is less reason to write you at length.
"I am, dear madam,
"With high respect,
"Very truly yours,
"POTTSVILLE, Oct. 29, 1867.
"MY DEAR MRS. KECKLEY:—You know the drift of my views concerning the subscription for Mrs. Lincoln. Yet I wish to place them more distinctly before you, so that, if you have occasion to refer to me in connection with the matter, you can do so with accuracy and certainty.
"It is due Mrs. Lincoln that she should be indemnified, as far as money can do so, for the loss of her beloved husband. Honor, gratitude, and a manly sympathy, all say yes to this. I am willing to go farther than this, and say that Mrs. Lincoln herself should be the judge of the amount which shall be deemed sufficient, believing that she would not transcend reasonable limits. The obligation resting on the nation at large is great and increasing, but especially does it become colored men to recognize that obligation. It was the hand of Abraham Lincoln that broke the fetters of our enslaved people, and let them out of the house of bondage. When he was slain, our great benefactor fell, and left his wife and children to the care of those for whom he gave up all. Shame on the man or woman who, under such circumstances, would grudge a few paltry dollars, to smooth the pathway of such a widow! All this, and more, I feel and believe. But such is the condition of this question, owing to party feeling, and personal animosities now mixed up with it, that we are compelled to consider these in the effort we are making to obtain subscriptions.
"Now, about the meeting in Cooper Institute; I hold that that meeting should only be held in concert with other movements. It is bad generalship to put into the field only a fraction of your army when you have no means to prevent their being cut to pieces. It is gallant to go forth single–handed, but is it wise? I want to see something more than the spiteful Herald behind me when I step forward in this cause at the Cooper Institute. Let Mr. Brady out with his circulars, with his list of commanding names, let the Herald and Tribune give a united blast upon their bugles, let the city be placarded, and the doors of Cooper Institute be flung wide open, and the people, without regard to party, come up to the discharge of this national duty.
"Don't let the cause be made ridiculous by failure at the outset. Mr. Garnet and I could bear any mortification of this kind; but the cause could not. And our cause must not be damaged by any such generalship, which would place us in the van unsupported.
"I shall be at home by Saturday; please write me and let me know how matters are proceeding. Show this letter to Messrs. Brady and Garnet.
"I am, dear madam,
"Very truly yours,
"ROCHESTER, Oct. 30, 1867.
"MY DEAR MRS. KECKLEY:—It is just possible that I may not take New York in my route homeward. In that case please write me directly at Rochester, and let me know fully how the subscription business is proceeding. The meeting here last night was a grand success. I speak again this evening, and perhaps at Reading tomorrow evening. My kind regards to all who think of me at 21, including Mrs. Lawrence.
"Very truly yours,
"ROCHESTER, Nov. 10, 1867.
"MY DEAR MRS. KECKLEY:—I very easily read your handwriting. With practice you will not only write legibly but elegantly; so no more apologies for bad writing. Penmanship has always been one of my own deficiencies, and I know how to sympathize with you.
"I am just home, and find your letter awaiting me. You should have received an earlier answer but for this absence. I am sorry it will be impossible for me to see you before I go to Washington. I am leaving home this week for Ohio, and shall go from Ohio to Washington. I shall be in New York a day or two after my visit to Washington, and will see you there. Any public demonstration in which it will be desirable for me to take part, ought to come off the last of this month or the first of next. I thank you sincerely for the note containing a published letter of dear Mrs. Lincoln; both letters do credit to the excellent lady. I prize her beautiful letter to me very highly. It is the letter of a refined and spirited lady, let the world say what it will of her. I would write her a word of acknowledgment but for fear to burden her with correspondence. I am glad that Mr. Garnet and yourself saw Mr. Greeley, and that he takes the right view of the matter; but we want more than right views, and delay is death to the movement. What you now want is action and cooperation. If Mr. Brady does not for any reason find himself able to move the machinery, somebody else should be found to take his place; he made a good impression on me when I saw him, but I have not seen the promised simultaneous movement of which we spoke when together. This whole thing should be in the hands of some recognized solid man in New York. No man would be better than Mr. Greeley; no man in the State is more laughed at, and yet no man is more respected and trusted; a dollar placed in his hands would be as safe for the purpose as in a burglar–proof safe, and what is better still, everybody believes this. This testimonial must be more than a negro testimonial. It is a great national duty. Mr. Lincoln did everything for the black man, but he did it not for the black man's sake, but for the nation's sake. His life was given for the nation; but for being President, Mr. Lincoln would have been alive, and Mrs. Lincoln would have been a wife, and not a widow as now. Do all you can, dear Mrs. Keckley—nobody can do more than you in removing the mountains of prejudice towards that good lady, and opening the way of success in the plan.
"I am, dear madam, very truly yours,
Many persons called at 609 Broadway to examine Mrs. Lincoln's wardrobe, but as curiosity prompted each visit, but few articles were sold. Messrs. Brady & Keyes were not very energetic, and, as will be seen by the letters of Mrs. Lincoln, published in the Appendix, that lady ultimately lost all confidence in them. It was proposed to send circulars, stating Mrs. Lincoln's wants, and appealing to the generosity of the people for aid, broad–cast over the country; but the scheme failed. Messrs. Brady & Keyes were unable to obtain the names of prominent men, whom the people had confidence in, for the circular, to give character and responsibility to the movement—so the whole thing was abandoned. With the Rev. Mr. Garnet, I called on Mr. Greeley, at the office of the Tribune, in connection with this scheme. Mr. Greeley received us kindly, and listened patiently to our proposals—then said:
"I shall take pleasure in rendering you what assistance I can, but the movement must be engineered by responsible parties. Messrs. Brady & Keyes are not the men to be at the head of it. Nobody knows who they are, or what they are. Place the matter in the hands of those that the people know and have some confidence in, and then there will be a chance for success."
We thanked Mr. Greeley for his advice, for we believed it to be good advice, and bowed ourselves out of his room. When Messrs. Brady & Keyes were informed of the result of our interview, they became very much excited, and denounced Mr. Greeley as "an old fool." This put an end to the circular movement. The enterprise was nipped in the bud, and with the bud withered Mrs. Lincoln's last hope for success. A portion of the wardrobe was then taken to Providence, to be exhibited, but without her consent. Mr. Brady remarked that the exhibition would bring in money, and as money must be raised, this was the last resort. He was of the impression that Mrs. Lincoln would approve of any movement, so it ended in success. This, at least, is a charitable view to take of the subject. Had the exhibition succeeded in Providence, it is my opinion that the agents of Brady & Keyes would now be travelling over the country, exposing Mrs. Lincoln's wardrobe to the view of the curious, at so much per head. As is well known, the city authorities refused to allow the exhibition to take place in Providence; therefore Mr. Brady returned to New York with the goods, and the travelling show scheme, like the circular scheme, was abandoned. Weeks lengthened into months, and at Mrs. Lincoln's urgent request I remained in New York, to look after her interests. When she left the city I engaged quiet lodgings in a private family, where I remained about two months, when I moved to 14 Carroll Place, and became one of the regular boarders of the house. Mrs. Lincoln's venture proved so disastrous that she was unable to reward me for my services, and I was compelled to take in sewing to pay for my daily bread. My New York expedition has made me richer in experience, but poorer in purse. During the entire winter I have worked early and late, and practised the closest economy. Mrs. Lincoln's business demanded much of my time, and it was a constant source of trouble to me. When Mrs. L. left for the West, I expected to be able to return to Washington in one week from the day; but unforeseen difficulties arose, and I have been detained in the city for several months. As I am writing the concluding pages of this book, I have succeeded in closing up Mrs. Lincoln's imprudent business arrangement at 609 Broadway. The firm of Brady & Keyes is dissolved, and Mr. Keyes has adjusted the account. The story is told in a few words. On the 4th of March I received the following invoice from Mr. Keyes:
"March 4, '68.
"Invoice of articles sent to Mrs. A. Lincoln:
1 Lace dress.
1 do. do. flounced.
5 Lace shawls.
3 Camel hair shawls.
1 Lace parasol cover.
1 do. handkerchief.
1 Sable boa.
1 White do.
1 Set furs.
2 Paisley shawls.
2 Gold bracelets.
2 Opera cloaks.
1 Purple shawl.
1 Feather cape.
28 yds. silk.
1 Diamond ring.
3 Small do.
1 Set furs.
1 Camel hair shawl.
1 Red do.
1 Child's shawl.
1 Lace Chantilly shawl."
The charges of the firm amounted to eight hundred dollars. Mrs. Lincoln sent me a check for this amount. I handed this check to Mr. Keyes, and he gave me the following receipt:
"Received, New York, March 4, 1868, of Mrs. Abraham Lincoln, eight hundred and twenty dollars by draft on American National Bank, New York.
"S. C. KEYES."
I packed the articles invoiced, and expressed the trunks to Mrs. Lincoln at Chicago. I then demanded and received a receipt worded as follows:
"Received, New York, March 4, 1868, of Mrs. Abraham Lincoln, eight hundred and twenty dollars in full of all demands of every kind up to date.
"S. C. KEYES."
This closed up the business, and with it I close the imperfect story of my somewhat romantic life. I have experienced many ups and downs, but still am stout of heart. The labor of a lifetime has brought me nothing in a pecuniary way. I have worked hard, but fortune, fickle dame, has not smiled upon me. If poverty did not weigh me down as it does, I would not now be toiling by day with my needle, and writing by night, in the plain little room on the fourth floor of No. 14 Carroll Place. And yet I have learned to love the garret–like room. Here, with Mrs. Amelia Lancaster as my only companion, I have spent many pleasant hours, as well as sad ones, and every chair looks like an old friend. In memory I have travelled through the shadows and the sunshine of the past, and the bare walls are associated with the visions that have come to me from the long–ago. As I love the children of memory, so I love every article in this room, for each has become a part of memory itself. Though poor in worldly goods, I am rich in friendships, and friends are a recompense for all the woes of the darkest pages of life. For sweet friendship's sake, I can bear more burdens than I have borne.
The letters appended from Mrs. Lincoln to myself throw a flood of light upon the history of the "old clothes" speculation in New York.