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Easter in Washington, D.C., in April 1898

Editor’s note: This is part of a weekly series marking the 120th anniversary of Niles native William McKinleyás U.S. presidency.

The national Capitol observed Easter Sunday on April 10, 1898. The New York Times reported the churches were “thronged with gorgeously appareled women, and the entire city seemed in holiday attire and spirits.”

The newspaper account continued, “The day itself was typical of April weather – warmth, sunshine and rain, ending in a chilly evening. The showers came during the church-going hours and spoiled some pretty costumes and saddened many who thought that the somber weather was not a good augury for the beginnings of war hostilities (with Spain). By noon, however, the sun was again shining warmly and the streets seemed brighter than ever, glowing in the finery of nature and art.”

“The flowers that were half killed at the White House by snow and ice a few days ago are again fresh and blooming, and spring seems to have come to abide.”

“Among the officials Easter Sunday was generally observed, as far as their pressing duties would permit. The cabinet officers were occupied with two sessions during the day, and most of the clerks and secretaries and higher officials went to the Departments of Navy, Way and State for at least a few hours of work. The majority of clerks, indeed, had to work all day and far into the night, but the outside blinds and curtains were closed and the halls were darkened, and the great buildings did its best to look quiet and subdued and Sundaylike.”

“Most of the officers of the administration either dined out or entertained others at dinner. Assistant Secretary of State Day spent the entire day at the White House, and he and Mrs. Day took dinner with the president in the evening. Even the indefatigable Mr. Roosevelt dined out, and paid only a short visit to his office in the morning.”

“The day was treated, in fact, as if it was somewhat of a cessation of hostilities, as men rest and eat before battle.”

“Tomorrow will began even more gayly. Children will observe their Easter Monday celebration, war or no war. The grounds of the White House have been swept clean and newly trimmed for the children, and every preparation has been made by the president to insure their having a good time.

“The quaint festivity begins at 9 o’clock in the morning and lasts until 5 o’clock in the afternoon, so that it will overlap the historic scene which it is expected will be enacted in the Capitol tomorrow at high noon. The joy and laughter of the children will frame the solemn picture of a nation taking the first step in a war.”

President William McKinley’s holiday break was a busy one with two Sunday cabinet meetings scheduled at the White House. No Sunday cabinet meetings in recent memory of presidential watchers were recalled. The meetings consumed nearly six hours, almost a full working day. The morning session began shortly before 11 a.m. The night session began at about 9 p.m. Judge William R. Day represented Secretary of State John Sherman, who had been unable to attend.

The business of both sessions dealt with negotiations with Spain over the question of Cuban independence. A proposed message to congress was discussed and drafted in diplomatic form. Newspapers would state that the U.S. position in negotiating with Spain remained unchanged. The tone of the message to Congress was left unmodified and unsoftened.

War with Spain looms closer on the horizon.

Wendell Lauth of Bristol is a Trumbull County historian.

columns@tribtoday.com

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