Original publish date: February 6, 2020
Last week the oft forgotten holiday known as “Carnation Day” was detailed in Part I of this series. The holiday, today observed mostly only in Ohio, was created to commemorate assassinated President William McKinley on his birthday (January 29) by wearing his favorite flower, a red carnation, to honor him. The formal recognition of the holiday was due largely to the efforts of a man named Lewis Gardner Reynolds from Richmond, Indiana. In 1903, Reynolds formed the Carnation League of America to establish the custom of observing the McKinley floral holiday. That alone might be enough for most historical resumes, but not for Mr. Reynolds. Among this (and other noteworthy achievements) it should be noted that Reynolds was the last person to meet the living Abraham Lincoln.
Mr. Reynolds was born at Bellefontaine, Ohio on June 28, 1858 and grew up in Dayton, Ohio. In Dayton, he worked for his father at the Reynolds & Reynolds Co., manufacturing notebooks and other school supplies. Later he started his own company, manufacturing paper cartons and served for 10 years as a member of the school board of that city. While in Ohio, Mr. Reynolds came to know many American leaders, including President McKinley, Theodore Roosevelt and Ohio politicos Myron T. Herrick, and Mark Hannah. In 1896 he married Miss Jeanette Lytle in Dayton. She died in 1903 and in 1909 he married Mary V. Williams of Richmond, Indiana. The couple relocated to Richmond and during World War I, Reynolds was prominent in organizing Liberty Loan drives for the war effort.
Upon the death of Teddy Roosevelt on January 6, 1919, Lewis G. Reynolds was made chairman of the Wayne County Theodore Roosevelt Memorial committee. Reynolds led Indiana’s fundraising plans to honor Roosevelt with monuments in Washington D.C., the national shrine at Oyster Bay, Long Island, restoration of his birthplace at No. 28 West Twenty-Second Street in New York City and lastly, through an endowment fund, “to perpetuate Colonel Roosevelt’s ideals of courageous Americanism.” The next year, Reynolds traveled to Indianapolis for a speech to the Indiana General Assembly advocating for the construction of the World War Memorial in the capital of the Hoosier state. Thanks in part to his efforts, the resolution was adopted, the memorial built.
After World War I Reynolds led the European Relief Commission, in particular the Wayne County Council headquartered at 1000 Main Street in Richmond. The January 11, 1921 issue of the Richmond Palladium noted, “Lewis G. Reynolds today received the following telegram: “Congratulations on dignified and successful manner in which you are conducting campaign for European relief. The American people are thoroughly aroused to the appealing need of this great mercy call. The need is great. The call urgent. Let mercy impel us to give relief to the starving children of Europe. Herbert Hoover. ”
After Osborn H. Oldroyd, the first Lincoln museum curator, sold his collection to the US government in 1926, Reynolds was called to Washington by Col. U.S. Grant, III to take charge of the Oldroyd collection. Ironically, the Reynolds family moved from their house on North Tenth Street in Richmond to their new house on Tenth Street Northwest in Washington D.C.:The House Where Lincoln Died.
A year before Oldroyd’s death, the two old friends were profiled together one final time in the February 12, 1929 Battle Creek Enquirer. “Two men who spend most of their time in the house where Abraham Lincoln died are probably more interested in the anniversary of his birth than anyone else in the country. They are Osborn Oldroyd, aged 87, who has spent 65 years collecting mementos and documents relating to the life of Lincoln, and Lewis Gardner Reynolds, 71, who sat on Lincoln’s knee as a little boy of six…Mr. Reynolds in the last year has shown 20,000 persons from all over the world through the room where Lincoln died.”
So not only was Mr. Reynolds in charge of the world’s largest Lincoln object collection contained within the house where the sixteenth president died, he could now also entertain visitors with the story of how he, as a six-year-old child, once sat upon Abraham Lincoln’s knee in the White House. In 1929, while the Nation celebrated the 120th anniversary of the Great Emancipator’s birth, Mr. Reynolds recalled that meeting to a local Washington D.C. newspaper reporter. Although not positive about the exact date, Mr. Reynolds said he felt reasonably sure that it was June 28, 1864, his sixth birthday, when the memorable event occurred.
“Father, (Lucius Delmar Reynolds 1835-1913), a captain of one of the companies of the Treasury Guards, was to have a conference with his Commander-in-Chief, and I accompanied him,” Mr. Reynolds said. “While they were discussing the matter of the conference, which lasted nearly an hour, the President picked me up, set me on his knee, and I can feel yet the gentle stroke of that big firm hand as he stroked my head, like the halo of a great benediction. I almost remember his voice. Toward the end of the conference Mr. Lincoln carried me to one of the large windows overlooking the Potomac River, rested me on the deep window seat and stood there with one arm about me while pointing out to the captain some points of vantage he wished him to be familiar with…I saw President Lincoln scores of times,” Mr. Reynolds says, “as father’s duties took him frequently to the Executive Mansion, and he often took me with him. But I recall being actually on Lincoln’s lap and in his arms but once.”
In 1928 Reynolds authored a leaflet titled: “A Wonderful Hour with Abraham Lincoln” which he handed out to friends and special guests visiting the museum. While the leaflet ostensibly tells the story of his encounter with Lincoln, it also offers more details. “The very earliest recollection I have of anything is intimately connected with the Civil War…We removed to Washington and resided there from 1862 to 1866. Father was chief of one of the many bureaus of the treasury department. All the clerks and higher officials of the department were organized into military companies, known collectively as “The Treasury Guards.” They were intensely drilled by officers of the regular army, and as well-equipped as the soldiers in the field, except that they were not uniformed. They represented a potential army of nearly 2,000 men. Their military duties were to be, in case of an emergency, to protect the Treasury Department and the Executive Mansion, nearby. Father was made captain of one of these companies, and to his command was assigned the protection of the White House, and the President. Upon that fact rests my story.”
The Reynolds leaflet further reveals,”Father and mother were at Ford’s Theatre the night of the assassination, and although it was late when they returned home, the general excitement of the night had reached our neighborhood. The newsboys shrill cries of “Extra! Extra! President Lincoln Shot” had awakened everybody in the boarding house. I, too, was awake. Young as I was, I realized what dreadful thing had happened, and I lay wide-eyed in my little trundle bed while father and mother related to the others their personal story of the tragedy. Father, accompanied by several of the men guests, went back to the scene and did not return until after the fateful hour of 7:22 the next morning. I remember as clearly as though it were of yesterday, wearing a wide band of black around the sleeve of my bright plaid jacket, and, carried in father’s arms, of passing the somber catafalque in the rotunda of the Capitol, which inclosed (sic) all that was mortal of the beloved Lincoln. A few weeks later I witnessed the Grand Review of the Army – that wonderful spectacle of the returning boys in blue – which took several days in its passing.”
On February 5, 1931 a story and photo of Lewis G. Reynolds appeared in newspapers all over the world. Mr. Reynolds was pictured standing on the spot where Lincoln died and speaking into a CBS radio microphone. The article details the radio address commemorating Lincoln’s upcoming birthday titled, “A World Tour of the Lincoln Museum”. It read in part, “In telling of the Lincoln Museum and the relics it contains, Reynolds said no story of it would be complete without reference to Col. O.H. Oldroyd to whom the world is indebted for the collection. ‘A monument should be erected to that man,’ he declared.”
Mr. Reynolds supervised the removal of the Oldroyd collection out of the House Where Lincoln Died and into Ford’s Theatre across the street. It began on December 8, 1931 and by New Years day of 1932, Oldroyd’s collection had been fully moved into the newly repurposed Ford’s Theatre. The Oldroyd collection officially opened in its new location at 2:00 P.M. on February 12, 1932. In an article for the Washington Sunday Star magazine on February 12, 1933, Reynolds states, “Twenty-five thousand one hundred and eighty-one persons have visited the Lincoln house since it was open to the public and the number will increase from month to month as the rehabilitation of the shrine becomes more widely known.”
Mr. Reynolds continued in charge of the Lincoln memorial collection until 1936, when he retired after suffering a stroke. He returned to his home at 39 North Tenth street in Richmond to convalesce but never worked again. Custodian Reynolds met a sad and untimely end. On August 21, 1940, police and fire were called to the Reynolds home at 39 North Tenth street where, upon entry, Reynolds was found seated in an invalid’s chair seriously burned. His clothing caught fire when the tip of a lighted match ignited his clothing while his nurse, Mrs. Anna Farlowe, was in the kitchen preparing his evening meal. Investigators believed the accident took place while Reynolds was trying to light his pipe. His wife Mary, who heard his screams for help, rushed to his aid, and with Mrs. Farlowe, succeeded in putting out the fire with blankets. Mr. Reynolds was taken to a nearby hospital by ambulance and both women were treated for severe burns on their hands. Lewis G. Reynolds died in Reid Memorial hospital in Richmond; He was 82 years old. Mr. Reynolds was survived by hls widow, Mary V. Reynolds; two daughters. Mrs. Horace Huffman. Dayton, Ohio, Mrs. John W. Clements, of Richmond; a stepson, Edward B. Williams, of Richmond; 10 grandchildren and one great-grandchild.
Two decades later, in 1960, the Richmond Palladium-Item newspaper profiled the widow of the former curator, offering new insight. The article is titled: “Local Woman Conducted Tours In House Where Lincoln Died.” It reveals, “Mrs. Reynolds and her husband lived on the second floor of the house at 516 Tenth street, Washington, DC, at the time Mr. Reynolds was curator of the Oldroyd Lincoln Memorial collection. This was from 1928 through 1936. “I never heard anyone ask Mr. Reynolds a question about Mr. Lincoln he could not answer,” Mrs. Reynolds recalls. Her husband acquired the job as curator when he heard Oldroyd wanted to retire… “I have had visitors say to me doesn’t it give you a creepy feeling?” (sleeping in the house where Lincoln died.) Her answer was always “No.” To the reporter, she said, “I never had a creepy feeling. When I thought about it, it was just a feeling of awe and reverence.” Mr. Reynolds described the collection via radio from the Petersen house several times.”
Finally, the article makes note of the widow Reynolds role at the House Where Lincoln Died. “Mrs. Reynolds read the Lincoln Library in the Oldroyd collection. In her study of history and Lincoln material, she qualified herself to talk with visitors on Lincolniana. “I met most interesting people,” Mrs. Reynolds said, “I often took them through the rooms…even the people from the South were pleasant. It was a wonderful experience.”
Lewis Gardner Reynolds accomplished more in his 82 years than most could ever dream of. When he died in 1940, Abraham Lincoln had transcended into secular sainthood and Reynolds was the last tangible connection to the mortal Lincoln. Not only was Lewis Gardner Reynolds the last to encounter the living Lincoln, the Reynolds family (following the Petersons, the Schades, and the Oldroyds) were the last to reside in the House Where Lincoln Died. And of course, he was a Hoosier.