Abe Lincoln, Civil War, Presidents, Travel

A Hoosier Wedding in Lincoln’s White House.

Lincoln White House Wedding photo

Original publish date:  June 11, 2020

Sometimes, I need to dig up a historical story for no other reason than I need a smile. And nothing makes me smile more than sharing a story with an Indiana connection. A story that many of you have never heard before. A story that might just make you smile. This is the story of Abraham Lincoln, the Civil War and a White House wedding. The only wedding to take place during Lincoln’s time in the White House.
In March of 1862, a 19-year-old Mount Sidney, Virginia woman named Elizabeth Amanda Sheets wanted to marry a 28-year-old farmhand living in the same town named James Chandler, a native of Bowling Green, Kentucky. Problem was, Elizabeth’s parents disapproved of the engagement, let alone a wedding, to the much older man, so the couple decided to elope. After several months of a secret courtship, the young couple obtained a marriage license and boarded a stagecoach bound for Harper’s Ferry to get hitched.
125 miles later, as they approached the outskirts the town, they were turned away because of the build-up of Federal forces there readying themselves for the soon-to-begin military campaign in the Shenandoah Valley. With no other options, they traveled on by stage, 63 miles away to Washington, D.C., a city neither was familiar with.
And so it was that this couple from the Rebel state of Virginia found themselves in the Union Capitol of Washington at the height of the Civil War. Luckily for them, during the war between the states, D.C. was the equivalent of Las Vegas. The stagecoach driver informed the couple that they could be married in any public building there. What’s more, the driver suggested they go and knock on the door of the White House and ask “Honest Abe” to marry them.
It sounded like a good idea to the starstruck couple, so they traveled hand-in-hand to the Executive Mansion to be joined in holy matrimony in the grandest of styles. While walking towards the White House, they asked a man who was coming towards them if it was true that they could get married there. The stranger replied that he did not know, pointed towards the front door and told them to knock and ask for themselves.

Jeremiah “Jerry” Smith
White House Doorman Jeremiah Smith.

Tradition states that the door was answered by President Lincoln’s legendary doorman, Jeremiah Smith, a subject of past columns. Further tradition states that after President Lincoln heard of a young couple seeking some place to be married, he took them to the East Room and summoned a Baptist minister. The White House Historical Association reports that “a group of women then entered the room, along with First Lady Mary Todd Lincoln, to serve as witnesses for the ceremony. After the minister announced their marital status, the president and first lady shook their hands, served an elegant dinner, and invited the newlyweds to spend the night.”
Thus, again according to the White House Historical Association, “Abraham Lincoln was credited with seeing to the marriage in the White House of a couple he did not know.” The incident first surfaced in the September 27, 1901 Indianapolis News in a story headlined “Married in a Parlor of the White House” less than two weeks after the assassination of President William McKinley. Then, as now, I’m guessing the world was in need of a little good news.
Screenshot (79)The 57-year-old widow, now known as Elizabeth Chandler, was living a quiet life in Anderson, Indiana; her husband James Henry Chandler having died six years earlier on Sept. 19, 1895, at the age of 61. The article recorded widow Chandler’s remarks about her White House wedding 44 years earlier made during a family dinner held in her honor at Rochester, Indiana. According to Mrs. Chandler, President Lincoln “shared in the happiness of the couple by suddenly finding it possible to have a wedding in the White House.”

 

The article understates the obvious by noting, “inasmuch as she is probably the only woman living in Indiana who has the distinction of having been a White House bride… Mrs. Chandler does not regard the circumstances of the wedding as being anything out of the ordinary so far as she is concerned.” The story broke “like a romantic picture out of the past” in newspapers all over the state and was soon picked up nationally. Over the next three decades, widow Chandler’s story proved irresistible whenever there was a wedding in the White House or an important Lincoln anniversary. On February 17, 1906 (a few days after Abraham Lincoln’s 97th birthday) the Indianapolis News ran the story on the day President Teddy Roosevelt’s outspoken daughter Alice married Ohio Congressman Nicholas Longworth at the White House. White House Wedding ChandlerThe story reemerged in 1909, the 100th anniversary of the birth of Abraham Lincoln, and again in November 1913 as President Woodrow Wilson’s daughter Jessie prepared to marry Francis Sayre.
While it is difficult to prove whether the wedding actually took place, each succeeding story contained more details about the event. Elizabeth later recalled how President Abraham Lincoln led the couple up the stairs of the White House and into a big room all draped with flags. Elizabeth said she recognized the president because she had seen his picture. The young bride remembered that Lincoln summoned a messenger and, upon his arrival, the messenger and the groom left the room while Elizabeth remained with the president. Lincoln spoke to her about the war and asked whether she would be willing for her husband to fight for his country. When Lincoln noted that talk of war upset her, he changed the subject and began telling the blushing bride jokes and tall tales.
z inaugural-receptionAfter the minister’s arrived, Lincoln rang a bell and then led the wedding party into a big room, Elizabeth recalled. The president stood alongside the minister and not only did he give the bride away but also acted as the groom’s best man. Elizabeth recalled how he smiled throughout the ceremony. She stated that a Cabinet member stood up with them, but couldn’t recall his name or that of the minister. Mr. and Mrs. Lincoln were the first to shake the newlyweds’ hands. Elizabeth’s most vivid recollection of the nuptials was how scared she was. The president chatted with them awhile and then returned to his office with the unnamed Cabinet member. Elizabeth had worn a plain white cashmere dress for the ceremony. Afterwards, the couple was taken to separate rooms in the White House to change clothes, where Elizabeth changed into a navy blue cashmere dress.
According to the White House Historical Association, “a social function was being held at the White House that evening and when those present learned there were newlyweds in the house, they came ringing bells and compelled the couple to come and and join the party. The couple were greeted with handshakes and questions about where they were from and where they were going.” Elizabeth recalled that all of the guests were Northerners, and being a Virginian, she didn’t how nice Northerners were until that night. The newlywed described how she and her new husband hardly got a chance to speak during the evening because of the constant requests for her to dance the Virginia Reel.
After the party, the newlyweds were invited to a fine dinner in a room with the longest table she had ever seen. Elizabeth recalled that a hot punch was served and how everybody would stand up and drink while someone said something. The dinner lasted until the early hours of the morning. Because of the late hour and inclement weather, Elizabeth recalled that President and Mrs. Lincoln would not allow the couple to leave and insisted they stay the night. The next day, armed with a pass signed by the President himself, Mr. and Mrs. Chandler went up the Potomac River to Harper’s Ferry. From there they returned to Mount Sidney to deliver the news to the parents that they’d just got “married in the White House.”
Screenshot (156)After their fairy tale wedding in the White House, James and Elizabeth Chandler moved to a farmhouse in Augusta County, Virginia, near Mount Sidney. The couple’s home was in the heart of the Shenandoah Valley and in the path of Stonewall Jackson’s Valley Campaign. In a move that would have certainly dismayed their wedding host, 28-year-old James Henry Chandler joined the Rebel Army, enlisting as a private in the 52nd Virginia Infantry Regiment at nearby Mount Meridian on June 15, 1862. The regiment, organized the previous August, was made up of mostly Augusta County men. Perhaps because James was never paid his promised enlistment bounty, he remained in the Confederate service for only a month before going AWOL on July 17, 1862.
Chandler returned to the regiment May 23, 1863, where he remained until Oct. 14, 1863, when he was captured at the Battle of Bristoe Station, Virginia. Many years later, Elizabeth said her husband surrendered and asked permission to fight in Lincoln’s army. POW James Chandler was sent north to Washington and after some explanation and investigation, permission was granted. James took the oath of allegiance to the United States government on Dec. 13, 1863. Sixteen days later on Dec. 29, he enrolled as a private in Co. A, 1st New Jersey Cavalry. The following day he was mustered into Federal service under the name James Grimes.

Elizabeth Chapman Grave 2
James Chandler’s Grave at Miller Cemetery Middletown,Indiana. 6/16/20. (Author’s Photo)

As a Federal soldier, James was promoted to the rank of corporal Nov. 1, 1864, and then sergeant June 1, 1865. At war’s end, Chandler was mustered out of service on July 24, 1865, but apparently did not return home for quite some time afterwards. Mrs. Chandler stated that, from the time he left the Confederate army in October 1863, she did not hear from him for five years and thought him among the dead. When he finally returned, he found his Virginia home intact and his wife working for a neighbor, awaiting his return. Likely because of the stigma associated with switching sides during the rebellion, the couple relocated to Henry County, Indiana. In 1868, the first of their five children was born. Census data reveals that the Chandlers were living in Jefferson Township in 1870 but by 1880 had moved to Fall Creek Township where they established a farm.

Elizabeth Chapman House 6
The author at Elizabeth Chandler’s House- 2819 E. Lynn St. Anderson, Indiana. 6/16/20. 

After James Henry’s death in 1895, Elizabeth moved to a little unpainted house at 2819 E. Lynn St. in Anderson (the home still stands). She was living there when her White House wedding and Lincoln connection was revealed in 1901 and remained in the home until her death in the home at the age of 92 on Sept. 2, 1934. Elizabeth and James Chandler are buried on the east side of Miller Cemetery in Middletown, Indiana. It should be noted that the only couple ever married in Lincoln’s White House are surrounded by the graves of 15 former Confederate soldiers, the largest gathering of former Rebel soldiers in any cemetery in Indiana.

Elizabeth Chapman Grave 7
The Author at Elizabeth Chandler’s Grave at Miller Cemetery Middletown,Indiana. 6/16/20.

Officially, there have been either 17 or 19 weddings conducted in the White House depending upon which source you use. These include nine presidential children and one president, Grover Cleveland. Because the Chandlers were not related to any of the official families and it was hastily arranged, the Chandler wedding does not register among the official records. However, the wedding date is contained in James Henry Chandler’s papers issued by the Pension Department. Following her husband’s death, Elizabeth was granted a Federal pension as a soldier’s widow by virtue of James’ service in the Civil War. However, those records do not note Chandler’s singular status as the only soldier who fought for both sides who could claim President Abraham Lincoln as his best man.

Politics

Otis Cox. Auditing a lifetime of public service.

Otis article
Otis E. Cox-Indiana State Auditor from 1982 to 1986.

Original publish date:  August 30, 2012

I received a phone call from an old friend the other day with some shocking news. One of my heroes and mentors in life, former Indiana State Auditor Otis E. Cox, called to tell me that he and his lovely wife Pat were moving from Anderson to Fishers. You may wonder, why is THAT shocking? Well, its shocking to me because Otis E. Cox is as much a part of Anderson as the Wigwam gym (home of all those great Anderson Indians basketball teams), Gene’s root beer stand (home of the Spanish Dog with cheese) and Lemon Drop drive-in (home of the legendary onion burger). Otis Cox might as well be “Mr. Anderson,” at least in my mind. No matter where I go or who I meet, seems everyone has ties of some sort to Anderson.

Otis and Pat have lived in Anderson all of their lives. Otis for 71 years and Pat for considerably less than that. He graduated from Anderson high school and followed that up by graduating from the General Motors Institute (now known as Kettering University). Otis, a Democrat, was elected Madison County auditor in 1976 and again in 1980. He was then elected State Auditor in 1981 serving in that post from December 1,1982 to November 30, 1986. Upon leaving office in 1986, Otis went back to his hometown and ran for Mayor of Anderson in 1987 losing by a  mere 94 votes. An astonishingly thin margin in a city of 60,000+, but Otis, true to his humble personality, eschewed a recount on the grounds that “the people had spoken.” Otis would win re-election to the post of Madison County Auditor in 1992, a generation after first attaining the post in 1976. In 1996 and 2000, Otis served as a Madison County Commissioner before retiring in 2004.

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I wore this back in 1982 campaigning with Otis in what seemed like every county in Indiana. Lots of miles, lots of heat and lots of rain on this thing.

I first met Otis as a young collector of political memorabilia just barely after I got my driver’s license. He was always honest, patient and kind with this tinhorn, just learning the ropes of collecting history and participating in the Indiana political process. When he was elected State Auditor, Otis kindly appointed me as one of his deputies at the Indiana Statehouse. A post I held from 1982 to 1985. At that time, Otis E. Cox was 4th in line of succession to the Governor’s seat and the highest ranking Democrat in the state.

Otis counted among his deputy auditors; Mary Moriarty (Adams)-District 17 City Councilwoman, Nancy Michael-former 44th district State Representative and Mayor of Green Castle, & Ed Mahern-longtime 97th district State Representative who holds the singular distinction of being the very first babyboomer born in Indianapolis (arriving two seconds after Midnight on Jan. 1, 1946). Otis Cox helped mold the future of Indianapolis politics for decades to come and his strength of leadership resonates in the Capitol City to this very day. During all those years in office in the State Capitol, Otis dutifully went home each night to Anderson in Madison County.

I drove up to Madison County last week to sit and reminisce with Otis and Pat about old times, politics and their next move in life. Otis is what most would call a loyal “Yellow Dog Democrat”, a political term applied to that part of the electorate who vote solely for Democratic candidates. It is believed that the term originated in the South after Republican president Abraham Lincoln led the Union against the Confederacy to describe those voters who would “vote for a yellow dog before they would vote for any Republican”. The term is now used to describe any Democrat who will vote a straight party ticket under any circumstances.

PO-dukakis-bentsen-button_busy_beaver_button_museumI often tell friends that I won my wife Rhonda’s heart back in 1988 when I walked into her store wearing a Dukakis / Bentsen for President campaign pin during the election. She gasped and asked me, “Where did you get that?” to which I reached into my pocket, pulled an identical pin out and presented it to her. Pat tells a similar story about meeting Otis for the first time in the early 1960s. “He walked up to me and asked me if I voted for John F. Kennedy” to which I answered “No.”  He asked me “Well, why not?” and I said, “because I wasn’t old enough.” From that point on, the pair were inseparable while working for LBJ, RFK, McGovern culminating with Otis himself being swept into office with the Jimmy Carter election in 1976.

The Cox’s fondly recall that 1976 election, Otis’ first, with several humorous stories about the role Anderson and the state of Indiana played in the Carter victory. “In 1976, there were several people running for the Democratic nomination. Hubert Humphrey, Sargent Shriver, George Wallace, Walter Mondale, Scoop Jackson, Fred Harris, Robert Byrd, Lloyd Bentsen, Birch Bayh, and of course, Jimmy Carter. ” Otis says, “They were all planning to come to Indiana for the primary, back then the Indiana primary really meant something, not like today. All of the candidates advance people were frantically calling Madison County Democrats to find places for these guys to stay. Everyone chose a candidate and Jimmy Carter was the last on the list. A friend of ours took the Carter’s in, (much to the later chagrin of all who’d chosen another candidate), and you know, Jimmy Carter stayed friends with them for decades afterwards. Even invited them to their home in Plains, Georgia whenever the couple traveled down to Florida.”

 

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Jimmy Carter-Larry Conrad-Otis Cox 1976 campaign pins.

Otis was a delegate to the Democratic National Conventions in 1976, 1980 & 1984. I asked him about the upcoming conventions to which he replied, “It’s not the same today as it was back then. There are no races anymore. Everything is decided before the convention. It’s more of a formality now than a real convention. In 1980 we had the Carter versus Ted Kennedy fight at the DNC and in 1984 there was the Mondale versus Jesse Jackson delegate fight. Gary Hart was still mixing into that convention as well.” Otis says, “Now its all cut and dried. The Republicans won’t even seat the two delegates pledged to Ron Paul at their convention this week.”

I asked Otis about his time as State Auditor. He smiles that trusting smile that helped sweep him into office back in 1982 and replies simply, “I enjoyed the time I spent there.” When asked if he’d run for office again, he flatly says, “No” then stops and reflects a moment before adding, “Well, if I were twenty years younger, sure.” He talks about the changes he’s seen in the political system during his lifetime of public service. Otis is startled today by the lack of cooperation between members of opposing parties at every level of government. “When I was in the State Auditor’s office both parties worked together, they strive for it. Even though I was the lone Democrat, the other offices bent over backwards to help me. Especially the Governor’s office, whatever we needed, they provided. No questions asked. Mind you, this was on a daily basis. You just don’t see that today at any level.” remarks Otis.

I asked the former State Auditor and his bride how they felt about leaving the only place they’ve ever called home. After all, the Cox’s are moving from a county that many consider to be one of the state’s most economically depressed to a county that is often ranked as one of the most prosperous in the nation. After all, Madison County’s unemployment rate at is nearly 2 points higher than the national average, job growth is 6% lower than the national average, individual income is over $5,000 less than the national average and median household income is over $ 14,000 less than the national average. On the other hand, Hamilton County’s unemployment rate at is nearly 2 1/2 points lower than the national average, job growth is nearly 1% higher than the national average, individual income is over $ 10,000 more than the national average and median household income is a staggering $ 30,000 above than the national average. Although separated by an insignificant distance, that’s a significant lifestyle change.

“Well, we’re not really leaving Madison County,” Pat says “Our friends are here, our bank is here and our doctors are here.” Pat volunteers her time at St. John’s hospital in Anderson (where both of my children and my wife were born). She donates her time making floral arrangements for the patients and plans to continue her duties there. “It’s actually about the same commute for me, 15-20 minutes depending on traffic,” Pat says “Traffic can be bad, but I’m going the opposite direction. I’m going out of Hamilton County when everyone else is coming in.”

Otis Cox will always retain his love for Madison County but laments the loss of industry to the city and county of his birth. “Sadly, the manufacturing industry is gone and I don’t see it coming back.” he says. The automotive industry has a long association with the city; at one time employing some 25,000 auto workers in nearly twenty different General Motors affiliated plants located all around Anderson, trailing only Flint, Michigan in that regard.  Pat chimes in, “We just lost the Emge meat packing plant (on west 8th street), it’s so sad.”  Ever the optimist and booster for his birth county, Otis points out, “But things are looking up, we got the Nestlé’s plant and 300 new jobs a few years back.”

Otis and Pat are moving to be closer to their adult kids, Angie and Chris, who live in the Noblesville / Fishers area. The Cox’s are moving to Britton Falls, a Del Webb adult resort community for ages 55-and-over located near Hamilton Southeastern High School in Fishers. Otis proudly chirps, “It’s just like going on a vacation.” He looks forward to no more yard work and no more stairs in their new ranch style home. He continues, “But Anderson will always be home. I will miss Anderson.”

I asked Otis if he had any regrets from his decades of public service. He pauses, leans back in his chair, places his fingertips together with his index fingers brushing the tip of his nose as his thumbs gently touch his chin, “Yes, I had one regret.” he replies. “When I was commissioner, I was always sorry that I couldn’t get a couple roundabouts built in Anderson at places I felt needed them. But you know, now that I’m spending so much time in Hamilton County (which has well over 100 roundabouts) I’m getting sick of seeing them.” followed by a hearty laugh from the man who was once the most powerful Democrat in the State of Indiana. Well, Otis, if that’s your only regret from all those years of public service, I’d say you’ve served your city, county, and state well. Enjoy your retirement my friend, you’ve earned it.