Make your home page

Benjamin Harrison Presidential Site explores ‘Death in the White House’ with new exhibit

Presidential Site opens ‘Death in the White House’ exhibit

INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) — A compelling new exhibit at the Benjamin Harrison Presidential Site explores grief throughout the Harrison administration.

“Death in the White House” highlights how the first family handled the death of Caroline Scott Harrison, the first lady, in 1892.

Recently obtained diary entries from the first lady’s seamstress reveal details of how the president lived through her deadly bout with tuberculous.

Curator Jennifer Capps says the letters from that time paint a picture of how notable figures mourned and showed the first family their support.

“They had a service in the East Room at the White House,” Capps said, “[She] came by train back here to Indianapolis. She’s buried at Crown Hill Cemetery. Some of the cards you’ll notice [include] one from Theodore Roosevelt … some of them have [a] black border, which is a custom of that time period.”

Documents from other presidential administrations also shed light on how those first families handled death while in Washington D.C. In total, eight presidents and four first ladies have died while living at the executive mansion.

The exhibit opened Friday and runs concurrently with “Life in the White House” in the site’s welcome center.

Lindsey Beckley, the marketing and events manager, says both exhibits look to humanize the presidency in an election year.

“It’s often it’s easy to see presidents as kind of larger than life and a figurehead,” Beckley said. “We’re trying to show their home life … Of course they are still subject to the whims of life and death in the White House.”

“Life in the White House” opened in January. Capps says it shows how the Harrison’s balanced private and public life.

“They had birthday parties, they’re having Christmas,” Capps said. “They have their pets — Old Whiskers the goat, Dash the dog. If you come and visit us, you’ll learn why there were ferrets in the White House.”

Both exhibits are included with the price of admission and run through the end of the year.

For more information on the museum’s hours, and for tickets, visit the presidential site’s website.