The following letter, here excerpted, was written by Miriam (“Mimi”) Felt to her family describing events in Washington, DC, around the time of the first burial at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Arlington National Cemetery in November 1921. “Mimi” was 23 years old and worked in the water sanitation division of the U.S. Health Service in Washington, D.C.
Sunday (November 13, 1921)
Well, this last week has been quite an event in history, and I certainly do wish you all could have been in Washington. It certainly is something I shall never forget. Somehow, you can talk about it and think about it, but the realization of the whole thing struck me so much more by seeing it all, and it was so impressive.
Thursday night after work, Gertie and I went up to the Capitol to see the body in state there. We went up about six o'clock , thinking the crowd would not be so large. But at that time the line (four abreast) extended over two blocks, and by the time we had reached the Capitol steps and could look back at the crowd, it extended up one side of the park, down another side, then the third side of it and on beyond around the Capitol building where we could see no farther, so I don't know how much longer it was. It was perfectly beautifully managed, and there was no crowding, and everyone, strangely enough, acted as though they really were there to pay respect to the memory which that body was to represent to the country, and not there to see out of curiosity.
There were guards, of course, all up the line and then a special guard of honor around the catafalque. The flowers were simply magnificent, each state and then different organizations sent wreaths or flowers made up in some beautiful piece. President Harding's wreath of red roses was on the bier and also a white ribbon was draped over it, which Mrs. Harding had made. It was most impressive, all told.
Friday bright and early, we arose and went down on Pennsylvania Avenue to see the funeral procession…
There were represented in the procession about every branch of service, and all the organizations, etc. President Harding and the cabinet and the Senate all walked, and we had a chance to see them all very clearly. Only I missed finding Taft until he was passed. I am going to have to see him soon, somehow. It seems that because I am specially anxious to see him, I always miss him!
Did you know that this was the first time in History that three Presidents were seen in the same procession? Wilson had to ride, of course. He looked quite well, and people that have seen him recently seem to think he is much improved….
Then that night was the illumination of the jeweled arch. It was wonderful! When the lights first started to come on, you could see the different lines of the search lights gradually cross each other, and then finally shine out in the most beautiful colors you have ever seen. They fired twenty-one minute guns and the lights were sent through the smoke. I just can't describe to you the effect of it all.
I declare the arch was something that you cannot conceive of man making, somehow. It seemed almost superhuman. The pillars on either side of the street were made into monument effects, the tops from about half way up being covered with sequents (does she mean “sequins”?) of some sort. This all was on a larger base, and around them, on each base, was a large eagle, and incense bowls all around too, burning. In the center of the arch was a large circle composed of smaller circles, and within each of these the picture of the various flags. Then hanging from the pillars was a straight band of vari-colored glass, I guess it must have been, which positively sparkled with more beautiful colors than I have ever seen. They threw different colored search lights on it from all sides. And that wasn't all — the Washington monument was lighted so that it looked as though there were streamers of white light from the top to the bottom, and two search lights from the top crossed and were sent out over the city. Also lights were thrown from the Capitol building so far away which were visible, too.
All along the street in front of the Pan American building where the Conference will be held for the most part, there were erected tall poles with Eagles on the top and colored, lighted box effects built about them of the different shields, that is, “flag productions” of the shields. It made the whole street lighter than day, of course, and with all the various colors it certainly was a vision to behold! Course, you will see it in the movies, and maybe not recognize my description of it all, but it's the best I can do, and I thought perhaps Mother and Dad, at least, would like to hear my own description of it!
Daughter, Sister and sweetheart.
(As a postscript, Ms. Felt wrote:)
Give my love to Grandpa. Sorry he isn't feeling up to par. Tell him to be a good boy. Tell him too that some of his old “cronies” marched to Arlington Friday and they looked mighty fine, I'll tell you – and I thought a lot about what he did for his country.
The Veterans Day National Committee thanks Ms. Barbara Felt, the author's niece, for sharing this letter to relatives written by her Aunt Mimi.
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Michael Robert Patterson was born in Arlington and is the son of a former officer of the US Army. So it was no wonder that sooner or later his interests drew him to American history and especially to American military history. Many of his articles can be found on renowned portals like the New York Times, Washingtonpost or Wikipedia.
Reviewed by: Michael Howard