Presidents are mourned at their deaths in fairly similar ways. White House traditions of official mourning began in 1841 with the sudden death of William Henry Harrison, "Old Tippecanoe," who had triumphed in his inauguration as president only one month before. Even in a time when communications were, by our standards, almost primitive, the story traveled quickly, from newspaper to newspaper, state capital to state capital, reaching the whole nation within a few weeks. Black flags and bunting were still evident long after the event. Grief in the states took ceremonial form in processions with symbolic empty coffins, orations, and newsprint, and set precedents for the public mourning of seven presidents who would die in office, in years to come.
In Death and the White House, the White House Historical Society examines in detail the mourning rituals that marked not only Harrison's death but also the deaths in office of Abraham Lincoln and Franklin D. Roosevelt, as well as, more cursorily, of Zachary Taylor, James A. Garfield, William McKinley, Warren G. Harding, and John F. Kennedy. There were other deaths in the White House-of first ladies and president's children-and this issue also describes the deaths of Willie Lincoln and Calvin Coolidge Jr., and the ways in which their grieving fathers carried on with presidential responsibilities.