Not long ago, while working in our collections, I ran across a letter that had been originally cataloged as a thank you note. The description stated, “Richard Harding Davis thanks President Roosevelt for getting him into the abbey.” While that was apparently what was stated in the letter, it almost suggested more questions than it answered. To which abbey had Davis been granted access? How was Theodore Roosevelt able to help and why would he do so? Moreover, was there a special reason for going to said abbey?
Since I have a hard time passing up a good mystery, I stopped to do a bit of research. Richard Harding Davis was a journalist and correspondent for several wars around the turn of the century. He reported on the Spanish-American War, the Second Boer War and the Russo-Japanese war to name a few. He is acknowledged to have been a good friend of Theodore Roosevelt’s, and our holdings prove that statement to be true.
Part of this mystery was solved by a telegram dated June 6, 1902, in which Davis requested help from President Roosevelt in obtaining a ticket to the coronation at Westminster Abbey. This telegram, received at 8:21 am, was followed by a second telegram at 10:35, withdrawing Davis’s earlier request. Apparently, he had just learned why he hadn’t been allowed to obtain a ticket. The explanation is quite provocative, but understanding why Davis’s “Boer articles” were so controversial was a sidetrack I did not want to take at the time.
Roosevelt’s response suggests that the president refrained from interceding on behalf of Davis upon receipt of the second telegram. After all of that, I went back to the original letter, only to discover that Davis had offered thanks for Roosevelt’s “intended kindness.” In the end, the objection Davis had encountered was really a misunderstanding, and he had been able to obtain tickets on his own.
Letter from Richard Harding Davis to Theodore Roosevelt, July 2, 1902. From the Library of Congress Manuscript collection.
The most ironic twist in this story is that the tickets were effectively useless. Richard Harding Davis had gone through all of this so that he and his wife might attend the coronation of King Edward VII at Westminster Abbey on June 26, 1902. As it turns out, King Edward suffered from an attack of appendicitis on June 24, 1902, and the coronation had to be postponed. This was, evidently, an extremely unpopular decision as the preparations for the event were very elaborate and already in place. Davis was generous to the ailing king in the letter dated July 2, stating that he felt sympathy for the poor man who could not even eat solid food when he was supposed to be crowned.
Davis and his wife appear to have missed the actual coronation, which took place on August 9, 1902. It was a much quieter celebration than the one that was planned for June, and Davis had already returned home.