Posts Tagged ‘abraham lincoln’

John Hay

No less illustrious a figure than St. Michael the Archangel stands over the grave of John Hay. Never heard of John Hay? Many people haven’t, but he shaped the diplomatic world of the United States in the late 19th century.

Hay’s rise to political prominence began with a streak of luck – as an aspiring young lawyer, he happened make the acquaintance of an older lawyer in Illinois named Abraham Lincoln. When Lincoln was elected President, he selected Hay as his assistant private secretary, a position Hay held until 1864. Hay served in the Civil War but was still moving in political circles, and was present at Lincoln’s deathbed. He and Lincoln’s secretary John G. Nicolay later published a biography of the slain president.

John Hay

Hay practiced law in the United States and abroad until President Rutherford B. Hayes pointed him as Assistant Secretary of State. President William McKinley made him ambassador to the United Kingdom in 1897. The next year, McKinley named him as Secretary of State. Theodore Roosevelt retained him in the position until Hay died in 1905.

In all of that service, Hay negotiated dozens of treaties, that included defining such things as the boundaries of Alaska and preparing for the construction of the Panama Canal. He was a proponent of the Open Door Policy with China. Overshadowed by his political career, he was also a poet and a writer.

John Hay

And how did John Hay come to be buried in Lake View Cemetery in Cleveland? He married Clara Louise Stone, daughter of millionaire Clevelander Amasa Stone, and lived here with her for a time to sort out her late father’s affairs.

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There are strains of our cultural roots that focus on touch – we value the ability to “reach out and touch” something over just viewing it. Take Roman Catholic relics. For those not familar with the hierarchy of relics, there are three “classes.” First class relics are items from Christ’s life or the remains of a saint (pieces of the True Cross, bone fragments from a saint). Second class relics are items that a saint wore or used. Third class relics are things that have been touched to a first or second class relic: sanctity imbued by the act of touch.


That is what I thought of when I read the little message on a post at the base of this monument.


What are the three things that this short paragraph wants to convey to you – 1. Ulsenheimer was a Civil War soldier, 2. He shook hands with President Abraham Lincoln, and 3. He is ancestor of a current local resident. I was just immediately struck by the emphasis on the handshake – of all the things in Ulsenheimer’s life to preserve, the act of having briefly shook hands was second only to his veteran status and his descendant.


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