Annual Giving and Membership Coordinator
Rutherford B. Hayes Presidential Library and Museums
While his father’s Memorial was breaking new ground as the first presidential library, Webb Hayes, second son of President Rutherford B. Hayes was occupied with transporting his parents’ bodies to Spiegel Grove. This was far from a sudden decision on Webb’s part. His earliest plans for the memorial included preparations for Lucy and Rutherford’s removal from Fremont, Ohio's Oakwood and re-internment at Spiegel Grove. Webb desired that his creation follow the model set by America’s first presidents—to have the president buried at his estate much like Jefferson at Monticello or Washington at Mount Vernon. By relocating his parents’ bodies to Spiegel Grove, Webb was bringing his Memorial full circle. Visitors would not only be able to pay homage to Rutherford and Lucy’s lives through their belongings and life’s work, they would also be able to visit their final resting place. Spiegel Grove was to be a site of pilgrimage for those devoted to and interested in Rutherford B. Hayes. Webb sought to “conceal and make more private the Monument and Base in which the bodies” were to be placed, so that visitors to the tomb would be able to visit the grave site in relative solitude to pay their respects.
Before moving forward with the task, Webb secured his siblings’ approval. While much of his family was in agreement with him, Webb did face displeasure from some family members. Rutherford Platt Hayes voiced strong dissent to the reburial in 1911. He argued that it went against his father’s wishes, writing, “Father selected the place and arranged everything himself and I know that it was his thought and wish that he and mother should remain there permanently.” Presuming that the other Hayes siblings felt as he did, he sent his attorney to Fremont to prevent Webb from moving the bodies of their parents until all of the children were in agreement. We have few details; however, it must have taken the siblings four years to resolve their issues regarding the reburial, because discussions of the removal did not resume until 1915.
Before moving forward with the task Webb secured further family approval. Some felt the same as Rutherford. His cousin Laura Platt Mitchell, who was Rutherford’s favorite niece, strongly opposed the plan. Close friend and cousin, Mrs. L.C. Austin, had approved of the plan since 1911. Webb reached out to her once more for possible financial assistance. The relocation of the bodies, including the beautification of the knoll and the new monument, was estimated to cost $1,500.
While updates on the progress of the memorial project were occasionally shared in newspapers across Ohio, this particular aspect of the project appealed to the public. Like modern times, the macabre and the dramatic attracted the media more than anything else. When the bodies of the former president and first lady were moved from their original burial site to Spiegel Grove, the nation paid attention. The notion of a son digging up his deceased parents and moving their bodies as he saw fit struck a chord of intrigue within the nation. The fact that the bodies were a first lady and president added to the sensational coverage. In January 1915, the Norwalk Reflector Herald of Norwalk, Ohio, shared that “there was talk today of disinterring the bodies of the late President Rutherford B. Hayes and his wife and their removal to a crypt in the memorial.” It took several months to finalize plans for the removal of the bodies, but when the event took place, newspapers across the country covered this story, including the Boston Evening Globe, the Waunakee Index of Wisconsin, the Hamburg Reporter of Iowa, and the Waco Morning News.
Webb had planned to move his parents in late spring of 1915, but discovered on March 31st that he would be unable to disinter the remains between April 1st and October 1st to prevent further decomposition. With this knowledge, Webb sprang to action. On that very day the former president and first lady were disinterred and placed in a vault of the Hayes Memorial building until the completion of their granite mausoleum. Lucy Keeler recorded Webb’s retelling of the event in her diary:
Webb & the workmen had been early to Oakwood; the caskets stood side by side in the crypt of the Memorial Building—covered with flags. However Webb soon decided to move them to the adjoining vault; that was done—the flag draped with 2 handsome wreaths. Then the vaults doors were closed; we went to the house for dinner. Present; Webb; his wife; Birchard; his wife; Dr. and Mrs. Wright; myself; Miss Crocker the housekeeper, and the workman. All done quietly, quickly and in Webb's masterly manner [sic]. He came to tell me—at the first opportunity—that he found the original casket almost intact in excellent condition (though he had prepared two new lead caskets in case of need.) The old coffin (Mrs. Hayes--1889) sagged open at one end and out rolled—in his hands—his mother’s wedding ring! He showed it to me—engraved with her name from RBH. It seemed to me like a last message from Aunt Lucy to this devoted son of hers! After dinner, I went over to the Memorial Bldg again. Soon Birchard came running, asking me to bring my Kodak and go up Hayes Avenue and take a picture of the great stone Webb has brought from Barre Vt. Quarries (weighs 25 tons) 15 x 12 feet to cover the new grave on the knoll of Spiegel and serve as base to the monument now at Spiegel. I took several views of it the people.
Whether or not the former first lady’s wedding ring actually fell out of the coffin and into her son’s hand is debatable. He did not rebury the wedding ring with his mother. Instead, Webb kept his mother’s wedding ring and it is currently on display in the museum
Moving the bodies when they did meant that their reburial had to wait until the monument portion of the tomb was finalized. In a beautiful and impressive ceremony the bodies were removed from the Memorial building and re-interred at the knoll on April 3rd, where they remain to this day. The new resting place was approved by the Hayes family, even those who had once opposed the project. In September 1915 Lucy Keeler commented on Laura Platt Mitchell’s change of opinion on the matter, stating, “Laura is so pleased with the Knoll and Monument, though she had all along opposed Webb’s plan of moving his parent’s remains.” Rutherford also underwent a small change of heart. His wife Lucy Platt Hayes wrote to Mary Miller Hayes: “We are all glad to have the final move accomplished so simply and quietly.”
While this decision to move the bodies of his parents may seem unusual or grotesque, it was not altogether uncommon at the time. Webb had prior experiences with disinterring and moving bodies, on his own and with his father. Upon Lucy’s death in 1889 Rutherford moved the body of their youngest child, so that he would be buried with Lucy. Manning Force Hayes had passed away in 1874. In 1906 Webb worked in cooperation with the Western Reserve Historical Society, in which he was a Trustee, to secure Colonel George Croghan’s body. Croghan was a local war hero, having defended Fort Stephenson during the War of 1812 in Fremont, Ohio. Webb gained permission from Croghan’s family to move his body from Kentucky to Fremont. Once Croghan’s move was finished acquaintances offered congratulatory words to Webb on his
accomplishment. One man said,
“Accept my congratulations on your successful search for the “bones” of Col.
Croghan.” Another stated that he received confirmation
that Webb had “found and swiped George” with his congratulations.
With the bodies of the former president and first lady safely resting at the knoll in Spiegel Grove, attentions turned back to the memorial.
 WCH to L.C. Austin, 1914, WCH Papers, Rutherford B. Hayes Presidential Library & Museums.
 Rutherford Platt Hayes [RPH] to L.C. Austin, 22 July 1911, RPH Papers, Rutherford B. Hayes Presidential Library & Museums.
 RPH to L.C. Austin, 5 July 1911, RPH Papers, Rutherford B. Hayes Presidential Library & Museums.
 LEK Diary, 31 March 1915, LEK Papers, Rutherford B. Hayes Presidential Library & Museums.
 LEK Diary, 9 September 1915, LEK Papers, Rutherford B. Hayes Presidential Library & Museums.
 Lucy Platt Hayes to MMH, 30 April 1915, RPH Papers, Rutherford B. Hayes Presidential Library & Museums.