Chamblee54

Millard Fillmore And Oscar Wilde In Atlanta

Posted in Georgia History, History, Library of Congress by chamblee54 on March 10, 2019

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This afternoon’s post at chamblee54 noted an 1854 visit by former President Millard Fillmore. This was brought to the attention of another history minded blog, Millard Fillmore’s Bathtub. The result was some details about the visit, Millard Fillmore, live on Peachtree Street, 1854. The material below is borrowed from that post.

Two years after the Whigs refused to nominate Fillmore for a term of his own, he was out touring the country? Several accounts explain that Fillmore and his wife Abigail wanted to tour the U.S. after his presidency. Unfortunately, she died shortly after he left office. He pined through the rest of 1853, but by February 1854 had decided to tour by himself, without his children, accompanied by friends he could persuade to join him.

That same month, Fillmore decided to take the trip southward that he and Abigail had not been able to take. Given the timing, some observers believed that Fillmore had a political motive in making the journey. They suspected that he might be planning to speak out against the Nebraska Bill [proposed by Illinois’s U.S. Senator Stephen A. Douglas]. Others were convinced that it was a leisure tour. But whatever Fillmore’s intentions may have been, his speeches to southern audiences were relatively neutral. He restated his faith in the [Missouri] Compromise, but he spent most of his time enjoying a series of receptions, dinners, and parades in his honor throughout the region. A marching band escorted him through the streets of Louisville, Kentucky. Girls scattered his path with flowers in Montgomery, Alabama. A row of trains blew their whistles in greeting in Atlanta, Georgia. Fillmore returned home refreshed and with renewed faith in his fellow Americans. (This paragraph is from Alison Behnke, Millard Fillmore (a child’s history of the man), 2005, page 92.)

By late February 1854 Fillmore had resumed his plans to travel. He perceived that a southern trip would do him good and that the journey would divert his mind from the loss of Abigail. … Fillmore hoped Francis Granger, John P. Kennedy, and Washington Irving would go with him on the trip. Granger lost interest, and Irving was in no mood for politics. …

En route to Atlanta from Augusta on the Georgia Railroad, they stopped at Greensboro where a large crowd of teachers and students of the Female College greeted Fillmore and Kennedy. They dined at Madison. At Stone Mountain an escort committee from Atlanta met them.

At the Atlanta Depot a novel reception welcomed them. A large number of locomotives were present with their steam up. When the Augusta engineer signaled their arrival they all opened up their valves and whistled out a welcome the like of which, reported a newspaper, “no mortal man had heard before.” The shouts from the crowd and locomotive whistles were deafening to one reporter. By carriage the party went from the depot to the Atlanta Hotel where a reception was held.

Fillmore had become hoarse. Nonetheless, he managed to say that he was impressed by the large population and that he had heard that it was a beautiful village in the center of the state. He also admonished the state legislature to to take note “of the array of female loveliness before me” seated at the reception. If they did so, he joked, they wouldn’t hesitate to locate the state capital at Atlanta. At that time the capital was at Milledgeville. Atlanta became the capital in 1877. (This section is from Robert J. Scarry, Millard Fillmore, 1982, pages 247-252 variously.)

A few months later, on October 16, 1854, Oscar Fingal O’Flahertie Wills Wilde was born in Dublin, Ireland. On July 4, 1882, Mr. Wilde gave a talk at De Give’s Opera House in Atlanta GA. What happened next is described on page 201 of Oscar Wilde by Richard Ellmann.

Mr. Wilde was accompanied by his agent, J.S. Vail, and a valet, W.M. Traquair. Mr. Vail bought three train tickets for Savannah, the next stop on the tour. The Pullman agent told Mr. Wilde that black people were not allowed to ride in sleeper car berths. Mr. Wilde said that Mr. Traquair had traveled with him throughout the South without incident. The Pullman agent said the next stop was in Jonesboro GA. If people in Jonesboro saw a black man in the car, then they would attack the train. Mr. Wilde gave in, and Mr. Traquair traveled in another part of the train.

This is a repost. Pictures today are from The Library of Congress.

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