“I went to New Haven on the final day’s celebration of Yale’s 200th anniversary in October, 1901, to witness the conferring of honors upon President Roosevelt. Youth, in colleges as in men, may be joyous, but age is grand and glorious! Around Old Eli were gathered her children of the last half of her second century to rejoice with her. Alma Mater welcomed them and the world beside. Atmosphere of a college town was gone; one might believe a national convention to be in session. Medals of bronze and rosettes of deep azure silk adorned every coat in sight. The day began with the arrival of President Roosevelt and his party from Farmington, among the Connecticut hills, where he had passed a restful night aboard his private car. President Roosevelt was in fine spirits. He had climbed the stone walls and crossed the meadows afoot. Most characteristic of all, he had helped a strange farmer, far from the village, round up his herd of cows at milking time.
After its run down the valley, the special train of two Pullman cars had arrived on time. The President sprang lightly off the rear platform, which had been surrounded by a squad of blue jackets. A national salute was fired somewhere in the neighborhood. Two companies of State militia immediately surrounded the cars.
The President was the Roosevelt of old; the broad smile and laughing eyes, the rosy lips and glistening teeth. He was a picture of good health and happiness. He looked younger, if anything, than during the campaign.
The presence of the armed militia was clearly repugnant to Roosevelt but he passed at once to an open landau in waiting and seated himself at the rear, right hand. Mayor Studley got in beside him, because the President was the city’s guest until he was landed at Phelps Hall gate, on university territory. The front seat was occupied by President Hadley, of Yale. The President had dressed for the ceremony aboard his car. He wore a long walking coat and silk hat. It was the first time I have ever seen him wear gloves. They were of tan.
When the carriage moved off to the music of a band, a grand popular demonstration occurred. The streets along the route had been packed with people since early morning. Curiosity to see the young President appeared to be universal.
When turning into Chapel street an incident caused the President to spring to his feet and raise his hat. An aged veteran appeared in an upper window, wearing the uniform of ’61 and holding an old army musket at ‘Present arms!’ It was like a picture from an old print; but Roosevelt recognized its genuineness. He stood proudly erect, waved his hat as if to cheer, and the crowd promptly gave voice to his suggestion. A similar incident, though not so dramatic, occurred at Trinity Church, on Chapel street. As the carriages approached, the chimes in Trinity tower were playing ‘My Country, ‘Tis of Thee.’
The instant the notes caught the President’s ear he again rose and reverently stood uncovered until the ivy-clad church was passed. It was a graceful and evidently an impulsive act — an incident thoroughly Rooseveltian. A few moments later the first carriage entered the college grounds and drew up at the gate- way to Phelps Hall. This portal is a groined arch of Gothic architecture. Its material is old red sandstone. Roosevelt sprang from the landau, up a slight acclivity that rose from the curb and, with President Hadley on one side and Colonel Bingham on the other, passed into the Yale campus, where at least five thousand people had formed in double line to greet him. Again the silk hat was raised; again that typical smile that has become a part of our national life! Cheer upon cheer arose. The college men were assembled in classes; their greetings were in old and familiar form. ‘Breck-kekekex, Brekekex; coax, coax!’ was the Aristophanean welcome; ‘Rah! rah! rah! Yale!’ the college cry of Old Eli.
Between this double line of boisterous students the President’s party passed rapidly afoot across the breadth of the campus to Alumni Hall. Handing his hat to a relative, who stood near him, the President donned his mortar-board cap and his black silken gown. The cap was of black, with a violet-colored tassel. The gown bore three broad black velvet bars across each sleeve. No sooner was His Excellency gowned than many old friends pressed forward to greet him..
‘Who could have dreamed that the blue of old Yale would ever wave in honor of me,’ said Roosevelt, in my hearing. He spoke of his own Alma Mater, Harvard, with loving pride, but evinced every sign of delight at the honor Yale was about to bestow, it was a pretty episode and served to pass a pleasant quarter hour. Then the procession toward the gateway through Vanderbilt Hall to the Hyperion Theatre was quickly formed. Police cleared the path. Here and there secret service men in broadcloth and duly rosetted in blue fell into the line. It was a mistake of them not to have worn the mortar board; the tall silk hats made them look like English mutes at a funeral.
The rapid tramp through Durfee Gateway and past old South College to Vanderbilt Hall was a scene of continuous ovation. Cap and gown had so transformed the young and sprightly President of the United States that his best friend would hardly have recognized him. His hands were gravely clasped across his stomach, and the eyes, that are oftenest alertly cast upward and everywhere, were solemnly upon the ground. He was as grave as a monk from the Abbey of Eli in the time of King Canute.”
-Excerpt and (top) image courtesy of the Internet Archive, Cornell University Library, “The book of New York, forty years’ recollections of the American metropolis,” by Julius Chambers, 1912