Last updated: March 31, 2014
2014 marks the 140th anniversary of the death of Senator Charles Sumner, famous abolitionist and close friend of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. Sumner passed away on March 11, 1874 after suffering a heart attack. After lying in state in the Rotunda of the U.S. Capitol, only the second senator to be afforded that honor to that point, his body was brought back to Massachusetts and buried at Mt. Auburn Cemetery in Cambridge on March 16. One of the pallbearers at his funeral was Henry Wadsworth Longfellow.
Sumner's death deeply affected Longfellow. In a letter to his friend George Washington Greene written the day of Sumner's death, Henry wrote "I thought I was prepared by his frequent attacks for this final one. But I was not. It is terribly sudden and unexpected to me as it will be to you. I cannot write more."
Also, in a letter to a fellow admirer of Sumner written on the day of his funeral, Longfellow said:
"To-day, as you know, his funeral takes place; and before going to town to attend it, I write you these few lines.
I need not tell you of the public grief here as elsewhere and everywhere. The mourning is universal, as well it may be; for the nation's loss is great and irreparable.
Of what I feel, and you feel, and all his personal friends, I cannot speak, and will not attempt it. We shall feel his loss more and more, as the days go on."
Many of Sumner's personal possessions were willed to Longfellow, including bronze and marble sculptures that can be viewed in the Longfellow House today. The ribbon pictured above was kept by Longfellow as a memento of Sumner's funeral. It is a mourning ribbon, likely worn by Henry on the occasion. A small white card with an inscription written in Longfellow's hand is pinned to the ribbon and reads "Charles Sumner. March 16. 1874."