Andover Townsman, Andover, MA


January 17, 2013

Dalton column: Death of a boy, and a presidency


In 1852, a surprise awaited the Pierces. Franklin had not held elected office in 10 years, but had kept up his political connections. The national Democratic convention was deadlocked over the issues of slavery and statehood for territories. A super-majority of two-thirds vote was needed to be nominated, and none of the obvious candidates could get the necessary vote. On the 35th ballot, Pierce’s name was added as a compromise candidate because he was a “doughface,” a term used to describe a northerner with southern sympathies, and because he was, above all, a loyal party man. On the 49th ballot, Pierce was unanimously nominated, and a few months later, without campaigning (not unusual in those days), he was elected the 14th president in a landslide, causing his wife to faint in disappointment.

Christmas followed seven weeks later, more than two months before Franklin’s inauguration, and the Pierces observed it with the Aikens in Andover. The day they departed Andover was a bitterly cold Thursday, and they boarded a train originating in Boston, supposedly to terminate in Concord. Instead, it terminated in a most terrible way in Andover when it hit rocks on the railway line about a mile north of the Andover station.

Bennie was standing at the window when the railroad cars overturned. His parents saw him die, but they were uninjured. An eyewitness said that the Pierce boy ...”one minute so beautiful, so full of life [was] struck so violently as to remove the upper portion of his head...” (Juliet Haines Mofford, “Andover Massachusetts, Historical Selections from Four Centuries,” 2004). His body was removed to the nearby Alms House (the brick building that still stands near the top of Argyle Street) in a carriage sent by John Smith, of Smith and Dove Manufacturing. Bennie’s remains were then removed to the Aikens’ home, where his funeral was held two days later. Jane Pierce was so broken that she didn’t accompany her son’s body to Concord for the burial.

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