The 9th US President Died of a Cold… Which he May Have Caught at His Own Inauguration Ceremony

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The president who served the shortest period of time after being elected to office was William Henry Harrison. Harrison was president for only 30 days, 12 hours and 32 minutes before keeling over at age 68. The circumstances under which President Harrison, the first ever to die in office, died are disputed until this day.

Harrison was elected in 1840 running as a rugged, tested and weathered war hero. The day that Harrison was sworn into office was rainy and cold, and to make matters worse, the newly elected president chose to deliver his entire 8,444-word speech to the assembled crowd (and this was after it had been edited for length by a friend). The speech, which still ranks as the longest inaugural speech in American history, took two hours to read.
Above: President Harrison, wearing considerably more clothing than he was on his inauguration day.
Perhaps this was not the smartest choice in retrospect. Also not so smart of him: refusing to wear a hat or even a coat in the pouring rain.

A month later he was dead of pneumonia, which he may have contracted while he was savoring every moment of his inauguration day out in the rain. It’s unclear whether he came down with the illness at the inauguration or afterwards, but what is known is that the cures of the day, which included opium, snakes and caster oil.

His grandson, Benjamin Harrison, later became the 23rd president of the United States. On the day that the younger Harrison was sworn in, he reportedly wore a full suit of leather armor— just in case. He lived on to serve a complete term, although later ironically died of pneumonia as well.

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2 comments on “The 9th US President Died of a Cold… Which he May Have Caught at His Own Inauguration Ceremony”

  1. Just an addition to this that makes Tippecanoe look even goofier. I read that he actually had mostly gotten over the illness and was solidly on the mend. He was so happy, and I assume so hungry, he ordered a big bowl of cherries and gorged on them. He got sick again and died.

    So maybe death is just a bowl of cherries.

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