It was just a few days before Christmas 1889, and little Elizabeth Jones did not know why her parents wanted her to visit the gray-bearded man in the railroad car.
It was certainly someone special, she thought, who would have a private Pullman car sitting at the station in Richmond.
The 4-year-old was accompanied by her father as she climbed up the steps of the big rail car. In her hand she held a small pen knife her father said would make a nice gift for the man she was about to meet.
The well-dressed gentleman got up from his desk and greeted Elizabeth warmly. He seemed genuinely glad to meet her and pleased with her small gift.
Elizabeth gave him a hug and a kiss. She could not stay long, since the Pullman car was ready to
Its destination was Washington, D.C., and the kindly gray-bearded man was the president of the United States, Benjamin Harrison, who had been visiting his home in Indianapolis that day.
Harrison, in his first year of office, was not surrounded by security. He was easily approachable and often quite glad to meet visitors, especially children.
At the White House, he
enjoyed the company of his own two grown children and three grandchildren.
The train left the station as Elizabeth and her family returned to their home on North 12th Street in Richmond. A few days later, a box was delivered to their door.
Inside the box was another box made of metal. Enclosed was a letter on stationery with bold letters at the top which read “Executive Mansion, Washington.”
Imagine Elizabeth’s excitement when her father read the letter
My dear little Friend,
When you came to my car at Richmond I did not see you until you stood at my feet, looking up to me sweetly, that I did not know but a little fairy had come in through the window. But when I picked you up and you gave me a kiss then I knew it was a real little girl.
The pretty knife you handed me I will keep till you are a big girl and when I go back to Indiana to live you must come to see me, and I will show you that I have not forgotten you.
The little doll which you will find in the box with this letter is for you, and I hope you will think it is pretty. If the doll could talk, she would tell you how much I love to be loved by little children.
Elizabeth was thrilled with what she found in the metal box. It was a beautiful Jumeau French doll, wearing a pleated pale blue satin dress decorated with lace.
On her head was a blue satin hat with matching earrings. Her feet wore Mary Jane slippers with black buttons and bows on the toes.
“Carrie” was the name
Elizabeth gave to her new little friend, in honor of Caroline Harrison, the wife of the president. The exquisite bisque doll was much loved by Elizabeth.
Anyone who came to visit soon became acquainted with the story of the special doll that had come from the White House.
Elizabeth cherished Carrie all of her life. When she died at age 83, her daughter Eleanor inherited the doll, which had been kept in perfect condition all those years.
In 1970, Eleanor decided that it was time for Carrie to move into another home, one that would be sure to treasure her forever. The exquisite French doll was taken to the Benjamin Harrison Home in Indianapolis.
Still wearing her blue satin dress, Carrie was welcomed with open arms at the home of the man who, on a busy day long ago, had been charmed by a chance visit with a little girl. Accompanying the gift was the original handwritten letter from Harrison.
In a sense, little Carrie had come back home.
This month, as visitors enter the Harrison Home, they are greeted by a large Victorian Christmas tree, covered with handmade ornaments and popcorn garland. Standing quietly beneath the tree is a quaint little doll in a blue satin hat.
She keeps her own counsel, of course, but perhaps she is thinking of that Christmas 125 years ago and the wonderful story of a president in a Pullman car and a moment of love for a little girl that lasted longer than a lifetime.