Finding Facts to Support a Family Story

 

The Tradition

Herbert F. Rorer

Herbert F. Rorer

My grandfather, Herbert Francis Rorer, died when I was just four-and-a-half years old. My few memories of him are derived more from family stories told through the years than from my actual memories. When I was growing up, my mother spoke often about her father’s years as a Boy Scout. She enjoyed recounting the story that his Boy Scout troop in Princeton, New Jersey, accompanied the newly-elected president Woodrow Wilson from Princeton to Washington, DC, for the inauguration. This event must have made a large impression on my grandfather if my mother was still frequently sharing the story decades later. There haven’t been many details passed down other than the group went by train, the same train Woodrow Wilson took to Washington, and that the Scouts had some official duties to perform there.

 

This tale has always intrigued me. Being the collector and keeper of all things family, I inherited a box of photographs and papers that belonged to my grandparents. This box contained photographs of Herbert in his Scout uniform, a photo of Scouts lined up and standing at attention along a city street, and two original photographs of President Woodrow Wilson at his inauguration. My curiosity was piqued.

Boy Scout Line

Boy Scout Troop No. 3. Herbert Rorer is 7th from the left.

The box of papers that belonged to my grandparents also contained an issue of the Princeton Recollector, a weekly newspaper published for a short time in the 1970s. The paper was filled with reminisces by the townspeople about days gone by. The featured article in this saved issue was about Woodrow Wilson’s inauguration day in March 1913. What a day that was for these Princetonians. The article contained quotes from Herbert’s sister, Sarah Rorer Hoffman, about the Boy Scouts’ involvement that day. I was able to glean many other details about the day’s events from the many personal recollections in this paper.

There was never any doubt in my mind the tale was true. Because it was evidently a cherished time for my grandfather, my goal was to build a story around that tale, to find details about the day, and document it so the memory would not be lost.

Beginning with a family story, finding clues in memorabilia inherited from my grandparents, and adding background information (see the source list at the end of this article), I was able to create a written story thereby ensuring this family story would not be lost.

 

The Boy Scouts and the President

Undoubtedly the high point during Herbert Rorer’s scouting career was the escort Woodrow Wilson received to his presidential inauguration from Boy Scout Troop No. 3. But just how did this newly formed scout troop achieve the honor of escorting the president-elect from his home in Princeton, New Jersey, to Washington, DC?

The Boy Scouts of America organization began in 1910 and quickly spread throughout the country. Troop No. 3 was formed in Princeton, New Jersey, not long afterward. The troop’s scoutmaster, John Traeger, was a friend of the Rorer family and had lodged with them at 41 Vandeventer Avenue in Princeton for several years. He was a single man who worked as an architect at nearby Princeton University. This rookie Boy Scout troop included Herb, his childhood friends Ed Snook and Harold Hinkson, and a couple dozen other Princeton boys.

When Woodrow Wilson, then governor of New Jersey and resident of Princeton, was elected president in 1912, he chose this local troop of Boy Scouts to escort him to the inauguration in Washington. Tradition was begun when the Boy Scouts of America named Wilson’s predecessor, President Taft, as honorary president of the organization. This honor would be bestowed on all future presidents through and including our current president. Through the years, the Scouts have played a visible role in each presidential inauguration since Woodrow Wilson chose to include the local Boy Scout troop as a part of his inauguration.

On the morning of 3 March 1913, the boys of Boy Scout Troop No. 3 donned their new uniforms and first assembled in front of President-elect Wilson’s home on Cleveland Avenue in Princeton before following him to the train station for the trip to Washington. The route to the train station was lined with well-wishers and school children who serenaded him with “Old Nassau” (the anthem of Princeton University). The Scouts boarded the train with Mr. Wilson and set off for the trip to Washington.

Inauguration day 4 March 1913 dawned in Washington. An overcast but mild day for the beginning of March, it would be a pleasantly warm fifty-five degrees by early afternoon. When Woodrow Wilson arrived at the steps of the Capitol building, he would be the last man to ride to his presidential inauguration in a horse-drawn carriage. The boys of Boy Scout Troop No. 3 from Princeton took their places at the viewing stands and proudly performed their duties. Herb’s sister, Sarah, reminisced many years later: “That was Woodrow Wilson’s bodyguard when he was inaugurated in Washington. They stood guard at the stands and they were all Princeton boys. My brother was one, and Ed Snook and Harold Hinkson.”

After the inauguration, the boys, surely exhausted from their trip, made their way to the train station for the return trip to New Jersey. Confusion reigned as scores of visitors jammed the trains leaving the city. As the train pulled from the station to begin the journey home, no doubt the excitement of this unique experience was churning amongst the boys from Princeton. The thrill and honor of being chosen to be a part of a presidential inauguration provided memories that would last a lifetime, and beyond.

 

Sources

Boy Scouts of America membership certificate, Troop No. 3, Herbert F. Rorer, dated 1 March 1912, privately held by author.

Bryan Wendell, “Scouts and presidential inaugurations have a long, fascinating past,” Bryan on Scouting blog, Boy Scouts of America, 17 January 2017 (https://blog.scoutingmagazine.org/2017/01/17/scouts-and-presidential-inaugurations-have-a-long-interesting-past / : accessed 21 July 2017).

Dennis L. Peterson, “The Final Journey of President Harding,” The Boy Scouts of America, Scouting, Boy Scouts of America, October 2000. (http://www.scoutingmagazine.org/issues/0010/d-wwas.html : accessed 8 August 2002).

“Inauguration Celebrates 225 Years of Freedom,” The United States Army – Military District of Washington, (http://mdw.army.mil/news/Inauguration_celebrates_225_years_of_freedom.html : accessed 8 June 2005).

“Presidential Inaugural Weather,” National Weather Service, 20 January 2005. (http://www.erh.noaa.gov/lwx/Historic_Events/Inauguration.html : accessed 8 June 2005).

“Princeton Recalls Woodrow Wilson, “ Princeton Recollector (Princeton, NJ) November 1976, p. 17, col. 1.

1910 U. S. census, Mercer County, New Jersey, population schedule, Princeton Borough, ED 43, sheet 9B, dwelling 224, family 226, John H. Traeger; digital image, Ancestry.com (http://www.ancestry.com : accessed 9 October 2008); citing NARA microfilm publication T624, roll 896.

 

Copyright 2017, Phyllis Matthews Ziller, All Rights Reserved.

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An earlier version of this article placed first in the Original Research Story category in the 2009 annual International Society of Family History Writers and Editors Excellence-in-Writing Competition. The winning entry appears in the December 2009 issue of the society’s newsletter, Columns, on page 10. An edited version of this article was printed in the July-September 2013 issue of the National Genealogical Society’s publication, NGS Magazine, on page 26. These early publications of this article carried the title, “Finding Facts to Support a Family Tradition.” Because we writers can always improve on our written presentation, this version has once again been edited slightly and has a tweak in its title.

 

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