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Thursday, November 26, 2020

Museum Minute: Tragedy in Butler and the ‘Lincoln Chair

For most adults born in the 1950s or before, the end of November is not only when Thanksgiving is celebrated but we remember the shock of President Kennedy’s assassination.  Everyone knows exactly what they were doing and where they were when the news broke. 

 Interestingly enough, one of the great tragedies in Butler’s history occurred on November 22nd in the year 1909.   The large home of Congressman David DeArmond caught fire and was quickly consumed.  Although some family members escaped the blaze, Congressman DeArmond and his young grandson perished in the fire.  Butler was stunned and the whole country grieved.

According to the 1918 History of Bates County, “The remains of grandson and grandfather were recovered in the ruins and interred in Oak Hill cemetery…. One of the most touching features of the sad occasion was the pall-bearers, who were composed of gray-headed men from among Judge DeArmond’sfriends, and by the side of each of whom walked a little boy, playmates and school-fellows of his little grandson.”

A committee from the Senate and House were appointed to attend the funeral in Butler and they arrived from Washington by special train.  Many Missouri state officials also attended the service which was held at Ohio Street Methodist Church.  The procession to Oak Hill reached from the church all the way to the cemetery.

Congressman DeArmond’s personal effects were transported to Butler following his death and one of the remarkable pieces of furniture was a chair that is on display at the Museum.  Since 1961 when the chair was donated by the family, it has always been known as ‘the Lincoln chair’.  The story is that when newly elected Congressman David DeArmond arrived in Washington he was instructed to select office furniture from warehoused pieces.  The chair he selected was said to have been in the White House during the presidency of Abraham Lincoln.  Therefore, as far as everyone in Bates County is concerned, the chair’s strong ties to President Lincoln are now and forever considered to be unbreakable.