William Henry Harrison did not die in office. The commonly held belief is that the nation's 9th president expired a mere 31 days into his presidency. It is maintained in standard history books and texts -- which is somewhat understandable, if ultimately unforgivable -- but it has also somehow still repeated in such alternative histories as Lies My Teacher Told Me by James Loewen and A People's History of the United States by Howard Zinn. That this canard is still put forth with few even questioning it, is one of the great mysteries and scandals of U.S. History. True enough Harrison ceased to be president on April 4, 1841 but the man known as Old Tippecanoe lived for another 12 and half years. The record on this speaks for itself.
Harrison, you may recall (born on February 9, 1773) was a former Indian fighter (famed for defeating Tecumseh at Tippecanoe), general in the war of 1812, congressional delegate, territorial governor, member of the US House of Representatives and plenipotentiary to Gran Colombia. He was the Whig party nominee for president in 1836, losing to Martin Van Buren, but won the rematch four years later with John Tyler his running mate.
History records that he became ill with a cold on March 26 (likely contracted during his marathon inauguration speech given on a frigid afternoon) and the illness progressed and became fatal. Poppycock.
In the time between Harrison’s electoral victory and his inauguration he came to be under tremendous pressure from his creditors which comprised over a dozen people and organizations. Some of these creditors saw in Harrison’s ascension to the presidency an opportunity to cash in big time. They didn’t want their money back so much as they wanted favors that would substantially boost their own interests. Also many falsely reckoned that, as president, Harrison would have ready access to the treasury and be able to, as one allegedly put it, share the wealth. Some of these creditors were people who had incriminating evidence of Harrison’s peculiar sexual practises which, it was said, ranged from minor peccadilloes to bizarre fetishes including elaborate role play.
By the time Harrison took the oath of office he had been besieged by charlatans, scoundrels, blackmailers, and those aforementioned creditors and was a nervous wreck. Harrison quickly realized that he could not properly fulfill the duties of his high office in such circumstances and a mere resignation would not be enough to ease his woes. He would be hounded onto his grave. Harrison did indeed have a nasty cold, and he cleverly used it to surreptitiously leave the White House for good and all. With the help of an aide, one Lloyd Charles Peckerhand, he decided to feign serious illness and then death. Only Harrison’s inner circle was aware of the plan and only Peckerhand and Harrison’s faithful valet Cicero Morningguard, an ex slave, knew the full details. Harrisons’s family, including his wife Anna, were left completely in the dark. Even vice president John Tyler was out of the loop. He assumed that Harrison was really quite ill and never dreamt that the president was biding his time to escape, playing cards with intimates while Peckerhand made arrangements for the most amazing disappearing act in the annals of US political history.
Harrison by this time had grown to detest his wife and was ambivalent about most of his children having particular contempt for John Scott who would go on to sire president Benjamin Harrison. Ole Tippecanoe was far more enamored of some of the female slaves he had taken as lovers, a number of whom bore him children. Indeed it was with slaves and whores that WH (as he liked to be called) exercised his flamboyant sexual practises. Wife Anna could not abide anything sexually save the missionary position, and even then with her eyes tightly closed.
On the date that the nation told of the president’s death, Harrison -- in the dead of night -- snuck out of the White House and got in a coach headed for Florida. With him were Peckerhand, Morningguard and Harrison’s current favorite sex partner, a white whore named Millie Strang. Left behind was much of Harrison’s fortune. Left in the lurch were his creditors.
For Harrison's body, Peckerhand had substituted a recently deceased indigent old Indian killer named Claude Lupus, who bore an uncanny resemblance to the 9th president. With a little bit of surgery performed by a quack plastic surgeon, Eli Culpepper, and a lot of makeup, no one noticed the difference. Culpepper's services and silence were handsomely rewarded.
Once in Florida the “deceased” president changed his name, with the help of a friendly forger named Callidew. WH's new identity was as Peabody McCorkle, land speculator. Little is known of Harrison’s three years in Florida other than he discovered a knack for real estate and made a small fortune. He also married an escaped slave named Clovis. The whore Millie Strang had been taken by cholera shortly after their arrival in Florida. However Harrison’s happy life in Florida was interrupted when he tried to sell some property to one of the very gentlemen who had been a creditor. When said creditor, one Hobart G. Mellow, recognized Harrison he insisted on restitution for the debt and accumulated interest. Being quite wealthy anew, Harrison readily agreed wanting only to be free of this man. However immediately upon receiving payment, Mellow threatened to expose Harrison if he didn’t “sweeten the pot,” with a few extra thousand dollars.
Harrison had felt it reasonable to pay Mellow back in full and even to include interest, but was damned if he’d allow himself to be extorted. WH made his excuses for the day and promised to meet Mellow 48 hours later by which time he would have collected the requested sum. Harrison alerted Peckerhand and the ex slave Morningguard (who incidentally had become lovers, Harrison was surprisingly open-minded about homosexual relations, likely because they figured into some of his own sexual experimentation) and his wife Clovis and they immediately absconded. Peckerhand had long prepared for this day, so making arrangements to flee took only a matter of hours. Joining them was the forger Callidew and his wife Lynis now fast friends of Harrison and company and in on their secret (unconfirmed rumors suggest that Harrison and Lynis were occasional lovers and that Callidew was not averse to their dalliances, evidently honored to have such a renowned figure diddling his wife).
The six went by boat to Nova Scotia, it being Summer the journey was quite pleasant. From there they went to Toronto to start their new lives. Pooling their resources the sextet bought a saloon and adjoining restaurant and started a very high end bordello in the upstairs apartments. The madam was one Mrs. Beatrice Bromwich (nee Lakeside) a widow who was a long ago lover of Harrison’s. Within months the saloon, restaurant and bordello were doing great business and Harrison could indulge himself with, as he put it, “the ladies upstairs” whenever he wished.
By all accounts Harrison was a far, far happier man as Peabody McCorkle, than he had ever been in his former life. He took long daily walks to supplement the exercise he got in the boudoir, maintained a healthy diet, drinking alcohol sparingly and smoking no more than a cigar a day. His wife Clovis indulged his extra curricular carnal desires, proud to have such a virile older husband. Peckherand, Morningguard, the Callidews and Beatrice Bromwich were steadfast and loving friends. Such was Harrison’s happy life for almost a decade when in late 1852 calamity struck. A fire swept through the restaurant and saloon, inevitably reaching the bordello. Peckerhand and Morningguard were immediately consumed by the conflagration and soon Clovis and Callidew lost their lives. Harrison escaped with Bromwich and Lynis Callidew but the latter tried to retrieve a precious heirloom and fell through a ceiling to her death.
Harrison had lost everything.
Fortunately the man everyone knew as McCorkle, had built up enormous good will throughout the city and community leaders were happy to find him accommodations in a small but comfortable furnished cottage. He was joined there by Bromwich who now lived with him as wife. The former US president lived another year. By all accounts he was happy enough but his indomitable spirit had died with the fire. Gone were his sexual forays, the long walks and the healthy eating and drinking habits. He was still able to enjoy relations with Bromwich, he still ate heartily -- only too much so-- and his occasional drinks became binges.
In early November of 1853, 13 years after being elected president, he took to bed quite ill. Harrison lingered for three weeks, going in and out of consciousness. When alert he would reel off the names of his many past lovers. It was said that the only reason he managed to live the three weeks was because he’d wanted to name each one of them. Beatrice Bromwich was at his side and perhaps fittingly it was after he uttered her name, that Harrison expired.
American historians have almost universally neglected the real WH Harrison story -- despite the wealth of evidence that he lived on after his three month presidency. Many simply and stubbornly refuse to believe it. There are a number of excellent sources for Harrison’s life as Peabody McGorkle. Primary among them are the detailed diaries of LC Perckerhand and the memoirs of Beatrice Bromwich. One can also check contemporary newspaper accounts in the Toronto Bugle and the Weekly Maple Leaf. The leading authority on the McGorkle portion of Harrison’s life was the late historian Welles Summerset (1867-1951). His interest in the Harrison “after life” stemmed from his grandfather Chuck who had been a frequent visitor at the Toronto brothel. Chuck Summerset formed a strong friendship with McGorkle and managed to figure out his friend’s true identity.
Wells Summerset’s book, “The Unknown After Life of William Harrison” was never published. Summerset completed the book in 1931 and spent the last two decades of his life trying to find a reputable publisher for it. No one would touch it, ostensibly because of its graphic sexual content. After Summerset’s death, his son Wiley managed to get a few copies printed as a lasting tribute to his dad’s work. A few libraries carry still it. Wiley’s son Angus Summerset has renewed efforts to publish the book, thus far to no avail.
A US Senator, who for now wishes to remain anonymous, is planning to submit the real story of America's 9th president into the congressional record in a huge first step toward correcting history. "People need to know the truth about all their presidents," he said, "even those who flew the coop."