In June of 1886, newspapers were abuzz with news relating to “Miss Folsom,” AKA Frances Folsom, who married President Grover Cleveland on June 2 in a private ceremony at the White House after being secretly engaged to him since 1885.
This story, published June 12, 1886 in Sag-Harbor’s The Corrector, recounts one moment of her trip home from Europe just prior to the wedding. (She and her mother arrived in New York on May 27.) It’s also recounted—with other, less embellished details—in an essay titled “The Mistress of the White House,” which was published in volume 40 of “Lippincott’s Monthly Magazine.
Miss Folsom’s Own Love Story.
“The most interesting feature of the voyage,” says one who was on the Noordland, which brought Miss Folsom to New York, “was the reading of the little newspaper published on board called THE NORTH ATLANTIC SPRAY. Captain John Codman, of Boston, was the managing editor of the sprightly sheet, while Miss Folsom was honored with the position of editor-in-chief. The paper was not printed on a hand press, as is done on some of the ocean steamers, but the manuscripts as they were sent to the editors to be read aloud in the cabin. The first reading took place on Tuesday evening, May 25th.
Miss Folsom contributed a story, of which the following is a synopsis:
“LITTLE MOLL”—so the story went—was a poor little newsgirl who lived in a dark street in New York. She had a sweet honest face and a clean heart. But, oh, how it ached! And how tired and hungry she was when she climbed the steep, narrow stairs after a weary day’s work. For weeks, months, and years she had walked sore-footed over the hard pavements, selling her papers on the streets. She had a home, but there was no joy in it. She had a father, but he was cruel and filled her life with sorrow. But in the midst of her trouble there came a little ray of sunshine, and she thought that it was as bright as the great sun itself. It was the face of a reporter, who also worked hard for a living. He studied, was ambitious, and hoped to become a learned and useful man. But one thing kept him down. He found little time for reading good books. He was a criminal reporter and lived far away from the dark courts where he spent many a lonely hour. His home was in Brooklyn, and it was only when he reached his room late at night and began to read his favorite authors that he was happy. Then it was that his pale, sad face was most beautiful. One day, when he was eating a sweet voice at his elbow sang out, “Second edition, two cents!”
“The sight of her face, the glance of her innocent blue eyes melted the reporter’s heart. Something that he had heard or seen long, long years before came to him like a faint whisper. He bought a paper and hurried away to the court, where he had a wicked crime to write up. It was not pleasant to write of the dark sins of the great city, but he was a true man, true to the paper he served, so he presented life’s picture as he found it.
“But the haunting eyes of the little newsgirl were ever before him. He could not forget them. He dreamed of them, and once he saw her whole sweet face in a dream, looking wistfully; oh! so wistfully toward him. When he saw her on the streets next day he bought more newspapers than he could read in an hour, and asked her to take him to her hovel.
“I have no home,” she said, “I live in a room with papa; but he beats me and takes all I earn. Mr. Reporter, is it right to take all of a little girl’s money and then scold when she can earn no more? Oh, Mr. Reporter, I gets so weary of this life that I want to die.”
Then the journalist took the poor child to a restaurant and told the man to give her a nice warm dinner. She had never eaten so good a dinner before, and yet the man who lives on Fifth avenue could never have swallowed a mouthful of the poorly cooked food.
Well, to hasten on the story! The journalist became a true friend to the waif. He taught her to read; he told stories and carried her little mind across seas and continents to the great nations on the other side of the world. He became her hero. She had never heard of such a wonderful man. And yet he was only a criminal reporter on a small hard-earned salary. At last the girl came to love him more than anything in the world. Then it was that her miserable father hated her with a fiendish hatred. But he hated the criminal reporter even more wickedly. He followed him, and one night when the ground was covered with snow, he raised a weapon to strike the reporter dead. The young man fell to the pavement, but another sank with a cry beside him. It was the newsgirl. She suspected her father intended some dreadful crime. So she was there to save the life of her friend. Had the weapon spent its full force on his head he would have died. As it was, he lay stunned until the police took him to the hospital. Who can picture the sorrow that filled his heart when he learned that a woman saved his life at the risk of her own! But still greater was his pain when he was told that she was the little newsgirl.
The strong, brave man soon found her. He took her from her home and married her. The wicked old father soon died. Tired of reporting crime, the journalist bought a cottage and a bit of land in New Jersey near the great roaring city. “I now see him,” said the attorney, “sitting in the cottage with his books around him—He is happy. The lamp glows brightly. A face with heaven’s own smile is near his own. He is happy. She is happy. Her mind is filled with knowledge. He rejoices because he has made and saved a life. It is his own.