Kurt's Historic Sites

Robert and Martha Bacon

Robert Bacon

Interment LocationVisited 
Brookline, MAApril 23, 2021 

Photographed April 23, 2021.

In the deep recesses of Walnut Hills Cemetery lies the family plot of Robert Bacon, briefly a member of President Theodore Roosevelt’s cabinet. Bacon met Roosevelt, two years his senior, when they were students at Harvard University. He had built a career as a New York investment banker associated with the likes of J.P. Morgan when, in 1905, his former schoolmate asked him to serve as assistant secretary of state. Then in early 1909, Elihu Root resigned as head of the State Department to join the Senate, and Bacon rose to briefly hold the secretary position. His tenure lasted just 37 days, from January 27th until March 5th. The Office of the Historian of the State Department remarks that Bacon made wise use of his limited time as secretary, and that his “business savvy aided his diplomatic efforts as he worked diligently to ratify treaties between Colombia, Panama and the United States regarding the Panama Canal.” Though not retained as secretary of state in the succeeding Republican administration, Bacon was named the ambassador to France by William Howard Taft.

Bacon was a vocal critic in the mid-1910s of Democratic president Woodrow Wilson. The main point of contention was Bacon’s perspective that Wilson did harm to the United States and Europe with belated entry into the Great War and by presiding over a general state of unpreparedness. Bacon was opposed to Prussian militarism from the beginning of the war and declared that Germany “stands before the world as a menace to very liberty itself.” In December 1915, he argued “the whole world must combine to isolate Prussianism, whether it is done by force of arms or by other means.” Bacon was particularly outspoken in 1916, when he unsuccessfully ran for the Republican Party’s nomination for a U.S. Senate seat. Bacon’s diatribes spurred President Wilson to rebuke the former ambassador “in several speeches.” The U.S. did eventually join the war effort, and Bacon, then in his late-fifties, served as a lieutenant colonel on the staff of General John J. Pershing. He received the Distinguished Service Medal.

Photographed April 23, 2021.
Photographed April 23, 2021.

Bacon died in spring 1919, a little over four months after the death of his friend Roosevelt. Bacon was afflicted with mastoiditis, an infection of the bone located behind the ear. On Saturday, May 24th, he underwent a mastoidectomy in the New York Eye and Ear Infirmary. As a result of the operation, Bacon developed blood poisoning. Doctor Alexander Lambert “had held out hopes of a recovery,” but the new ailment proved fatal. Bacon died at 11:30 in the evening on May 29th, his kin having arrived just in time to bid their farewells. The former ambassador was initially interred at the prestigious Mount Auburn Cemetery in Cambridge, near his Ivy League alma mater. Subsequently, his remains were exhumed and transported six miles south to Walnut Hills in Brookline, where he rests with his wife and two of their children.

Bacon’s life very well could have ended seven years sooner than it did. His ambassadorship to France concluded in April 1912. When Bacon’s replacement, Myron T. Herrick, was delayed in arriving, Bacon postponed his departure. Had Herrick appeared on time, Bacon, his wife Martha, and their 21-year-old daughter of the same name would have made their French exodus on the 10th, their return to America set to be facilitated by the HMS Titanic. The new British liner’s sinking on the 15th did claim the life of a different member of the Roosevelt and Taft administrations, though: military aide Archibald Butt, whose body was among the 1,160 never recovered. The Bacons were “much congratulated on their good fortune” missing the Titanic‘s maiden — and only — voyage. On April 20th the Bacons departed Paris for Cherbourg, and then left Europe for New York aboard the SS France, which itself was embarking on its maiden journey.

Photographed April 23, 2021.

 

Fast Facts

Born: July 5, 1860 in Jamaica Plain, Massachusetts

Spouse: Martha Waldron Cowdin Bacon (m. 1883-1919)

Military Rank: Lieutenant Colonel — U.S. Army

Political Affiliation: Republican Party

Served in Cabinet of: Theodore Roosevelt

Cabinet Position: Secretary of State (1909)

Ambassadorship: 1909-1912

Died: May 29, 1919 in Manhattan, New York, New York

Cause of Death: Blood Poisoning

Age: 58

Interment: Walnut Hills Cemetery, Brookline, Massachusetts

 

"During the war I have been very careful not to say or do anything that was not in accordance with the strictest official neutrality. Of course the kind of neutrality of spirit which Mr. Wilson enjoined on us at the beginning of the war was not possible and I have said that it was not possible. I have held that it was the duty of the President to protest against the wanton invasion of Belgium and this would have been in accordance with the strictest official neutrality. Such a protest would never have led to war."
- Robert Bacon
October 9, 1916 in a public statement

Sources Consulted and Further Reading

Kestenbaum, Lawrence. “Bacon.” Political Graveyard. Accessed November 20, 2023. https://politicalgraveyard.com/bio/bacon.html.

McCormick, Jason. “Titanic: Prominent people who dodged the disaster.” CBS News. April 6, 2012. https://www.cbsnews.com/media/titanic-prominent-people-who-dodged-the-disaster/.

New York Times. “COL. ROBERT BACON DIES IN HOSPITAL.” May 30, 1919. Pages 1 and 9. https://www.nytimes.com/1919/05/30/archives/col-robert-bacon-dies-in-hospital-exsecretary-of-state-expires-of.html.

New York Times. “FALLIERES ENTERTAINS BACON.” April 21, 1912. Page C2. https://timesmachine.nytimes.com/timesmachine/1912/04/21/issue.html.

Office of the Historian. “Biographies of the Secretaries of State: Robert Bacon (1860–1919).” history.state.gov. Accessed November 21, 2023. https://history.state.gov/departmenthistory/people/bacon-robert.

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