The Man and His Career
T HE train carrying Fernando Wood's remains moved from Hot Springs to Washington, accompanied by several of his children and delegations from the board of aldermen and Congress. After a brief memorial service in Washington, the cortege moved to New York City where he was buried in Trinity Cemetery in a family plot next to Anna D. Wood.
Even in death, Wood remained a focus of controversy. Conflicting assessments involved not only his personal character and career, but more particularly his accomplishments.
Not surprisingly, the rules of the congressional club made Wood a paragon. Foes were silent as fellow Democrats lauded his rise from humble beginnings, his principles, and his multiple services to city, state, and nation. Others hailed his "warm, courteous and hospitable nature," and praised his strong commitment to "the best interests of the financial management of the country." Perhaps the most surprising and gracious eulogy came from Elbridge G. Lapham, an upstate New York Republican, soon to replace Roscoe Conkling in the Senate. "Years had tempered the ardor of [ Wood's] zeal as a politician, and ripened his judgement for the discharge of the more dignified duties of a statesman," Lapham said. "We shall miss his manly presence among us; and it may be many years before, in these respects, we shall look upon his like again.'1
Outside of Congress, the words were more biting. The Nation and its editor, the cultivated and moralistic Edwin L. Godkin who let little escape his notice, wrote a brief obituary whose theme was that Wood was only distinguished because "he was the first municipal ' Boss.'" New York Daily Graphic agreed: Wood "was a very remarkable man," it said, but he had few durable principles, and even those he sacrificed to tactical maneuvers. The New York Times issued the harshest evaluation: Wood had "ceased some time since to be a conspicuous figure in American life, and his disappearance from the scenes of active life will not cause a commotion so wide-spread as it would have twenty years ago."2