The story

President James Garfield dies

On September 19, 1881, President James A. Garfield, who had been in office just under four months, succumbs to wounds inflicted by an assassin 80 days earlier, on July 2.

Garfield’s assassin was an attorney and political office-seeker named Charles Guiteau. Guiteau was a relative stranger to the president and his administration in an era when federal positions were doled out on a “who you know” basis. When his requests for an appointment were ignored, a furious Guiteau stalked the president, vowing revenge.

On the morning of July 2, 1881, Garfield headed for the Baltimore and Potomac Railroad station on his way to a short vacation. As he walked through the station toward the waiting train, Guiteau stepped behind the president and fired two shots. The first bullet grazed Garfield’s arm; the second lodged below his pancreas. Doctors made several unsuccessful attempts to remove the bullet while Garfield lay in his White House bedroom, awake and in pain. Alexander Graham Bell, who was one of Garfield’s physicians, tried to use an early version of a metal detector to find the second bullet, but failed.

Historical accounts vary as to the exact cause of Garfield’s death. Some believe that his physicians’ treatments—which included the administration of quinine, morphine, brandy and calomel and feeding him through the rectum–may have hastened his demise. Others insist Garfield died from an already advanced case of heart disease. By early September, Garfield, who was recuperating at a seaside retreat in New Jersey, appeared to be recovering. He died on September 19. Autopsy reports at the time said that pressure from his internal wound had created an aneurism, which was the likely cause of death.

Guiteau was deemed sane by a jury, convicted of murder and hanged on June 30, 1882. Garfield’s spine, which shows the hole created by the bullet, is kept as a historical artifact by the National Museum of Health and Medicine in Washington, D.C.

President James Garfield dies - HISTORY

L ess than four months after his inauguration, President Garfield arrived at the Washington railroad depot on July 2, 1881, to catch a train for a summer's retreat on the New Jersey seashore. As Garfield made his way through the station, Charles Guiteau raced from the shadows and fired two shots point blank into the president. One grazed Garfield's arm the other lodged in his abdomen. Exclaiming, "My God, what is this?" the president collapsed to the floor remaining fully conscious, but in a great deal of pain.

The assassination
of President Garfield
The first doctor on the scene administered brandy and spirits of ammonia, causing the president to promptly vomit. Then D. W. Bliss, a leading Washington doctor, appeared and inserted a metal probe into the wound, turning it slowly, searching for the bullet. The probe became stuck between the shattered fragments of Garfield's eleventh rib, and was removed only with a great deal of difficulty, causing great pain. Then Bliss inserted his finger into the wound, widening the hole in another unsuccessful probe. It was decided to move Garfield to the White House for further treatment.

Leading doctors of the age flocked to Washington to aid in his recovery, sixteen in all. Most probed the wound with their fingers or dirty instruments. Though the president complained of numbness in the legs and feet, which implied the bullet was lodged near the spinal cord, most thought it was resting in the abdomen. The president's condition weakened under the oppressive heat and humidity of the Washington summer combined with an onslaught of mosquitoes from a stagnant canal behind the White House. It was decided to move him by train to a cottage on the New Jersey seashore.

Shortly after the move, Garfield's temperature began to elevate the doctors reopened the wound and enlarged it hoping to find the bullet. They were unsuccessful. By the time Garfield died on September 19, his doctors had turned a three-inch-deep, harmless wound into a twenty-inch-long contaminated gash stretching from his ribs to his groin and oozing more pus each day. He lingered for eighty days, wasting away from his robust 210 pounds to a mere 130 pounds. The end came on the night of September 19. Clawing at his chest he moaned, "This pain, this pain," while suffering a major heart attack. The president died a few minutes later.

Garfield's physicians did not serve him well. It seems each of his 16 attendants wanted to literally get their hands into him - to prod and grope his wound in an attempt to find the elusive bullet. Infection invariable set in. Internal sores developed - oozing pus and requiring periodic lancing in order to reduce their size. Medicine had not yet fully accepted the relationship between germs and disease. Operations were routinely performed without benefit of surgical gloves, masks, sterile instruments, or any antiseptics to protect the patient. Of more immediate concern to the patient, operations were performed without any means of deadening the pain. The patient was left to his or her own devices to cope with the trauma of surgery.

Garfield was not a particularly popular president. His short span of office had not been long enough for the public to form an opinion one way or the other. However, the stoic manner in which he endured his wounds warmed the popular attitude towards him.

Garfield's chief physician, Dr. D. W. Bliss recounts how the president coped with his condition:

"At this time, as is known, a simple but painful operation was rendered necessary by the formation of a superficial pus-sac. When, after consultation, I informed the President of the intention to use the knife, he with unfailing cheerfulness replied: 'Very well whatever you say is necessary must be done.' When I handed the bistoury to one of the counsel, with the request that he make the incision. Without an anesthetic, and without a murmur, or a muscular contraction by the patient, the incision was made. He quietly asked the results of the operation, and soon sank into a peaceful slumber. This operation, though simple in itself,

President Garfield
was painful, and the manner in which it was borne by the President in his enfeebled condition was, perhaps, as good an instance as any of the wonderful nervous control which characterized his whole illness. This power of mind over body was also daily exhibited at the dressings of his wound, which were unavoidably painful, and yet invariably borne without indication of discomfort and also at subsequent operations, always painful."

When the decision was made to move the president to New Jersey, an English nobleman offered the use of his twenty-room home on the seashore. Special track was laid from the railroad's mainline to the door of the home. During the early hours of September 6, hushed crowds lined Pennsylvania Avenue as Garfield was moved by carriage from the White House to the railroad depot.

Dr. Bliss continues his story:

"Mrs. Garfield sat by the side of her husband during the first part of the trip, cheering and reassuring him as no one else could, and visited him afterward, frequently, from her own car. On arriving at the track recently laid to the Francklyn Cottage, we were surrounded by a large concourse of people, who braved the heat of the day in the anxiety lest the journey might have resulted disastrously. The engine had not weight and power sufficient to push us up the steep grade. Instantly hundreds of strong arms caught the cars, and silently, but resistlessly, rolled the three heavy coaches up to the level. Arriving at the cottage, the President was placed upon a stretcher, and borne under the canopy previously arranged, to the room wherein the remainder of a noble life was spent."

During the evening of September 16, Dr. Bliss passed the time reading when a servant rushed in announcing a change in the President's condition:

"At 10:10 I was looking over some of the wonderful productions of the human imagination which each mail brought me, when the faithful Dan suddenly appeared at the door of communication, and said

The death of President Garfield,
a contemporary portrayal
'General Swaim wants you quick!' He preceded me to the room, took the candle from behind the screen near the door, and raised it so that the light fell full upon the face, so soon to settle in the rigid lines of death. Observing the pallor, the upturned eyes, the gasping respiration, and the total unconsciousness, I, with uplifted hands, exclaimed, 'My God, Swaim! The President is dying!' Turning to the servant, I added, 'Call Mrs. Garfield immediately, and on your return, Doctors Agnew and Hamilton.' On his way to Mrs. Garfield's room, he notified Colonel Rockwell, who was the first member of the household in the room. Only a moment elapsed before Mrs. Garfield was present. She exclaimed, 'Oh! what is the matter?' I said, 'Mrs. Garfield, the President is dying.' Leaning over her husband and fervently kissing his brow, she exclaimed, 'Oh! Why am I made to suffer this cruel wrong?'

While summoning Mrs. Garfield, I had in vain sought for the pulse at the wrist, next at the carotid artery, and last by placing my ear over the region of the heart. Restoratives, which were always at hand, were instantly resorted to. In almost every conceivable way it was sought to revive the rapidly yielding vital forces. A faint, fluttering pulsation of the heart, gradually fading to indistinctness, alone rewarded my examinations. At last, only moments after the first alarm, at 10:35, I raised my head from the breast of my dead friend and said to the sorrowful group, 'It is over.'

Noiselessly, one by one, we passed out, leaving the broken-hearted wife alone with her dead husband. Thus she remained for more than an hour, gazing upon the lifeless features, when Colonel Rockwell, fearing the effect upon her health, touched her arm and begged her to retire, which she did."

Bliss, D. W., The Story Of President Garfield's Ilness, Century Magazine (1881) Marx, Rudolph, The Health of the Presidents (1960) Taylor, John M., Garfield of Ohio (1970).

The dirty, painful death of President James A. Garfield

On Sep. 19, 1881, James Abram Garfield, the 20th president of the United States, died. His final weeks were an agonizing march towards oblivion that began on July 2, while preparing to leave Washington for a family vacation to the New Jersey seashore.

A man of great energy, eloquence and charm, Garfield was in a superlative mood that morning. At the breakfast table, he horsed around with his two teenaged sons while singing a few patter songs written by the musical kings of his day, Gilbert and Sullivan.

A few hours later, the president was strolling through the Baltimore and Potomac train station. Before he reached the platform, a mentally disturbed lawyer and writer named Charles Guiteau broke through the crowd and entered the history books. He shot Garfield twice. The first bullet grazed his arm but the second passed the first lumbar vertebra of his spine and lodged in his abdomen. Fully conscious, in awful pain, and unable to stand, President Garfield cried out, “My God, what is this?”

A battery of Washington doctors rushed to the scene. One of them, an expert in gunshot wounds named Doctor (no joke, that was his first name!) Willard Bliss, ultimately became Garfield’s chief physician.

Focused on finding and removing the bullet, Bliss and the other doctors stuck their unwashed fingers in the wound and probed around, all for naught and without applying the numbing power of ether anesthetic. In late 19th century America, such a grimy search was a common medical practice for treating gunshot wounds. A key principle behind the probing was to remove the bullet, because it was thought that leaving buckshot in a person’s body led to problems ranging from “morbid poisoning” to nerve and organ damage. Indeed, this was the same method the doctors pursued in 1865 after John Wilkes Booth shot Abraham Lincoln in the head.

President Garfield was taken back to the White House where the medical treatment truly became brutal. Still hellbent on finding and removing the bullet, the doctors argued whether it damaged the spinal cord (Garfield complained of numbness in his legs and feet) or one of the many organs in the abdomen. Dr. Bliss even recruited Alexander Graham Bell to apply his newly invented medical detector to find the errant bullet.

As the summer waned, Garfield was suffering from a scorching fever, relentless chills, and increasing confusion. The doctors tortured the president with more digital probing and many surgical attempts to widen the three-inch deep wound into a 20-inch-long incision, beginning at his ribs and extending to his groin. It soon became a super-infected, pus-ridden, gash of human flesh.

This assault and its aftercare probably led to an overwhelming infection known as sepsis, from the Greek verb, “to rot.” It is a total body inflammatory response to an overwhelming infection that almost always ends badly — the organs of the body simply quit working. The doctors’ dirty hands and fingers are often blamed as the vehicle that imported the infection into the body. But given that Garfield was a surgical and gunshot-wound patient in the germ-ridden, dirty Gilded Age, a period when many doctors still laughed at germ theory, there might have been many other sources of infection as well.

During his last 80 days of life, Garfield wasted away from a plump 210 pounds to a bony 130 pounds. On September 6, a special train transported him to his seashore cottage at Long Branch, New Jersey. The president’s final breaths were inspired on the evening of September 19. Clutching his chest and wailing, “This pain, this pain,” he died. Without the aid of a stethoscope, Dr. Doctor W. Bliss raised his head from the president’s chest at 10:35 pm and announced to Mrs. Garfield and the medical retinue, “It is over.” The assigned causes of death include a fatal heart attack, the rupture of the splenic artery, which resulted in a massive hemorrhage, and, more broadly, septic blood poisoning.

Guiteau was later found guilty of murder and sentenced to death, even though he was one of first high-profile cases in American history to plead not guilty by reason of insanity. He was hanged on June 20, 1882, in Washington D.C.

In recent years, a wave of revisionist historians has taken Garfield’s doctors to task for not applying sterile technique, and, thus, saving the President’s life.

There is, indeed, a grain of truth to the assassin Guiteau’s claim “the doctors killed Garfield, I just shot him.” But this odd and disgusting medical history requires a more nuanced clarification.

To be sure, in 1881, when Garfield was shot, Louis Pasteur and Robert Koch were at work scientifically demonstrating the germ theory of disease to great public acclaim. Beginning in the late 1860s, the surgeon Joseph Lister beseeched his colleagues to apply these discoveries and adopt “anti-sepsis” in their operating rooms. This technique required surgeons and nurses to thoroughly wash their hands and instruments in anti-septic chemicals, such as carbolic acid or phenol, before touching the patient.

The number of surgeons who actually followed Lister’s edicts of cleanliness as late as 1881, however, was few and far between. From the distance of more than a century, it is tempting to imagine that germ theorists, or “contagionists,” overtook “anti-contagionist” medical practices with the speed of light. In real time, however, many mainstream physicians and surgeons did not fully adopt anti-septic techniques until into the mid-to-late 1890s, and for some, as late as the early 1900s.

Blaming his doctors may be a tantalizing literary trope but President Garfield had an excellent chance of dying from the ordeal no matter who treated him during his awful, last summer. The annals of medical history are littered with such retrospective diagnoses that can never really be proven but, nevertheless, make for great medical tales. Nevertheless, Bliss and his colleagues certainly cannot be credited with helping Mr. Garfield all that much.

In the final, post-mortem analysis, the president desperately needed a modern medical miracle long before his doctors were equipped to produce one.

Left: Death of General James A. Garfield. Lithograph by Currier & Ives. From the Libarary of Congress

Accomplishments in Office

Garfield's administration was cut short by his assassination on July 2. Before his assassination, Garfield's efforts were mostly devoted to resolving issues of political patronage. Garfield was assassinated by Charles Guiteau, a Garfield supporter who had been denied a political appointment. Garfield was gunned down in the waiting room of the Baltimore and Potomac Railroad in Washington. He died of blood poisoning on September 17th, two months after he was shot.


President James A. Garfield, a resident of nearby Mentor, Ohio, was shot in Washington, D.C., on July 2, 1881. He died on September 19, 1881. Garfield himself had expressed the wish to be buried at Lake View Cemetery, [2] [3] [4] and the cemetery offered a burial site free of charge to his widow, Lucretia Garfield. [5] [a]

Mrs. Garfield agreed to bury her husband at Lake View. [7] Even before Garfield's funeral, plans were laid by his friends and admirers for a grand tomb to be erected at a high point in the cemetery. [8]

The Garfield Memorial Committee selected the highest point in the cemetery in June 1883 for the president's final resting place. [9] Lake View Cemetery built a road around the memorial in early 1885, and began work on cutting a road from the Euclid Gate to the memorial site later that fall. The cemetery also began work on making improvements to the landscape, water, and drainage around the site. [10]

The tomb was designed by architect George Keller [11] in the Byzantine, Gothic, and Romanesque Revival styles. [12] All the stone for the monument came from the quarries of the Cleveland Stone Company, and was quarried locally. [13] The exterior reliefs, which depict scenes from Garfield's life, [11] were done by Caspar Buberl. Its cost, $135,000 ($3,900,000 in 2020 dollars), was funded entirely through private donations. [14] Part of the memorial's funding came from pennies sent in by children throughout the country. [15]

The round tower is 50 feet (15 m) in diameter and 180 feet (55 m) high. [16] Around the exterior of the balcony are five terra cotta panels with over 110 life size figures depicting Garfield's life and death. [17]

The interior features stained glass windows and window like panes representing the original 13 colonies, plus the state of Ohio, along with panels depicting War and Peace [17] mosaics deep red granite columns and a 12-foot (3.7 m)-tall white Carrara marble statue of President Garfield by Alexander Doyle. An observation deck provides views of downtown Cleveland and Lake Erie.

Construction on the memorial began on October 6, 1885, [18] and it was dedicated on May 30, 1890. [19]

The caskets of the President and Lucretia Garfield lie in a crypt beneath the memorial, along with the ashes of their daughter (Mary "Mollie" Garfield Stanley-Brown [1867–1947]) and son-in-law Joseph Stanley Brown. [16] Lucretia Garfield died on March 13, 1918, and was interred in the Garfield Memorial on March 21. [20]

Since the Garfield Memorial was private, the committee overseeing its operation charged an entry fee of 10 cents per person to defray its maintenance costs. [6]

In late October 1923, the Garfield National Monument Association turned the Garfield Memorial over to Lake View Cemetery. Most of the Monument Association's members had died, and its charter did not permit for a self-perpetuating board. After accepting title to the memorial and its land, Lake View Cemetery immediately ended the practice of charging a 10 cent ($2 in 2020 dollars) admission fee to the memorial. [21] Lake View also began cleaning, repairing, and rehabilitating the memorial. [21] [22]

Lake View Cemetery spent $5 million in 2016 and 2017 conserving, repairing, and upgrading the memorial's structural elements. This included reinforcing beams and columns in the basement. [23]

In 2019, the cemetery began a multi-million-dollar project to clean the exterior and repoint any damaged or missing mortar. [23] It is the first time in the memorial's history that the exterior has been cleaned. [12]

The memorial closes every winter on November 19 (President Garfield's birthday) and reopens in April. [23]

Early life and political career

The last president born in a log cabin, Garfield was the son of Abram Garfield and Eliza Ballou, who continued to run the family’s impoverished Ohio farm after her husband’s death in 1833. Garfield dreamed of foreign ports of call as a sailor but instead worked for about six weeks guiding mules that pulled boats on the Ohio and Erie Canal, which ran from Lake Erie to the Ohio River. By his own estimate, Garfield, who did not know how to swim, fell into the canal some 16 times and contracted malaria in the process. Always studious, he attended Western Reserve Eclectic Institute (later Hiram College) at Hiram, Ohio, and graduated (1856) from Williams College. He returned to the Eclectic Institute as a professor of ancient languages and in 1857, at age 25, became the school’s president. A year later he married Lucretia Rudolph ( Lucretia Garfield) and began a family that included seven children (two died in infancy). Garfield also studied law and was ordained as a minister in the Disciples of Christ church, but he soon turned to politics.

An advocate of free-soil principles (opposing the extension of slavery), he became a supporter of the newly organized Republican Party and in 1859 was elected to the Ohio legislature. During the Civil War he helped recruit the 42nd Ohio Volunteer Infantry and became its colonel. After commanding a brigade at the Battle of Shiloh (April 1862), he was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives, and, while waiting for Congress to begin its session, he served as chief of staff in the Army of the Cumberland, winning promotion to major general after distinguishing himself at the Battle of Chickamauga (September 1863). It was about that time that Garfield had an extramarital affair with a Lucia Calhoun in New York City. He later admitted the indiscretion and was forgiven by his wife. Historians believe that the many letters he had written to Calhoun, which are referred to in his diary, were retrieved by Garfield and destroyed.

For nine terms, until 1880, Garfield represented Ohio’s 19th congressional district. As chairman of the House Committee on Appropriations, he became an expert on fiscal matters and advocated a high protective tariff, and, as a Radical Republican, he sought a firm policy of Reconstruction for the South. In 1880 the Ohio legislature elected him to the U.S. Senate.

On September 19, 1881, the Seattle telegraph office receives the words “The President dead.” Eighty days after being struck by an assassin’s bullets, U.S. President James A. Garfield (1831-1881) dies of his wounds. In Seattle on September 27, 1881, mourners numbering 3,000 to 4,000 attend a memorial service.

Communicating the Disaster

On July 2, 1881, a few hours after Garfield was shot, there was a premature announcement of his death. This news took seven hours to travel from Washington, D. C. to Seattle. By September 19 the nation’s telegraph operators had apparently prepared to quickly inform the nation of the president’s fate. It took exactly 16 minutes for those three words “The President dead” to be transmitted from the president’s bedside on the New Jersey coast to Seattle. This was likely the quickest transmission to date of news from the East Coast to Seattle.

In the early morning hours of September 20, 1881, the day after the president's death, the tolling of Seattle’s church and fire station bells woke up the people. Most residents who did not already know about the president quickly surmised the significance of the ringing bells. For nearly a month President Garfield’s condition was critical and it was felt that news of his death could come at any time.

When the news came, Seattle went into mourning. Every business and most residences draped their buildings in black crepe. Flags flew at half mast from buildings throughout town and from the masts of steamboats and sailing ships in Elliott Bay. Seattle’s newspaper The Daily Evening Fin-Back printed black borders along its columns. At construction sites, work stopped, and some businesses closed for the day.

From Log Cabin to White House

James A. Garfield had served as president for just four months before the assassin’s bullets hit him. He was born to Abram Garfield and Eliza Ballou in a log cabin in Ohio, and his father died when he was two years old. His mother raised him on the family’s 30 acre farm. Garfield left home to attend college, graduating from Williams College in Massachusetts. He procured a teaching position (professor of ancient languages) at Ohio’s Hiram College and within a short time became college president. He married Lucretia Rudolph and began a family that included seven children (two died in infancy).

When the Civil War started in 1861, Garfield resigned and became a Lieutenant Colonel in the Union Army Ohio volunteer infantry. In early 1862, he became the youngest Union Army Brigadier General and in 1863 was promoted to Major General. Republican Garfield served in the U.S. House of Representatives from Ohio from late 1863 to 1880. In 1868, he voted with the majority to impeach President Andrew Johnson (1808-1875) whose lenient policies toward the South angered the Radical Republicans of Lincoln's party. In 1876, James Garfield became Republican Minority Leader.

During his lighter moments, as a parlor game to amaze his guests, James Garfield would simultaneously write in Greek with one hand and Latin with the other.

The 1880 Election

Garfield arrived at the 1880 Republican Convention strongly supporting Ohio Senator General John Sherman for president. Before nominating their candidate for president, the convention approved the Party’s platform, which included opposition to polygamy, opposition to the use of public funds for religious schools, and limits on laborers arriving from China. In its presidential nominations, the convention deadlocked among Sherman and two other main candidates. During the first 33 ballots, Garfield received two votes. To break the three-way deadlock, Garfield became the compromise candidate. Even as he attempted to withdraw his name from consideration, on the 36th ballot, the convention nominated James Garfield for president of the United States.

The 1880 presidential election was extremely close. Of nine million votes cast, Garfield received 4,446,158 (48.27 percent) and Democrat General Winfield Hancock, a Civil War hero, received 4,444,260 (48.25 percent), a majority of just 1,898 votes for Garfield. The two candidates also split the 38 state votes, each winning 19. The states Garfield won had more electoral votes, giving him 214 votes compared with 155 votes for Hancock. On March 4, 1881, James Abram Garfield became the 20th president of the United States.

Four months later, on July 2, 1881, while on his way to visit his ill wife, Garfield was shot in the back at the railroad station in Washington, D.C. by Charles J. Guiteau, a disappointed office seeker with messianic visions.

Seattle Mourns

The president’s funeral was set for Tuesday, September 27, 1881 in Cleveland, Ohio. Memorials on the same day were planned in towns throughout the nation, including Seattle. Seattle Mayor Levi P. Smith issued a proclamation requesting that businesses and shops close on that day “out of respect to the memory of one so universally beloved and lamented” (Intelligencer September 21, 1881). A stand for the memorial service was erected at Occidental Square located on Front Street (1st Avenue) between Mill Street (Yesler Way) and James Street.

In Seattle, on the Tuesday of the president’s funeral, it was a bright and beautiful day. Just as the sun was rising, a cannon boom jarred residents awake from their slumbers. For the memorial, organizers had placed the cannon in the center of town. The blast broke windows, frightened pets and babies, and annoyed most everyone else.

The residents recovered in time to greet trainloads and boatloads of passengers arriving from the surrounding area to attend the memorial. Included were men, women, and children arriving from Bainbridge Island on the Port Blakely sawmill’s tugboat. Also attending were laborers who took the day off from constructing the West Point lighthouse near Magnolia Bluff.

A Huge Funeral Procession

The funeral procession formed on Mill Street (Yesler Way) and at about 2 p.m. started south on Commercial Street (1st Avenue S) for an eight block walk. The Seattle Police Department led the procession, followed by Grand Marshall George Hill. The Pacific Cornet Band consisting of former prisoners of the Confederate Army's Andersonville prison carried the U.S. flag.

A large crowd along the streets watched the procession pass by. It included the Civil War group Grand Army of the Republic, seaman of the U.S. revenue cutter ship Wolcott, the Mayor, City Council, and memorial speakers. Walking along Jackson Street and then 2nd Avenue (Occidental Avenue) were members of the Seattle Fire Department, King County officers, and various fraternal organizations including Masons, Independent Order of Odd Fellows, Ancient Order of United Workmen, and Knights of Phythias. There were "scores and hundreds of Indians” (Intelligencer September 25, 1881) crowding Seattle streets in recent days to trade and spend money earned from picking hops and catching salmon. It is not known how many of them attended the memorial.

The four-block-long procession snaked back to Commercial Street (1st Avenue S) and returned to Occidental Square.

The Service

A crowd estimated at from 3,000 to 4,000 assembled at Occidental Square for the memorial service. As a backdrop to the speakers stand was a large portrait of President Garfield by well known painter and Seattle confectioner A. W. Piper. Roger S. Greene, Washington Territory Supreme Court Chief Justice, made some introductory comments followed by a prayer led by Episcopal Chaplain the Reverend J. F. Ellis.

After a dirge by the Pacific Cornet Band, the Honorable Orange Jacobs, a former Seattle mayor and a judge who knew President Garfield, gave the eulogy. Following is a portion of his long speech.

Eulogy to a President We Hardly Knew

“Fellow Citizens … James A Garfield, the popular idol of the nation, is no more. His spirit has passed the bourne [sic], from whence there is no return. We have, in time of our greatest need, lost one of our greatest statesmen and purest patriots. … His sun of life has set forever. It fell from its meridian splendor as falls a star from the blazing galaxy of heaven. … As the sun of the physical world – the brightest and grandest of all the luminaries of the firmament sinks to rest . so Garfield, the sun and intellect of this nation, has gone to his repose reflecting the light of his noble deeds and unfaltering patriotism .

"James A. Garfield was the popular representative of American patriotism. As President he possessed no powers but those freely delegated to him by his fellow citizens. … In the faithful discharge of these duties, he was suddenly struck down by an assassin. … The shot meant the annihilation of delegated powers, and as such reached the fountains of popular vitality.

"The people in the exercise of their inherent sovereignty, may elect, says the shot of assassin, but if he does not suit the desperado, he shall not live. Such assassinations are extremely dangerous to liberty and constitutional government. If the will of the majority is defeated in this manner, popular government will not long survive. Anarchy and bloodshed, and general civil war will succeed the rebound of the popular heart. The popular frenzy which developed itself in mobs in many sections of our country, on the reception of the tidings of Lincoln’s death, are but the logical sequences of the assassin’s stroke at civil liberty and popular rights. Then it behooves every well-wisher of this country on such mournful occasions to give emphasis and intensity to the nation’s woe. For mark you, fellow citizens, there is a smothered volcano of wrath and vengeance in the great popular heart upon such occasions. A word may vent it, and fill all this fair land with the lava of blood and ashes.

"… What will be the effect and consequence of this horrid murder considered with reference to national affairs? … This we know, the time elapsing between the assassin’s shot and the lamented death of his victim, has been sufficient for the supremacy of reason and subjugation of passion so far as to prevent any immediate dire results to free government. The American people, yea the Anglo Saxon race, are believers in law and order. … Passion may triumph for an hour, but the sober second thought of the masses is sure to assert itself.

[Here Jacobs gives a summary of the president’s life and character.]

"… [Garfield] entered on the discharge of his duties as President under the most auspicious circumstances. We were at peace with all the world. The wounds of the [Civil] war had been healed, and the work of reconciliation had been fairly accomplished. Prosperity reigned supreme – the good time had come and the people rejoiced. … [F]ree from domestic dissensions [sic] he could turn his entire attention to the internal machinery of government. He determined to distinguish his term of office by its purity of administration and economy of expenditures. Only four months was he at the helm … In that brief time [as president] he routed the army of contracting thieves from their intrenched [sic] position in the post office department, and established a standard of official integrity and honor that carried dismay to the spoil hunter and dishonest official” (Intelligencer September 27, 1881).

Following Orange Jacobs's eulogy, the Episcopal choir sang a burial anthem. After another prayer, all in attendance stood and sang a hymn. There were three more short speeches including one by Washington Territory Governor Ferry, the singing of "God Bless Our Native Land," and to conclude the memorial services, a benediction by Reverend J. A. Wirth. Fin-Back September 28, 1881, p. 3)-->

Four decades later, the Seattle Public Schools named Garfield High School after President James Garfield.

Memorial service for President James Garfield, Occidental Square, Seattle, September 26, 1881

The Federal Civil Service and the Death of President James A. Garfield

July 2, 1881: Secretary of State James Blaine (left) reacts to the shooting of President James A. Garfield (right). Assassin Charles Guiteau is being subdued at far left of image.

Frank Leslie’s Illustrated Newspaper

Any standard history textbook today will tell you that Charles Guiteau, the assassin of James Abram Garfield, the twentieth President of the United States, was “a disappointed office seeker.” That’s an accurate description, as far as it goes, but there is much more to the circumstances of President Garfield’s tragic murder than that simple phrase suggests. The assassination of James Garfield was not the product of a pathetic, demented megalomaniac it had its origins in the domestic politics of his time.

By that I mean to say that it was the political culture of the 1860s and 1870s that led to the President’s death in 1881. Specifically, it was “the spoils system” that was as much the cause of Garfield’s assassination as were Guiteau’s actions.

The Federal bureaucracy had been growing since the days of Andrew Jackson in the 1830s. Many government employees working in federal agencies owed their positions to the Congressmen and Senators who had recommended their appointments to the President. These workers were expected to perform political work for their patrons as part of the job. Federal employees were also “assessed” a portion of the salaries, usually about five percent, to fund campaigns.

Reform-minded individuals in the political parties and in the press wanted to put an end to this kind of thing. The first legislation to reform the Federal civil service appeared in December 1865 when Rhode Island Congressman Thomas Allen Jenckes introduced a bill to create a Civil Service Commission, to formulate rules for civil servants, and establish examinations for certain positions in the federal service. Jenckes’ 1865 bill did not pass.

In 1871, Congress finally passed legislation permitting President Grant to create the first Civil Service Commission. Congressional support was not strong, however, and Grant abandoned the effort.

President Ulysses S. Grant

Grant’s successor, Rutherford B. Hayes, was determined to reform the federal civil service, and in doing so, he confronted the colorful New York Senator, Roscoe Conkling. He battled Hayes’ attempts to reduce his influence with civil service appointments in his state, mainly through replacing Conkling’s henchmen at the Port of New York, including the Collector, Chester Alan Arthur. It was this 1870s political donnybrook that would lead to assassination in 1881.

By attacking Arthur, Hayes was attacking Conkling, and Conkling fought back. In the end, though, Hayes was triumphant, and Arthur was gone – but not for good!

Senator Roscoe Conkling was the undisptued king of patronage in his home state of New York.

The Hayes-Conkling fight in 1877-1878 became the Garfield-Conkling fight three years later. Just as Rutherford B. Hayes had wanted to reduce the influence of Senators – and specifically Senator Conkling – in making presidential appointments, so too did James A. Garfield. During his own squabble with Roscoe Conkling, he confided to his diary in the spring of 1881 that he was bound to determine “whether I was the registering Clerk of the Senate or the Executive of the government.”

What were the circumstances that caused President Garfield to make that comment? To begin with, President Hayes did not seek re-election in 1880. James Garfield was nominated after the leading contenders, including former President Grant, were unable to prevail. Conkling had strongly supported Grant, and he was displeased by Garfield’s surprise nomination.

After Garfield won the election, Senator Conkling, ever the power broker, tried to win concessions from Garfield over control of New York political appointments.

In the fall and winter of 1880-1881, the president-elect needed to satisfy the various factions in the Republican Party regarding his cabinet and various diplomatic and domestic posts. Senator Conkling, meanwhile, sought to insure that the political attacks he had suffered under President Hayes would not be repeated by the new President.

President Garfield nominated Willliam H. Robertson to be Collector of the Port of New York without consulting Sen. Conkling.

In January 1881, Garfield was fully aware of the need to accommodate Conkling as much as possible. The President-elect invited the Senator to his Mentor, Ohio home to talk. Conkling’s response to the invitation hinted ominously at his future course if his demands were not met: “I need hardly say that your administration cannot be more successful than I wish it to be.” The meeting was not a great success and the tensions between the two continued.

Nevertheless, President Garfield nominated five New York Stalwarts for government posts on March 22. He also nominated William Robertson, Conkling’s adversary, for that most important post of Collector of the Port of New York. Robertson’s nomination was a bombshell, recognized throughout the Republican Party and the national press as a challenge to Conkling.

A compromise intended to achieve peace with Conkling fell through when Conkling reneged on a promise to meet with Garfield. When Garfield heard this, he refused to rescind Robertson’s nomination to the Collectorship.

James G. Blaine, another Conkling enemy, became Secretary of State under President Garfield. Blaine went on to lose the presidential election of 1884 to Grover Cleveland.

The situation was once again in turmoil due to Conkling’s peevishness, and as Kenneth D. Ackerman writes, “James Garfield seemed to cross a psychological bridge…Conkling could not be dealt with nor tolerated.” Whitelaw Reid, the publisher of the New York Tribune, wrote to Garfield, telling him that this latest crisis was the turning point of his administration. If Garfield surrendered, Conkling would in effect be the President of the United States. Garfield’s response indeed showed backbone: “Robertson may be carried out of the Senate head first or feet first…I shall never withdraw him.”

At this point, let us turn our attention away from president and the senator and introduce into the narrative President Garfield’s assassin, Charles Guiteau.

Guiteau was born in Illinois in September 1841. His journey through life up to the time of the assassination had been a troubled one. His mother died when he was seven, and his father, Luther Guiteau, was often abusive toward him. As an adult, he pursued a career in the law, and then took up theology. He was successful at neither.

Charles Guiteau was a megalomaniac, and in 1880, having failed so far in life, he came to believe that his way to fame and fortune was in politics. He went to New York after Garfield’s nomination, where he ingratiated himself with Republican officials. He altered a pro-Grant speech he had written to a pro-Garfield speech. He got permission from the Vice Presidential nominee, Chester A. Arthur, to deliver it at a rally for the Republican ticket. When the Garfield-Arthur ticket won in November, the self-deceiving Guiteau believed that he was instrumental in the victory. Therefore, he reasoned, he deserved a political reward: a job in the government.

He believed that he would make an excellent Consul to Paris – even though he had no prior experience in diplomatic service. He made repeated attempts to see President Garfield about it. Guiteau also badgered James G. Blaine, Garfield’s political confidante and Secretary of State. Early in the administration, Guiteau regularly visited the Secretary of State at his office.

Charles Guiteau considered himself a Stalwart Republican, and he pestered the Garfield administration for a job before shooting the president.

While Guiteau was making his maneuvers, the fight between President Garfield and Senator Conkling was coming to a head in the U.S. Senate. The President of the Senate was Garfield’s Vice President, Chester Arthur. The role he chose to play in the fight between his mentor, Roscoe Conkling and his President, James Garfield, must be one of the most remarkable in the history of the nation.

Chester Arthur, of course, was the man President Hayes had fired from the Collectorship of the Port of New York in 1878. He had become the vice presidential nominee in 1880 though Conkling urged him to drop the idea as if it were “a red hot shoe from the forge.” Arthur did not. The Vice Presidency was, he said, “a greater honor than I ever dreamed of attaining.”

Arthur and Conkling were a team in the effort to block the nomination of Robertson. On April 2, according to Kenneth D. Ackerman, Chester A. Arthur, Vice President of the United States, gathered together several New York associates “to plan the defeat of his own president’s most important political decision to date,” to kill the Robertson nomination. He saw no irony in this.

When Garfield withdrew all the New York nominations except Robertson’s to force a vote on Robertson, Roscoe Conkling and the junior New York Senator, Tom Platt, resigned their seats. They planned to return to Albany and win reelection. In so doing they would return to Washington politically stronger and able to defeat the President. Chester Arthur even went to New York to lobby on their behalf!

At this point, events moved quickly. With Conkling and Platt gone, the Senate ratified Robertson’s nomination on May 18. President Garfield had achieved an important political victory – but it was a victory that would cost him his life.

It seemed that the Republican Party was becoming more divided. The deranged Charles Guiteau, disappointed in his own hopes for the Paris Consulate, believed that Garfield had to be “removed” in order to save the Republican Party and the country. He purchased an English bulldog revolver – with borrowed money – from a shop in Washington. He saw himself as a patriot and believed that the American public would rally to his support. He also believed that God – “the Deity” was the term he used – was telling him to remove President Garfield.

Guiteau began stalking Garfield. One morning in June, he followed him to the Disciples church where the President worshipped. Guiteau couldn’t shoot a man at his devotions.

Next, Guiteau followed Garfield to the Baltimore and Potomac Railroad Station on June 18. The President was accompanying his wife Lucretia to New Jersey, where she was to complete her recuperation from an attack of malaria. Guiteau couldn’t shoot Garfield there, either. Mrs. Garfield looked so frail, standing by her husband, that Guiteau said later that he “did not have the heart to fire upon him.”

On a third occasion, Guiteau watched the President and his Secretary of State, James Blaine (who had been so rude to him) walking arm in arm on a Washington street one evening. He followed the pair for some time, but did not act.

But Guiteau knew that he had one more chance to remove the President. It was announced in the newspapers. President Garfield would be taking a train to New Jersey, on Saturday, July 2 to meet his wife and continue on to a vacation in New England and New York. The train would depart the Baltimore and Potomac Train Station at 9:30 a.m.

The Baltimore and Potomace railroad depot in which Guiteau shot Garfield. Note the black bunting and half-staff flag. Today, the National Portrait Gallery is found where this depot once stood.

This time he was prepared to act. He knew he would be arrested, so a few days before he checked out the Washington Jail. He thought it would be a nice place to be confined.

Guiteau was already at the station when the President arrived a few minutes past nine, with Secretary Blaine by his side. The President and Secretary were crossing into the main waiting room when Guiteau fired two shots. One grazed Garfield’s right arm, while the other tunneled into his back. The President collapsed.

Charles Guiteau was immediately apprehended. Addressing one of the arresting officers, he said, “I did it. I will go to jail for it. I am a Stalwart and Arthur will be President.”

Guiteau became something of a celebrity in the press his photograph was taken many times, and interviews and articles by and about him appeared in print. He always insisted that he was the agent of “the Deity” and that what he had done was for the good of the country. Garfield lingered for 80 days before dying on September 19, 1881. Guiteau, so sure he would be revered for his actions, was hanged on June 30, 1882, two days shy of the first anniversary of his attack on President Garfield.

It is worth noting that the National Civil Service Reform League took advantage of President’s assassination by distributing a letter nationwide connecting the “recent murderous attack” on Garfield to promote reform legislation. That legislation, the Pendleton Civil Service Reform Act, was signed into law by President Arthur on January 16, 1883.

So, President James Abram Garfield was assassinated not simply because a mentally deranged individual was “a disappointed office seeker” a long-standing and divisive effort to reform the machinery of the Federal government created such a poisonous political atmosphere that that same disturbed individual saw himself as the person equipped to put and end to this factional and personal dispute. Regretably, his solution robbed the country of the leadership of the intelligent, thoughtful, talented man who was the 20th President of the United States.

Written by Alan Gephardt, Park Ranger, James A. Garfield National Historic Site, September 2012 for the Garfield Observer.

Alexander Graham Bell Tries to Save James Garfield

As the president approached the train station, his assassin waited inside, pacing nervously, a revolver in his pocket. James Garfield was about to leave Washington for New Jersey to meet his wife and daughter for his first presidential vacation. Born in a log cabin in Ohio, Garfield, 49, had been a carpenter, a teacher, a lawyer, a Union general and a Republican congressman before he was elected president in 1880. Now, on the morning of July 2, 1881, he strolled into the Baltimore & Potomac station with two of his four sons.

Watching Garfield closely, Charles Guiteau pulled out his revolver. Guiteau was a crooked lawyer, a failed evangelist and a lunatic who believed that God had commanded him to kill Garfield in order to “unite the Republican party and save the Republic.” He stepped behind the president and fired two shots. The first bullet sliced Garfield’s right arm. The second slammed into his back and broke two ribs before lodging in fatty tissue behind his pancreas.

Garfield fell to the floor, bleeding profusely, and the gunman was immediately apprehended. Within minutes, doctors arrived and moved the president, first to a room in the station and then, by horse-drawn ambulance, to the White House. There, doctors probed the wound in his back, searching in vain for the bullet.

The first bullet sliced Garfield’s right arm. The second slammed into his back and broke two ribs

Alexander Graham Bell was visiting his in-laws in Boston when he learned that Garfield had been shot and that doctors couldn’t find the bullet in his torso. Already famous for inventing the telephone, Bell, 34, immediately began pondering how to locate the bullet. Years earlier, while working on telephone technology, he had accidentally discovered an electronic method of detecting hidden metal. Now, he set to work, trying to create a machine that could find the bullet inside the president.

Meanwhile, Garfield lay in a White House bedroom, under the care of a physician with the unlikely name of Dr. Doctor Willard Bliss. (His parents had named him “Doctor” to suggest a career path.) A childhood acquaintance of the president, Bliss served as a Union Army surgeon before practicing medicine in Washington, where he advertised a South American herb called cundurango as a “wonderful remedy for Cancer, Syphilis, Scrofula, Ulcers, Salt Rebum and All Other Chronic Blood Diseases.”

Again and again, Bliss searched for the bullet by sticking his unwashed fingers and unsterilized instruments deep into Garfield’s wound. He should have known better: Joseph Lister and other scientists had already proved that infections were caused by germs and could be prevented by antiseptic practices. But Bliss was among the many American doctors who pooh-poohed the notion that tiny invisible bugs could cause infections. He was wrong, of course, and his unsterilized probing of Garfield’s wound caused an infection that spread to the president’s bloodstream.

In Boston, Bell worked on his metal detecting machine—he called it an “induction balance” device—and wrote to Bliss, volunteering his services. Bliss summoned the famous inventor to the White House in mid-July to discuss the machine, but he didn’t immediately permit Bell to test it on the president. Bell returned to his Washington laboratory, where he kept tinkering with his invention, testing it on Civil War veterans who carried bullets in their bodies. Sometimes his device detected the bullets, sometimes it didn’t.

Weeks went by and Garfield grew sicker. The president was conscious and surprisingly cheerful, but his wound oozed vile yellow pus and his fever spiked to 104 degrees. Bliss, who’d been issuing optimistic medical bulletins for weeks, worried that his famous patient might die. On July 26 the desperate doctor wrote to the inventor.

“Would you do us the favor to call at the Executive Mansion at about 5 p.m. today,” Bliss asked Bell, “and work the experiment with the Induction Balance on the person of the President?”

Bell came to the White House and set up his machine. It was a strange-looking device with a wooden handle, a battery, a condenser and a telephone receiver that Bell held to his ear to listen for the sound made when the device detected metal. But when he tested it, he heard a strange sputtering noise in the receiver. Before he could correct that problem, Bliss summoned him into Garfield’s room. Bell was shocked at the president’s ashen color. “It made my heart bleed to look at him,” Bell wrote, “and think of all he must have suffered to bring him to this.”

The president asked Bell a few questions about the device. Satisfied with Bell’s answers, Garfield consented to the test. Attendants rolled him onto his left side and he leaned his head on an aide’s shoulder while Dr. Bliss removed the dressing over his wound.

The test began: Bliss passed Bell’s device over the president’s back, while Bell held the receiver to his ear. But the sputtering sound in the receiver made hearing difficult. Bell detected sounds but they were “uncertain and indefinite,” and he failed to locate the bullet.

“I feel woefully disappointed & disheartened,” Bell wrote to his wife that night. He felt even worse the next morning when he realized that he had caused the sputtering sound by assembling his machine improperly in the White House.

Garfield grew sicker, and Bliss summoned Bell back to the White House. Bell arrived for his second visit on August 1, confident that his machine was functioning better than ever.

This time, Bliss insisted that Bell test only the right side of Garfield’s body, where Bliss was certain the bullet lay. Holding the receiver to his ear, Bell heard a sound but it was weak and it didn’t resemble the usual noise made when the machine detected metal.

Bliss informed reporters that Bell’s machine had confirmed his belief that the bullet was on the lower right side of the president’s torso. But Bell wasn’t so sure. He wondered if perhaps there was some metal in the president’s bed that interfered with the test. He went to the White House the next day and learned that the president lay on a mattress “composed of steel wires.”

Bell obtained an identical mattress. When he passed his machine over it, he heard the same odd sound he’d heard when examining Garfield. Obviously, his machine had detected the wires, not the bullet.

Bell was eager to try again, but he never got the chance. On September 19, after 79 days of agony, James Garfield died of septic poisoning that was almost certainly caused by Bliss’ repeated unsanitary probing of his wound. An autopsy revealed that the bullet was on the left side of his torso, not on the right, where Bliss insisted that Bell look for it.

“Garfield died from malpractice,” proclaimed Guiteau, the man who shot the president. He had a point, but the jury convicted him anyway. After he was hanged in 1882, doctors chopped his brain into cubes, searching for the source of his madness. They didn’t find it.

Meanwhile, Bell continued tinkering with his induction balance machine, ultimately creating a device used for decades by battlefield surgeons searching for hidden bullets in wounded soldiers.
Originally published in the February 2016 issue of American History magazine.


On March 26, 1841, William Henry Harrison became ill with a cold after being caught in a torrential downpour without cover. His symptoms grew progressively worse over the ensuing two days, at which time a team of doctors was called in to treat him. [11] After making a diagnosis of right lower lobe pneumonia, they proceeded to place heated suction cups on his bare torso and to administer a series of bloodlettings, to supposedly draw out the disease. [12] When those procedures failed to bring about improvement, the doctors treated him with ipecac, Castor oil, calomel, and finally with a boiled mixture of crude petroleum and Virginia snakeroot. All this only weakened Harrison further. [11]

Initially, no official announcement was made concerning Harrison's illness, which, the longer he remained out of public view, fueled public speculation and concern. By the end of the month large crowds were gathering outside the White House, holding vigil while awaiting any news about the president's condition. [11] On the evening of April 4, 1841, nine days after becoming ill, [13] and exactly one month after taking the oath of office, Harrison died the first U.S. president to die in office. [12] His last words were to his attending doctor, though assumed to be directed at Vice President John Tyler:

Sir, I wish you to understand the true principles of the government. I wish them carried out. I ask nothing more. [14]

A 30-day period of mourning commenced following the president's death. Various public ceremonies, modeled after European royal funeral practices, were held. An invitation-only funeral service was also held, on April 7 in the East Room of the White House, after which Harrison's coffin was brought to Congressional Cemetery in Washington, D.C., where it was placed in a temporary receiving vault. [15]

That June, Harrison's body was transported by train and river barge to North Bend, Ohio. Then, on July 7, 1841, the nation's 9th president was buried in a family tomb at the summit of Mt. Nebo, overlooking the Ohio River – now the William Henry Harrison Tomb State Memorial. [16]

Harrison's death sparked a brief constitutional crisis regarding succession to the presidency, as the U.S. Constitution was unclear as to whether Vice President John Tyler should assume the office of president or merely execute the duties of the vacant office. Tyler claimed a constitutional mandate to carry out the full powers and duties of the presidency and took the presidential oath of office, setting an important precedent for an orderly transfer of presidential power when a president leaves office intra-term. [17]

Coincidentally, all but one of the presidents who later died in office had, like Harrison, won a presidential election in a year ending in a zero (1840 through 1960). This pattern of tragedies came to be known as the Curse of Tippecanoe, or the Curse of Tecumseh, the name of the Shawnee leader against whom Harrison fought in the 1811 Battle of Tippecanoe. Also sometimes referred to as the Zero Factor legend, the pattern was disrupted by Ronald Reagan, who survived an assassination attempt in 1981 (69 days after taking office) and lived to complete two full terms. [18]

Zachary Taylor was known to have consumed copious amounts of ice water, cold milk, green apples, and cherries on July 4, 1850, after attending holiday celebrations and the laying of the cornerstone of the Washington Monument. [19] That same evening, he became severely ill with an unknown digestive ailment. Doctors used popular treatments of the time. On the morning of July 9, the president asked his wife Margaret not to grieve saying:

I have always done my duty, I am ready to die. My only regret is for the friends I leave behind me. [20]

Taylor died late that evening at around 10:35 pm, five days after becoming ill. [21] Contemporary reports listed the cause of death as "bilious diarrhea or a bilious cholera." [22] He was succeeded by Vice President Millard Fillmore.

Taylor's funeral took place on July 13, [20] and like Harrison's nine years earlier, was held in the East Room of the White House. [23] Afterward, an estimated 100,000 people gathered along the funeral route [20] to Congressional Cemetery where his coffin was placed temporarily in the Public Vault that October it was transported to Louisville, Kentucky. On November 1, 1850, Taylor was buried in his family's burial ground on the Taylor estate, Springfield – now the Zachary Taylor National Cemetery. [24]

Almost immediately after his death, rumors began to circulate that Taylor had been poisoned by pro-slavery Southerners, and various conspiracy theories persisted into the late-20th century. [25] The cause of Taylor's death was definitively established in 1991, when his remains were exhumed and an autopsy conducted by Kentucky's chief medical examiner. Subsequent Neutron activation analysis conducted at Oak Ridge National Laboratory revealed no evidence of poisoning, as arsenic levels were too low. [26] [27] The analysis concluded Taylor had contracted cholera morbus, or acute gastroenteritis, as Washington had open sewers, and his food or drink may have been contaminated. [28]

The assassination of Abraham Lincoln took place on Good Friday, April 14, 1865, as the Civil War was drawing to a close. He died the following day. The assassination occurred four days after General Robert E. Lee and the Army of Northern Virginia surrendered to General Ulysses S. Grant and the Army of the Potomac following the Battle of Appomattox Court House. [29] Lincoln was the first American president to be killed by an assassin. [30] (The first U.S. president to be confronted by a would-be assassin was Andrew Jackson 30 years earlier, in January 1835. [31] )

The assassination of President Lincoln was planned and carried out by the well-known stage actor John Wilkes Booth, a Confederate sympathizer, vehement in his denunciation of Lincoln, and a strong opponent of the abolition of slavery in the United States. [32] Booth and a group of co-conspirators originally plotted to kidnap Lincoln, but later planned to kill him, Vice President Andrew Johnson, and Secretary of State William H. Seward in a bid to help the Confederacy's cause. [33] Johnson's would-be-assassin, George Atzerodt did not carry out his part of the plan, and Johnson succeeded Lincoln as president while Lewis Powell only managed to wound Seward.

Lincoln was shot once in the back of his head while watching the play Our American Cousin with his wife Mary Todd Lincoln at Ford's Theatre in Washington, D.C. at around 10:15 p.m on the night of April 14, 1865. [34] An army surgeon who happened to be at Ford's, Doctor Charles Leale, assessed Lincoln's wound as mortal. [35] The unconscious president was then carried across the street from the theater to the Petersen House, where he remained in a coma for eight hours before dying the following morning at 7:22 a.m. on April 15. [36] [37]

Within two weeks of the manhunt for Lincoln's killers, on April 26, 1865, Booth and David Herold were caught in a tobacco barn in Port Conway, Virginia. While Herold surrendered, Booth was shot to death by a Union Corporal Boston Corbett.

A three-week series of official functions were held following the president's death. He laid in state in the East Room of the White House which was open to the public on April 18. A funeral service was held the next day, and then the coffin was transported in a procession down Pennsylvania Avenue to the United States Capitol, where a ceremonial burial service was held in the rotunda. After lying in state at the Capitol, Lincoln's remains were transported by train to Springfield, Illinois for burial. He was interred on May 4, 1865, at Oak Ridge Cemetery in Springfield – now the Lincoln Tomb State Historic Site. [38]

The assassination of James A. Garfield happened in Washington, D.C., on July 2, 1881. Garfield was shot by Charles J. Guiteau at 9:30 a.m., less than four months into his term as the nation's 20th president. He died 11 weeks later on September 19, 1881 Vice President Chester A. Arthur succeeded him as president. Garfield was scheduled to leave Washington on July 2, 1881, for his summer vacation. [39] On that day, Guiteau lay in wait for the president at the Baltimore and Potomac Railroad station, on the southwest corner of present-day Sixth Street and Constitution Avenue NW, Washington, D.C. [40]

President Garfield came to the Sixth Street Station on his way to his alma mater, Williams College, where he was scheduled to deliver a speech. Garfield was accompanied by two of his sons, James and Harry, and Secretary of State James G. Blaine. Secretary of War Robert Todd Lincoln waited at the station to see the president off. [41] Garfield had no bodyguard or security detail with the exception of Abraham Lincoln during the Civil War, early U.S. presidents never used any guards. [42]

As President Garfield entered the waiting room of the station, Guiteau stepped forward and pulled the trigger from behind at point-blank range. "My God, what is that?" Garfield cried out, flinging up his arms. Guiteau fired again and Garfield collapsed. [43] One bullet grazed Garfield's shoulder the other hit him in the back, passing the first lumbar vertebra but missing the spinal cord before coming to rest behind his pancreas. [44]

Garfield, conscious but in shock, was carried to an upstairs floor of the train station. [45] One bullet remained lodged in his body, but doctors could not find it. [46] Young Jim Garfield and James Blaine both broke down and wept. Robert Todd Lincoln, deeply upset and thinking back to the death of his father, said "How many hours of sorrow I have passed in this town." [46]

Garfield was carried back to the White House. Although doctors told him that he would not survive the night, the president remained conscious and alert. [47] The next morning his vital signs were good and doctors began to hope for recovery. [48] A long vigil began, with Garfield's doctors issuing regular bulletins that the American public followed closely throughout the summer of 1881. [49] [50] His condition fluctuated. Fevers came and went. Garfield struggled to keep down solid food and spent most of the summer eating little, and that only liquids. [51]

Garfield had been a regular visitor to the shore town of Long Branch, New Jersey, one of the nation's premier summer vacation spots until World War I. In early September, it was decided to bring him to Elberon, a quiet beach town just to the south of Long Branch, in hopes that the beach air would help him recover. When they heard that the president was being brought to their town, local citizens built more than half a mile of tracks in less than 24 hours, enabling Garfield to be brought directly to the door of the oceanfront Franklyn cottage, rather than being moved by carriage from the local Elberon train station. However, Garfield died 12 days later. A granite marker on Garfield Road identifies the former site of the cottage, which was demolished in 1950. Throughout the five-month drama, anxious Americans across the country were kept informed of developments by the news media. The publisher of Frank Leslie's Illustrated Newspaper, Miriam Leslie, was especially quick to publish fully illustrated accounts of key moments, from Garfield's shooting to the embalming of his body. [52]

Chester Arthur was at his home in New York City on the night of September 19, when word came that Garfield had died. After first getting the news, Arthur said "I hope—my God, I do hope it is a mistake." But confirmation by telegram came soon after. Arthur took the presidential oath of office, administered by a New York Supreme Court judge, then left for Long Branch to pay his respects before traveling on to Washington. [53] Garfield's body was taken to Washington, where it lay in state for two days in the Capitol Rotunda before being taken to Cleveland, where the funeral was held on September 26. [54]

When the tracks that had been hastily built to the Franklyn cottage were later torn up, actor Oliver Byron bought the wooden ties, and had local carpenter William Presley build them into a small tea house, in commemoration of the president. The red & white (originally red, white & blue) "Garfield Tea House" still survives, resting a couple of blocks away from the site of the cottage on the grounds of the Long Branch Historical Museum, a former Episcopal Church. The church is nicknamed "The Church of the Presidents," as it had been attended by, in addition to Garfield, presidents Chester A. Arthur, Ulysses S. Grant, Benjamin Harrison, Rutherford Hayes, William McKinley, and Woodrow Wilson, during their own visits to Long Branch.

William McKinley was assassinated on September 6, 1901, inside the Temple of Music on the grounds of the Pan-American Exposition in Buffalo, New York. McKinley was shaking hands with the public when Polish-American anarchist Leon Czolgosz shot him. The president died eight days later on September 14 from gangrene caused by the bullet wounds. [7]

McKinley had been elected for a second term in 1900. [55] He enjoyed meeting the public, and was reluctant to accept the security available to his office. [56] The secretary to the president, George B. Cortelyou, feared an assassination attempt would take place during a visit to the Temple of Music, and twice took it off the schedule. McKinley restored it each time. [57]

Czolgosz had lost his job during the economic Panic of 1893 and turned to anarchism, a political philosophy whose adherents had previously killed foreign leaders. [58] Regarding McKinley as a symbol of oppression, Czolgosz felt it was his duty as an anarchist to kill him. [59] Unable to get near McKinley during the earlier part of the presidential visit, Czolgosz shot McKinley twice as the President reached to shake his hand in the reception line at the temple. One bullet grazed McKinley the other entered his abdomen and was never found. [7]

McKinley initially appeared to be recovering, but took a turn for the worse on September 13 as his wounds became gangrenous, and died early the next morning Vice President Theodore Roosevelt succeeded him. Roosevelt was hiking near the top of Mt. Marcy, in New York's Adirondack region, when a runner located him to convey the news. [60] After McKinley's murder, for which Czolgosz was put to death in the electric chair, the United States Congress passed legislation to officially charge the Secret Service with the responsibility for protecting the president. [61]

Warren G. Harding died from a sudden heart attack in his hotel suite while visiting San Francisco at around 7:35 p.m. on August 2, 1923. His death quickly led to theories that he had been poisoned [62] or committed suicide. Rumors of poisoning were fueled, in part, by a book called The Strange Death of President Harding, in which the author (convicted criminal, former Ohio Gang member, and detective Gaston Means, hired by Mrs. Harding to investigate Warren Harding and his mistress) suggested that Mrs. Harding had poisoned her husband after learning of his infidelity. Mrs. Harding's refusal to allow an autopsy on President Harding only added to the speculation. According to the physicians attending Harding, however, the symptoms in the days prior to his death all pointed to congestive heart failure. Harding's biographer, Samuel H. Adams, concluded that "Warren G. Harding died a natural death which, in any case, could not have been long postponed." [63]

Immediately after President Harding's death, Mrs. Harding returned to Washington, D.C., and briefly stayed in the White House with the new president Calvin Coolidge and first lady. For a month, former first lady Harding gathered and destroyed by fire President Harding's correspondence and documents, both official and unofficial. Upon her return to Marion, Ohio, Mrs. Harding hired a number of secretaries to collect and burn President Harding's personal papers. According to Mrs. Harding, she took these actions to protect her husband's legacy. The remaining papers were held and kept from public view by the Harding Memorial Association in Marion. [64]

On March 29, 1945, Franklin D. Roosevelt went to the Little White House in Warm Springs, Georgia, to rest before his anticipated appearance at the founding conference of the United Nations in late April in San Francisco. At around 1:00 pm on April 12, Roosevelt said, "I have a terrific pain in the back of my head." which were his last words. He then slumped forward in his chair, unconscious, and was carried into his bedroom. The president's attending cardiologist, Dr. Howard Bruenn, diagnosed a massive cerebral hemorrhage (stroke). [65] At 3:35 p.m. that day, Roosevelt died without regaining consciousness. As Allen Drury later said, "so ended an era, and so began another." After Roosevelt's death, an editorial in The New York Times declared, "Men will thank God on their knees a hundred years from now that Franklin D. Roosevelt was in the White House." [66]

In his later years at the White House, when Roosevelt was increasingly overworked, his daughter Anna Roosevelt Boettiger had moved in to provide her father companionship and support. Anna had also arranged for her father to meet with his former mistress, the now widowed Lucy Mercer Rutherfurd. A close friend of both Roosevelt and Mercer who was present, Elizabeth Shoumatoff, rushed Mercer away to avoid negative publicity and implications of infidelity. When Eleanor heard about her husband's death, she was also faced with the news that Anna had been arranging these meetings with Mercer and that Mercer had been with Franklin when he died. [67]

On the morning of April 13, Roosevelt's body was placed in a flag-draped coffin and loaded onto the presidential train. After a White House funeral on April 14, Roosevelt was transported back to Hyde Park by train, guarded by four servicemen, one each from the Army, Navy, Marines, and Coast Guard. As was his wish, Roosevelt was buried in the Rose Garden of the Springwood estate, the Roosevelt family home in Hyde Park on April 15. Eleanor died in November 1962 and was buried next to him. [68]

Roosevelt's death was met with shock and grief [69] across the U.S. and around the world. His declining health had not been known to the general public. Roosevelt had been president for more than 12 years, longer than any other person, and had led the country through some of its greatest crises to the impending defeat of Nazi Germany and within sight of the defeat of Japan as well.

Less than a month after his death, on May 8, the war in Europe ended. President Harry S. Truman, who turned 61 that day, dedicated Victory in Europe Day and its celebrations to Roosevelt's memory, and kept the flags across the U.S. at half-staff for the remainder of the 30-day mourning period. In doing so, Truman said that his only wish was "that Franklin D. Roosevelt had lived to witness this day." [70]

The most recent U.S. president to die in office is John F. Kennedy, who was assassinated on November 22, 1963, in Dallas, Texas. He was fatally shot by Lee Harvey Oswald, who fired three shots from a sixth floor window of the Texas School Book Depository at 12:30 p.m. as the presidential motorcade passed through Dealey Plaza. Riding in the vehicle with the president were First Lady Jackie Kennedy, Texas governor John Connally, and Connally's wife Nellie Governor Connally was also seriously wounded in the attack. The motorcade rushed to Parkland Memorial Hospital, where Kennedy was pronounced dead about 30 minutes later Connally recovered from his injuries. [71] [72]

Vice President Lyndon B. Johnson, who was a few cars behind the president in the motorcade, became U.S. president upon Kennedy's death. He took the presidential oath of office onboard Air Force One as it sat on the runway at Dallas Love Field. Oswald was arrested by the Dallas Police Department that afternoon, and was charged under Texas state law with the murder of Kennedy, as well as that of Dallas policeman J. D. Tippit, who had been fatally shot a short time after the assassination. Two days later, on November 24, 1963, as live television cameras were covering his transfer from the city jail to the county jail, Oswald was fatally shot in the basement of Dallas Police Headquarters by Dallas nightclub operator Jack Ruby. Ruby was convicted of Oswald's murder, though it was later overturned on appeal, and Ruby died in prison in 1967 while awaiting a new trial. [71] [72]

In 1964, after a 10-month investigation into the assassination, the Warren Commission concluded that President Kennedy was assassinated by Lee Harvey Oswald and that Oswald had acted entirely alone. It also concluded that Jack Ruby acted alone when he killed Oswald in police custody. Nonetheless, speculation over "what really happened" on November 22, 1963, in Dallas captured the public imagination during the decades that followed. Polls conducted from 1966 to 2004 found that as many as 80 percent of Americans have suspected that there was a criminal conspiracy or cover-up. [73] Numerous books, films, television specials and websites have examined the assassination in minute detail, and numerous conspiracy theories have been advanced. Parties as varied as the CIA, the Mafia, the Cuban and the Soviet governments, along with Kennedy's successor, Lyndon Johnson, have been identified as Suspect. [74] [75] In an article published prior to the 50th anniversary of Kennedy's assassination, author Vincent Bugliosi estimates that a total of 42 groups, 82 assassins, and 214 people have been accused in conspiracy theories challenging the "lone gunman" theory. [76]

Further Reading and Information

  • Garfield, James A. The Diary of James A. Garfield . (3 Volumes) Edited with an introduction by Harry James Brown and Frederick D. Williams. East Lansing MI: Michigan State University Press, 1967-1981
  • Green, Francis Marion. Hiram College and the Western Reserve Eclectic Institute: Fifty Years of History, 1850-1900 . Cleveland OH: The O.S. Hubbell Printing Company, 1901
  • Millard, Candice. Destiny of the Republic: A Tale of Madness, Medicine, and the Murder of a President . New York: Doubleday, 2011
  • Peskin, Allan. Garfield: A Biography . Kent, OH: Kent State University Press, 1978

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