Monday, November 3, 2014

The Assassination of President Garfield

Most American schoolchildren can tell you all about the dastardly John Wilkes Booth and the fatal shot he inflicted upon President Abraham Lincoln at Ford's Theater... but what do most Americans know about the assassination of President James Garfield? "Not much" is probably a pretty common answer, so I'll share some of the basic facts:

-President Garfield was shot by Charles Guiteau, a delusional man who felt as though Garfield owed him an appointment to a consulship in Paris because of a speech he wrote in support of Garfield during the 1880 election (The speech was never actually given; Guiteau printed copies and handed them out). 

-Guiteau put off his shooting of President Garfield at least once because he did not want Mrs. Garfield to witness the shooting, which would further upset her after a recent bout with malaria. 

-The shooting took place on July 2nd, 1881, at the Baltimore and Potomac Railroad Station (The National Gallery of Art stands here now) in Washington D.C. 

-In a heartbreaking turn of events, Secretary of War Robert Lincoln, son of Abraham Lincoln, was at the station to see the President off. The shooting made him think of his father, and he is quoted as saying "How many hours of sorrow I have passed in this town".

-President Garfield was shot from behind at point blank range in the waiting room at the station. One bullet nicked his shoulder, and the other missed his spine and lodged behind his pancreas. 

-Although the shooting happened on July 2nd, the President did not pass away until September 19th. During that two and a half month period, the President was bedridden and suffered a great deal. An autopsy revealed that his body was filled with pus, thanks in part to doctors sticking their dirty fingers in his bullet wound; doctors weren't yet aware of the link between cleanliness and infection prevention. 

-The trial of Charles Guiteau was a complete spectacle. During the trial, Guiteau: Sang songs, recited poems, passed notes with people in the audience, posted an ad in the New York Herald looking for a wife, and tried to claim he wasn't responsible for the President's death because of the doctor's malpractice towards him. Nevertheless, Guiteau was hanged on June 30, 1882. 

-Garfield and his wife Lucretia rest in a crypt under the Garfield Memorial in Lake View Cemetery in Cleveland, OH. 

The Garfield Memorial

 Dedication plaque

Statue of President Garfield (Interior of the Memorial)

 Statue from the side

 Caskets of the President and his wife, Lucretia (The urns in the background contain the ashes of their daughter and son-in-law)