20th President of the United States

Born: November 19, 1831 in Orange, Ohio
Served: March 4, 1881 - September 19, 1881
Died: September 19, 1881 in Elberon, New Jersey
Buried: in Lake View Cemetery in Cleveland, Ohio

        We picked up James Garfield on a weekend trip to Northeastern Ohio. Debbie and I, along with our nephew Damian, were there August 8-11, 2002. We were there to see our nephew Justin in a hockey tournament at Kent State University. We got to go to our first Cleveland Indian game in Jacob's Field when we arrived on Thursday night. Unfortunately, the tribe lost. On Friday morning, we drove up toward Cleveland from our hotel outside of Akron (near Kent State). After getting off the highway (I-480), we had to drive a bit along Mayfield Avenue. We eventually came to the entrance to Lake View Cemetery. Once we drove through the gates, it was easy to find. The Garfield Monument stands out on a small hilltop. We walked up the steps and entered the Monument. There were some other tourist there already. A very nice lady was the guide and answered our questions. When I told her I was a history teacher, she asked me how many presidential graves I had been too. I told her that this was my 20th.

        In the main chamber is a marble statue of Garfield. There are steps that go up to the balcony, which has a great view of Cleveland and Lake Erie. You can also view the statue from above and see all of the sculptures inside. They put a lot of time into this one. The marble for this statue comes from the same quarry in Italy that was used by Leonardo da Vinci. Around the monument, and in the balcony above, are polished red granite columns. there is a stone mosaic depicting the mourning procession below the inside balcony. The steps also take you down into the crypt where James and Lucretia are. The guide told me that this is the only presidential monument where the presidential casket can be viewed. His home in Mentor, Ohio can be toured, but we did not have the time to do it.

        Considered to be the last of the log cabin presidents, Garfield was born in Cuyahoga County, Ohio, in 1831. In 1859, Garfield, a member of the new Republican Party, was elected to the State Senate of Ohio. When the Civil War broke out two years later, Garfield joined the Union Army. He was promoted to general at the age of 31. Later in 1862, Garfield was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives. Lincoln asked him to resign his commission in the army and go to Congress. He did and was re-elected seven more times.

        In the Republican Convention, Garfield was nominated on the 36th ballot and went on to defeat another Civil war general, Winfield Scott Hancock in the November election. Garfield held only a 10,000 popular vote over his Democratic opponent. Garfield was president for only four months. On July 2, 1881, Garfield, with his Secretary of state James Blaine, were in a Washington railway station at 9:30 in the morning when a man walked up to Garfield and shot him twice with a .44 caliber pistol. One bullet went through his right arm and did little damage. The other, however, went through his lower back into his body. The assassin, Charles Guiteau, had supported Garfield and was angry at not being given a political job for his support. He would eventually be tried, convicted and hanged.

        Garfield was brought back to the White House where medical incompetence descended on him. Doctors unsuccessfully searched for the bullet using unsterilized instruments and even their bare hands. This would cause blood poisoning. Alexander Graham Bell (the inventor of the telephone) had invented a metal detector. The doctors, not believing it would be of any use, reluctently used it. When it showed that Garfield's body was full of bullets, they dismissed it as being a failure. Unfortunately, no one bothered to move Garfield's body off of the metal spring mattress he was lying on. On September 6, Garfield's was taken by train to the New Jersey shore to hopefully recuperate. He appeared to get better over the next two weeks, but slipped into unconscious after complaining of chest pains on September 19. He died at 10:30 that night. A 3-hour autopsy discovered that the bullet was no where near where the doctors thought it was.

        Two days later, Garfield's body was moved by train to Washington D.C. and than to his hometown for burial. He was placed in a burial vault at Lake View Cemetery and remained there for nine years until the Monument was finished. His wife Lucretia joined him in 1918.

        Final observations: I visited Garfield's and McKinley's Monumnets in one weekend. Garfield's is much more ornate, both inside and outside. McKinley's Monument reminds me of the U.S. Capitol Building while Garfield's Monument reminds me of an Italian cathedral.

Here are some webpages of interest:

James A. Garfield National Historical Site
The Story of Garfield's Last Trip to the Jersey Shore
White House Biography of James Garfield
The Internet Public Library Biography
The American President Biography

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