“A Certain Fatality:” Robert Todd Lincoln and Presidential Assassinations

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Robert Todd Lincoln, eldest son of President and Mrs. Abraham Lincoln, felt cursed. One of his brothers, Edward, died as a boy in Springfield, Illinois long before their father became president. A second brother, William, died in the White House on February 20, 1862. The death of “Willie” made the Civil War’s dark days that much darker for the Lincoln family. Robert Lincoln’s last brother, Thomas, whom their father had called “Tad,” died at age 18 in 1871. In the years after his father’s death, Robert Lincoln also watched his mother, Mary, descend into financial hardship and manic depression. At one point, he committed her to an asylum. His mother died at age 63 in 1882.

Sadly, Robert Lincoln was very familiar with death. However, it was not the deaths of his brothers or his mother for which he is most famous or for which he believed himself to be cursed. Rather, it was his close connection to three presidential assassinations in just 36 years.

A young Robert Todd Lincoln in 1865, the year his father was assassinated.  Robert was not present when President Lincoln was shot, but was by his father's sided when he died.  (Library of Congress)

A young Robert Todd Lincoln in 1865, the year his father was assassinated. Robert was not present when President Lincoln was shot, but was by his father’s side when he died. (Library of Congress)

President and Mrs. Lincoln invited their son, then Capt. Robert T. Lincoln of Gen. Ulysses S. Grant’s staff, to Ford’s Theater to see a performance of Our American Cousin on the night of April 14, 1865. The younger Lincoln declined, telling his father that he planned to retire early that night. Several different people claimed to have been the one to inform him of John Wilkes Booth’s attack on his father at the theater, and Lincoln himself remembered only that numerous people came to him that night with the awful news. He immediately left for the Petersen house, where his father, unconscious but alive, had been taken after Booth shot him. Future Secretary of State John Hay, one of Abraham Lincoln’s private secretaries and a lifelong friend of Robert’s, wrote that, “After a natural outburst of grief, young Lincoln devoted himself the rest of the night to soothing and comforting his mother.” Robert was there at 7:22 a.m. on April 15 when President Lincoln died.

Over the next decade-and-a-half, many Republicans tried to talk Robert Lincoln into running for political office. Lincoln always declined, partially due to lack of interest but also because he knew his greatest appeal to the Republican Party was not his ability but his surname. In early 1881, however, he relented and agreed to serve as Secretary of War under President James A. Garfield.

Robert T. Lincoln as U.S. Secretary of War.  He was about 40 feet away when President James A. Garfield was shot on July 2, 1881.  (Library of Congress)

Robert T. Lincoln as U.S. Secretary of War. He was about 40 feet away when President James A. Garfield was shot on July 2, 1881. (Library of Congress)

On July 2, 1881, President Garfield was scheduled to leave for a trip to New England. While some cabinet members and their wives were scheduled to go on the trip, Lincoln was unable to depart until the following day. He went to Washington, D.C.’s Baltimore and Potomac train station that morning to meet the President and let him know that the Lincolns would be along on July 3. He was about forty feet away and walking toward President Garfield and Secretary of State James G. Blaine when Charles Guiteau approached from behind and shot Garfield twice. By Lincoln’s own recollection, “I think I reached him in fifteen seconds.” Secretary Lincoln immediately sent for Dr. D.W. Bliss, then ordered four companies of soldiers to immediately come to the train depot for security. When Garfield was moved back to the White House, Lincoln made sure that “all intruders were out of the grounds and a strong military guard on duty there and another at the jail to prevent lynching and a reserve between.” As historian Jason Emerson notes, Lincoln’s decisive actions after the attack on Garfield were reminiscent of Secretary of War Edwin Stanton’s on the night Booth shot Abraham Lincoln. However, the memory of his father’s murder sixteen years before haunted him. “My god,” he said to a New York Times reporter the day after the shooting. “How many hours of sorrow I have passed in this town.”

President James A. Garfield died on September 19, 1881, eighty days after being shot. Vice President Chester A. Arthur was sworn in as the 21st President of the United States and traveled to Elberon, New Jersey, where Garfield died, to escort his predecessor’s body back to the capital. After Garfield’s late September funeral and once Congress convened in December 1881, Arthur kept only one cabinet officer appointed by Garfield: Robert Todd Lincoln, who served as Secretary of War until the end of the Arthur presidency.

Charles Guiteau shot President James A. Garfield on July 2, 1881.  Secretary of State James G. Blaine was standing next to the President when Guiteau attacked.  Secretary of War Robert T. Lincoln was about 40 feet away and walking toward Blaine and Garfield.  (

Charles Guiteau shot President James A. Garfield on July 2, 1881. Secretary of State James G. Blaine was standing next to the President when Guiteau attacked. Secretary of War Robert T. Lincoln was about 40 feet away and walking toward Blaine and Garfield. (Frank Leslie’s Illustrated Newspaper)

After finishing his time as Secretary of War, Lincoln returned to private legal practice, then served as U.S. Minister to the Court of Saint James (the United Kingdom) under President Benjamin Harrison from 1889-1893. While living in England, Lincoln’s son, Abraham Lincoln II, called “Jack,” died of a post-surgery infection at just 16 years old.

After returning from England, Robert Lincoln became general counsel of the Pullman Palace Car Company. When founder George Pullman died in 1897, Lincoln was elevated to the company’s presidency. In 1901, the Lincolns vacationed all summer in New Jersey. As they traveled back to Chicago in early September, they decided to make a stop in Buffalo, New York to visit the Pan-American Exposition, a world’s fair intended to promote trade and friendship between the U.S., Canada, and Mexico. The Lincolns’ train pulled into the Buffalo train station on the evening of Friday, September 6. A Pullman employee was waiting and immediately handed Lincoln a telegram that read: “President McKinley was shot down by an anarchist in Buffalo this afternoon. He was hit twice in the abdomen. Condition serious.”

Lincoln immediately went to the home of John G. Milburn, president of the Pan-American Exposition, where McKinley was resting after a seemingly successful surgery to repair internal damage caused by Leon Czolgosz’s bullets. Lincoln spent a few minutes with the President and was convinced that McKinley would be fine. Lincoln saw the President again two days later and still believed he was improving, saying, “My visit has given me great encouragement” for McKinley’s recovery. He and his family left Buffalo for Chicago having enjoyed a visit to the Exposition and glad that McKinley was on the mend.

A week later, McKinley was dead of infection. Vice President Theodore Roosevelt had visited the wounded president at the same time as Robert Lincoln the previous week and then departed for a trip to the Adirondacks. Roosevelt hurried back to Buffalo and was sworn in as the 26th President of the United States on September 14, 1901. Shortly afterwards, Lincoln sent President Roosevelt a letter that read in part, “I do not congratulate you, for I have seen too much of the seamy side of the Presidential Robe to think of it as an enviable garment.”

Leon Czolgosz shoots President William McKinley at the Pan-American Exposition in Buffalo on September 6, 1901.  Robert Lincoln and his family were approaching Buffalo via train when the shooting occurred.  (

Leon Czolgosz shoots President William McKinley at the Pan-American Exposition in Buffalo on September 6, 1901. Robert Lincoln and his family were approaching Buffalo via train when the shooting occurred. (Library of Congress)

Amazingly, Robert Todd Lincoln had very close ties to three presidential assassinations. While the rational mind scoffs at the idea of any human as “cursed,” the emotions lead us to wonder if such a thing might actually be possible. However, the popular old stories about Robert Lincoln being “present” at the three murders are certainly untrue. He was not with his father when Booth attacked on April 14, 1865, though he was at the Petersen house when the elder Lincoln died the next morning. He was across the room but walking toward the President when Charles Guiteau felled Garfield on July 2, 1881. Lincoln personally attended and spoke with Garfield while the President lay on the train station floor. Finally, he was just entering the city of Buffalo when McKinley was shot on September 6, 1901.

While Robert Lincoln was certainly not cursed, it is understandable that many people-including Lincoln himself-feared he may be. More likely, however, is that Lincoln’s last name and his positions in life put him in close proximity to presidents far more often than most people. Also, Lincoln lived a very long life in times of great social and political upheaval that often resulted in violence. The cataclysmic Civil War, passionate debates over patronage and civil service reform, fears of government growing so powerful that anarchy seemed a plausible alternative—all of these issues came to the fore during Lincoln’s life and resulted in murders of American presidents. That his name was Lincoln and he attained high office and business success made Lincoln far more likely to be near presidents than most people, and the upheavals of the era made attacks on presidents far more likely. In other words, it was something of a macabre numbers game.

That certainly and understandably did not ease Robert Lincoln’s mind, though the idea that after McKinley’s death Lincoln refused to ever go around presidents again is a myth. Supposedly he once scoffed at an invitation to an event at the White House by saying, “If only they knew, they wouldn’t want me there. There is a certain fatality about presidential functions when I am present.” While there is no direct evidence that Lincoln ever actually said this, it certainly seems like a thought that might have crossed his mind.

Robert Lincoln’s last public appearance was on May 30, 1922, when he attended the dedication of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C. President Warren G. Harding presided over that dedication. Harding, of course, died in office just fourteen months later. Since he was not assassinated, however, it does not appear that anyone tried very hard to attribute his death to having shared a platform with Robert Lincoln just over a year earlier.

Robert Todd Lincoln (right) at the May 30, 1922 dedication of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington.  At left is William Howard Taft, former President of the United States and then Chief Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court.  At center is President Warren G. Harding.  (National Park Service)

Robert Todd Lincoln (right) at the May 30, 1922 dedication of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington. At left is William Howard Taft, former President of the United States and then Chief Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court. At center is President Warren G. Harding. (National Park Service)

Robert Todd Lincoln died on July 26, 1926, just six days before his 83rd birthday. He was seemingly surrounded by death his entire life, yet persevered to carve out his own successes and legacy while also honoring his famous name. His was a long, extraordinary, and accomplished life, and he certainly deserves to be remembered as more than just his father’s son or the subject of silly myths about curses.

-Todd Arrington, Chief of Interpretation & Education

James A. Garfield and a Black Washingtonian, Part II

After the war, Wormley had become so successful that, in 1869, he purchased the initial portion of the previously mentioned Wormley Hotel main building, located at the SW corner of 15th and H Streets to add to his business locations. He then alternately referred to the original collection of five boarding houses and a restaurant on I Street as the “Annex” and the “Branch Hotel”. While Garfield was spreading his national image and building his house in the city, Wormley’s newest structure had become the privately owned, yet public, seat of political maneuvering, high society and statesmanship in the District.

James Wormley as he appeared around 1869.  (Historical Society of Washington, D.C.)

James Wormley as he appeared around 1869. (Historical Society of Washington, D.C.)

As a military and political leader in support of the rights of Blacks, Garfield had to be in touch with Wormley fairly frequently. Unfortunately, since this research regarding Garfield has just begun we have not, as yet, uncovered expansive direct information about their personal relationship. We do know that as Mr. Garfield entered upon his life in the White House the existence of the relationship became more widely known.

In the fall of 1879 John Hay and his wife had taken up a two month residence at Wormley’s Hotel while they waited for their new home a block away on H Street to be finished. Just a few years previously in this same building it was reported that the Presidential election of Rutherford B. Hayes had been negotiated. During the period 1880 to 1881 the patrons of the hotel included famous and wealthy aristocrats like the Astors, Henry Adams, the Alexander Graham Bell family, Louis Comfort Tiffany, Garfield’s presidential election Democratic opponent General Winfield Scott Hancock, Robert Lincoln and family and the Hawaiian Annexation Commission.

John Hay was one of President Abraham Lincoln's private secretaries during the Civil War.  President-elect James A. Garfield asked Hay to take the same job in early 1881 while Hay was staying at Wormley's Hotel, but Hay declined.  John Hay was later Secretary of State under Presidents William McKinley and Theodore Roosevelt.  (Library of Congress)

John Hay was one of President Abraham Lincoln’s private secretaries during the Civil War. President-elect James A. Garfield asked Hay to take the same job in early 1881, but Hay declined. John Hay was later Secretary of State under Presidents William McKinley and Theodore Roosevelt. (Library of Congress)

During his Presidency Garfield appointed several close black friends of Wormley to prominent federal appointments including Frederick Douglass, John M. Langston, and Blanche K. Bruce. The well known Post Office “Star Route Scandal” investigations originating under Garfield’s administration included an allegation that Henry Bowen attempted a $25,000 bribe while at the hotel. Garfield’s Postmaster Thomas L. James, charged by Garfield to clean out the corruption, was a Wormley’s patron and was honored at a banquet at the hotel on March 16, 1881 which was attended by members of the Cabinet and Supreme Court.

Garfield, as part of his pre-inauguration activities on the evening of March 3, 1881, spoke at the hotel to his fellow Williams College alumni and is quoted as saying, “…Tonight I am a private citizen. Tomorrow I shall be called to assume new responsibilities and, on the day after, the broadside of the world’s wrath will strike.”

For the next few months the new President would settle into his duties at the White House, which brings us to Saturday, July 2, 1881, the day of his shooting. After the attack by Charles J. Guiteau, the President was brought to the White House to minister to his wounds. Among the early attendees to the needs of the President was James Wormley. James had been known to be called to attend to the care of many prominent men of the 19th century including President Lincoln after his shooting and also to attend to his son Willie who had lain dying in the White House nearly 20 years earlier. According to many accounts Wormley also had been a “nurse” to political luminaries the likes of Clay, Calhoun, Webster, Sumner and many others. As likely the most famous caterer and nurse of his time, James was asked to care for the needs of Garfield as he lay attempting to recuperate from his wounds and the ministrations of his physicians in the White House.

A look at James A. Garfield's March 3, 1881 diary entry, in which he mentions Wormley's Hotel.  Garfield was inaugurated as President of the United States the next day.  (Library of Congress)

A look at James A. Garfield’s March 3, 1881 diary entry, in which he mentions Wormley’s Hotel. Garfield was inaugurated as President of the United States the next day. (Library of Congress)

According to an article in the New York Herald dated July 26, 1881, Wormley was immediately sought out to prepare the meals of the President by the attending physician, Dr. Willard Bliss. One of the foods most requested by the President was something called “beef tea.” This concoction was prepared from the finest tenderloin available. The meat was placed upon a broiling iron, not to cook but to sear the surface. It was then placed into a mechanical press provided from Wormley’s which compressed the meat with a pressure of 300-400 pounds until all the juices had been squeezed out of the steak. The juice or “tea” according to contemporary sources was one of the most nutritious foods provided to the President as he attempted to recuperate. Multiple news accounts, such as that in the Times Picayune on August 9, 1881, report that most of the foods provided for the suffering President came from Wormley’s farm and country homes on Pierce Mill Road on the outskirts of the city.

Despite the best care available and the aid of mechanical appliances devised by inventors like Alexander Graham Bell, the President died on September 19, 1881. Wormley, as an expression of his sorrow, commissioned a large white funerary bouquet in the shape of an angel holding a silver trumpet and about the size of a five year old child which was suspended above the coffin as the President lay in state.

The body was transported to Cleveland in a train from Washington with members of the family. It was followed approximately 20 minutes later by a train for dignitaries. This train was catered by James Wormley and his staff as it made its way to Cleveland. This catering for the train resulted in a bill for liquors, wines and lunches in an amount exceeding $1,700.00 and was the source of some consternation as reported in the Daily Globe on March 29, 1882.

Garfield’s Vice President and successor, Chester A. Arthur, had already been a patron of Wormley’s and that continued throughout his administration. One of the most important accomplishments of Garfield and, ultimately, Arthur was the viable creation of the Civil Service Commission. The first meetings of the Commission were held in the rooms of Chairman Dorman B. Eaton at Wormley’s.

Chester A. Arthur, a regular patron of Wormley's became president when James A. Garfield died on September 19, 1881.  (Library of Congress)

Chester A. Arthur, a regular patron of Wormley’s became president when James A. Garfield died on September 19, 1881. (Library of Congress)

James Wormley survived Garfield for only a few short years, dying from complications from surgery in Boston in 1884. It seems that both of these significant men would have survived but for the relatively primitive medical procedures undertaken on their behalf. Perhaps the scholarship around these two men will bring greater illumination to how the leader of the nation would have engaged in regular intercourse with a Black man in our nation’s capital over their twenty years of daily prominent existence within a few blocks of each other.

-Donet D. Graves, Esq., Volunteer Contributor

James A. Garfield and a Black Washingtonian, Part I

On Friday evening, July 1, 1881, Charles Guiteau was skulking on Lafayette Square opposite the White House, trying to find his best opportunity to carry out his crazed ambition: the death of President James A. Garfield. That evening, according to his own statement, Guiteau felt he had a splendid chance to achieve his objective. The President had come out of the White House alone and was walking north along the east side of the Square passing in front of the former Washington Club (which became the home of Lincoln’s Secretary of State William Seward) and the Dolley Madison House, where Gen. George B. McClellan lived for several months in 1861-62. Turning east on H Street the President walked the short distance to the next corner of 15th and H Street to the residence of Secretary of State James G. Blaine, which he entered.

Map showing the route President James A. Garfield took to Secretary Blaine's house the evening of July 1, 1881.  Charles Guiteau followed the President as he pondered the assassination attempt he would make the following day.  (Author's image)

Map showing the route President James A. Garfield took to Secretary Blaine’s house the evening of July 1, 1881. Charles Guiteau followed the President and pondered the assassination attempt he would make the following day. (Author’s image)

Guiteau following nearby, and after checking the readiness of his gun, took up a vantage point directly across the street by sitting on the front stoop of Wormley’s Hotel. This building was the flagship of African American entrepreneur James Wormley’s renowned hospitality enterprises in Washington.

This ca. 1884 image shows Wormley' Hotel and the approximate seat Guiteau occupied the evening of July 1, 1881.  (Author's image)

This ca. 1884 image shows Wormley’ Hotel and the approximate seat Guiteau occupied the evening of July 1, 1881. (Author’s image)

According to reportage in the New York Herald, Guiteau waited at this location for one half-hour for the President to emerge. Unfortunately for the assassin, the President came out of the house with Secretary Blaine, directly opposite where Guiteau was waiting in ambush. The two men walked arm-in-arm along the same path in the opposite direction taken by the President earlier that evening, returning to the White House. With Secretary Blaine on the left side of the President between the assassin and his target, it seemed that even after days of trailing the President, this would no longer be the optimum time for the attempt. Unfortunately the assassin did not have long to wait and completed his attack on the President the next day, Saturday July 2, at the Baltimore and Ohio railroad depot.

Interestingly, as we begin to report here, this was not the first occasion when the lives of this leader of the United States and his African American business acquaintance became intertwined. James Wormley’s reputation as a nurse, caterer and hotelier had already been widespread, both nationally and internationally, in the decade prior to the Civil War. Beginning with Buchanan’s administration James Wormley, the son of a free Black couple who had arrived in Washington in 1814, had operated a row of boarding houses and his restaurant from his properties on I Street NW between 15th and 16th Streets.  This location was just one block to the north of Lafayette Square just beyond St. John’s church (sometimes referred to as the President’s Church). At that time James’s businesses as a restaurateur and hotelier were in addition to his duties as the steward for the Washington Club on Lafayette Square during the 1850s. The patrons of this Club had included men like Jefferson Davis, Robert E. Lee, Charles Sumner, William Corcoran and some of the most powerful men from both the North and South.

Before he was president of the Confederacy, Jefferson Davis spent years in Washington, D.C. as a Senator and presidential cabinet member.  During those years, he was a frequent guest to Wormley's.  (

Before he was president of the Confederacy, Jefferson Davis spent years in Washington, D.C. as a Senator and presidential cabinet member. During those years, he was a frequent guest to Wormley’s. (History.com)

 

All the while, from its propitious location on I Street, Wormley’s had become one of the favorite places for the leading citizens of the capital city where they could find the finest accommodations and delicious food. Prior to the war General Winfield Scott had made those houses his Washington residence. In May 1860 Wormley was engaged to cater the first Japanese Commission to visit the United States on their trip to Washington aboard the Steamer Philadelphia from Old Point Comfort, Virginia. Once they left the capital he once again was engaged to have his staff attend to the culinary wishes of these foreign dignitaries as they proceeded to Philadelphia. As an illustration of the high regard for his accommodations, Senator Wigfall from Alabama had set up his household at Wormley’s in the winter of 1860 which was outlined in a book by his daughter. She described James’ boarding house as “… a synonym for delightful living and in even those days the acme of comfort”.

When General McClellan was living in the Dolley Madison House on Lafayette Square during his tenure as head of the Union Army he was a regular and frequent patron of James’s dining rooms. In a letter to his wife on August 23, 1861 the general told his wife: “We (the general and his staff) take our meals at Wormley’s, a colored gentleman who keeps a restaurant just around the corner on I St.” On November 20 of that year, in an article in the Evening Star, Col. John H. Forney gave a dinner there for about 50 gentlemen including the Secretary of War, several army generals, and John Hay and John Nicholay, the private secretaries to President Lincoln.

Like many of the nation’s prominent figures, while Garfield served in the House of Representatives he would also have likely partaken of Wormley’s hospitality. Members of the Cabinet, Justices of the Supreme Court, foreign delegations, artists, financiers and Congressmen would tend to come to this famous establishment to live, to eat some of the finest food available, to conduct private political meetings and to be seen at the “in” place in Washington. In September 1868 Wormley and his staff catered the wedding of Robert Todd Lincoln (Garfield’s future Secretary of War) and then, the next day, the wedding train to New York. Robert’s mother Mary and his brother Tad were also in attendance.

Robert Todd Lincoln was the only one of Abraham and Mary Lincoln's sons to survive to adulthood.  He was Secretary of War under President James A. Garfield and was in the building when Charles Guiteau shot the president on July 2, 1881.  Thriteen years before, James Wormley catered Robert Lincoln's wedding.  (Library of Congress)

Robert Todd Lincoln was the only one of Abraham and Mary Lincoln’s four sons to survive to adulthood. He was Secretary of War under President James A. Garfield and was in the building when Charles Guiteau shot the president on July 2, 1881. Thriteen years before, James Wormley catered Robert Lincoln’s wedding. (Library of Congress)

 

In 1869, after six years of living in Washington as a Congressional representative from Ohio, Garfield and his wife built a house just two blocks east of Wormley’s on I Street at the corner of 13th Street.  His Congressional colleagues from Ohio, Americus V. Rice and Frank H. Hurd, would spend some of their years in the city taking up residence at the hotel, additionally leading to the conjecture about the visits to Wormley’s from Garfield. His good friend, former Ohio governor Salmon P. Chase, who was also a customer and friend of Wormley, was named Treasury Secretary by Lincoln. In fact, James Wormley was frequently called upon to cater meals for several Cabinet members such as Gideon Welles, William H. Seward and Edward Bates. James Wormley was so fond of anti-slavery activist Chase that in 1872 he purchased the portrait of then Chief Justice Chase, which had been commissioned by Jay Cooke.

(Check back soon for Part II.)

-Donet D. Graves, Esq., Volunteer Contributor

Captain Henry of Geauga, Part II

Henry was always grateful to Congressman Garfield for the railroad job. It allowed him to earn a decent living and not worry too much about farming. He began to pay attention to men having conversations about politics, particularly those in Garfield’s district. Charles wrote letters to his friend reporting on what he heard and how it related to the Congressman. Before long Charles became Garfield’s political agent. He asked questions of local folks on their views of politics in general and on important issues of the day. This was a great help to Garfield who did not have the means to keep close tab on his constituents. Henry sent newspapers to Washington for Garfield to read and decide which editors were favorable to him. Anybody in Garfield’s district that wanted a postmaster job had to have an unofficial visit with Mr. Henry before being recommended.

In 1873 Charles got a promotion to special agent of the post office department. He got a significant raise, free railroad transportation, a gun, and three dollars a day for meals. His new job allowed him to settle disputes between postmasters, investigate people for mail fraud and stealing. His duties allowed him time to stop at various points in Garfield’s district and determine which way the political winds were blowing. He reported any areas where Garfield might be losing support and what to do about it. Charles visited men who supported Garfield to make certain they were doing their utmost to keep the Congressman in office.

Congressman James A. Garfield.  Charles Henry became an important politial advisor and operative for his former commanding officer.  (Library of Congress)

Congressman James A. Garfield. Charles Henry became an important political advisor and operative for his former commanding officer. (Library of Congress)

As special agent, Charles made about one arrest per month. He had a system for catching postal clerks who stole money out of envelopes. He would visit the post office suspected, usually wearing farm clothes so as not to arouse attention. When he had an idea who might be stealing he put several marked small bills, into two envelopes. He then addressed the envelopes for the next town on the route. Charles visited the intended post office and identified himself and alerted the postmaster to watch for the letters. He went back to the suspected post office, mailed the letters there and waited to see if they would arrive at their destination. If they did not he confronted the suspect, searched him and would find the marked money. He would make the arrest and escort the guilty party to the nearest United States marshal’s office.

Henry’s work for Congressman Garfield did not go unappreciated. In the summer of 1874 he visited the Garfields at their Washington home. Charles got a guided tour of all the sights including Mt. Vernon, Arlington and the Smithsonian. Later in the week Garfield took Charles to the White House for a visit with President Grant. His trips to Washington became more frequent, highlighted by an army reunion and dinner with General Phil Sheridan and Colonel George Custer.

Col. George Armstrong Custer.  Charles Henry met Custer, Gen. Philip Sheridan, and other notables during his summer 1874 visit to the Garfields' in Washington.  (Library of Congress)

Col. George Armstrong Custer. Charles Henry met Custer, Gen. Philip Sheridan, and other notables during his summer 1874 visit to the Garfields’ in Washington. (Library of Congress)

Throughout the 1870’s Charles kept a close watch on local and national politics. He counted on friends and political allies to get him inside information he could relay to Congressman Garfield. His most effective work came during Garfield’s bid for a seat in the Senate. Charles canvassed the entire state to determine how much support the candidate had. In February of 1879, Charles wrote to Garfield, “Everything looks hopeful to me and I shall be very much disappointed if you do not have a walkover.”

Soon he opened a campaign office in Columbus, handing out literature and cigars to members of the state legislature. By November he was able to report sixty-four of the ninety members were solidly behind Garfield. The actual election was unanimous, a complete victory. Charles spent only a paltry $148.60 on the campaign. When Garfield came to Columbus for his acceptance speech he grabbed his campaign manager in a bear hug and swung Charles around several times. He had done the same thing almost twenty years ago at the Hiram College graduation. Their friendship was as strong as could be.

James A. Garfield never served a day in the United States Senate. In June of 1880 he unexpectedly received the Republican nomination for President. He won the general election in November to become the 20th President of the United States. Once in office he did not hesitate to appoint Captain Charles Henry as United States Marshal to the District of Columbia. Charles officially took office in May, ready to rid the streets of Washington of all criminals. He had no inkling his first major assignment would be protecting Charles Guiteau, the assassin of President Garfield. Charles did his best to put aside his hatred of Guiteau and make sure his prisoner stayed alive during his confinement. There were two attempts to kill Guiteau along with a number of unsigned letters all swearing that the prisoner would be murdered at any moment.

Charles E. Henry as Marshal of the District of Columbia.  His old friend and commanding officer, President James A. Garfield, appointed him to this position.  (From the book "Captain Henry of Geauga")

Charles E. Henry as Marshal of the District of Columbia. His old friend and commanding officer, President James A. Garfield, appointed him to this position. (From the book “Captain Henry of Geauga”)

 

Charles managed to keep Guiteau healthy throughout his trial and all the way to the execution. How he kept his composure during the ordeal is a testament to his sense of duty and personal honor. Very few men have been put to the test like Marshal Henry.
With a new President in the White House Charles knew his time in office would be brief. He survived until November of 1882 when Chester Arthur dismissed him from service. He returned home to Bainbridge to once again take up farming. For several years he produced great quantities of maple syrup and wrote article for several newspapers. Charles enjoyed being home with his family, but farm life did not agree with him. He was quite relieved when a letter from Don Pardee, now a federal judge, arrived. Pardee employed him on behalf of the court to travel to Texas and investigate a railroad labor strike. The job took several years to complete and paid Charles several thousand dollars.

Due to his success in sorting out the railroad problems, other opportunities presented themselves. In December of 1892, attorneys Harry A. and James R. Garfield, the eldest sons of the late President, called on Charles to assist them in an embezzlement case. Their clients, a lumber company in Cleveland had lost $20,000 to one of their agents in Philadelphia. The alleged embezzler Harpin A. Botsford, pocketed company receipts and fled to Brazil where there was no extradition agreement with the United States. The Garfields believed Charles had the skills to track down the fugitive. All he had to work with was a photo of the suspect and a sample of his handwriting.
On Christmas Eve Charles boarded a steamer out of New York. His initial destination was Rio de Janeiro, a place where felons where known to frequent. After twenty-six days at sea Charles arrived in port. He immediately paid a call on the American consulate who filed the necessary paperwork for Charles to make the arrest. The Brazilian government agreed to allow Charles to take the fugitive out of Brazil should he find the culprit.

The detective work began in earnest. Charles showed the photo to a number of locals. One of the men recognized Botsford and told Charles the man in the photo was said to be on his way to Sao Paulo to buy a coffee plantation. Captain Henry located the office of a United States coffee broker who gave another positive identification of the photo. The broker knew that the suspect, now using the name H. B. Ford was on the move. Charles boarded the first train to Sao Paulo, arriving fifteen hours later.

Now hot on the trail, Charles visited the town hotels and reviewed the guest registers. At his third stop he found the name H. B. Ford, December 27, 1892. The trail was burning up. A walk to the local coffee warehouse found a worker from Scotland who had seen Mr. Ford. Charles learned through his new friend that the suspect had gone north on a narrow road to the back country. The two men boarded the only train running and arrived at a small village some twenty miles north.

Charles E. Henry around 1900.  This is the last known photo of him.  He died in November 1906.  (From the book "Captain Henry of Geauga")

Charles E. Henry around 1900. This is the last known photo of him. He died in November 1906. (From the book “Captain Henry of Geauga”)

The trip turned out to be well worth the effort. Mr. Ford had been there less than a week ago. Charles learned that Botsford/Ford had hired a guide and rented mules to take him further north. They were no more than twenty miles away. Captain Henry hired the same guide to take him where he might find the fugitive. They traveled slowly through the dense, tropical forest. The road was quite rough, forcing them to dismount their mules and lead them forward. Despite encountering groups of monkeys and the occasional snake, Charles arrived at Jacutinga where his adversary was hiding. He drew both of his revolvers and moved forward.

It had been almost thirty years since Charles had worn his Union uniform but he quickly fell back to soldier mode. Ford opened his front door carrying a revolver and a machete in his boot. He looked curiously at Charles who marched up the steps, grabbed the revolver and machete and advised Ford he was under arrest. They mounted the mules and started south for the long journey that would take them back to the United States. The trip took several months, not arriving in home until April 2, 1893. For his efforts Charles received $2,000 plus extensive coverage in the newspapers.

Due to his remarkable adventure, Charles received a job offer from the American Surety Company to serve as an inspector. He continued to bring embezzlers and thieves to justice for a number of years. He did some farming, spent time with his family and kept in touch with old friends from the 42nd OVI. His eyesight began to fail and his heart weakened but Charles carried on into the 20th century. Six years later he passed away on November 3, 1906. He was seventy years old.

Captain Charles Henry was an extraordinary man: soldier, political ally, lawman, and dedicated family man. His strength of character and honesty brought him to a plateau few men occupy.

-Scott Longert, Park Guide

Mollie Garfield’s Commemorative Coin

Displayed in the Visitor Center (the converted Carriage House) at James A. Garfield National Historic Site is a beautiful coin donated by Mollie Garfield, daughter of President and Mrs. James A. Garfield.

The coin is an 1881 Morgan Silver dollar. The Morgan dollars were minted from 1878 until 1904 and again in 1921. They were minted in five different U.S. mints: Denver (D), Philadelphia (no mint mark), New Orleans (O), Carson City (CC), and San Francisco (S). They were designed by George T. Morgan and hence named after him. These were the only dollar coins minted throughout this period and were often given as keepsakes (and still are today).  Many wives of soldiers gave one to their husbands to take to war or wherever else they went.  However, few Morgan dollars are ever engraved as Mollie’s is.  Her coin is engraved with the exact date it was minted: September 19, 1881, the day of her father’s death.

This specially-minted coin was given to Mollie Garfield to honor her father's life and commemorate his death.  It was struck on September 19, 1881, the day her father died.  (NPS photo)

This specially-minted coin was given to Mollie Garfield to honor her father’s life and commemorate his death. It was struck on September 19, 1881, the day her father died. (NPS photo)

Mary (Mollie) Garfield was born January 16, 1867, one of seven children born to James and Lucretia Garfield.  She was one of the five Garfield children who lived to adulthood (sister Eliza and brother Edward both died at an early age).  She was raised in Ohio and Washington, D.C. and in 1888, seven years after her father’s death, she married Joseph Stanley-Brown, former personal secretary to President Garfield.  She and her husband eventually settled in Pasadena, California.  Mollie died in 1947 at age 80. 

Of the five Garfield children that survived to adulthood, Mollie was the only daughter.  She and her father were very close.  (Western Reserve Historical Society)

Of the five Garfield children that survived to adulthood, Mollie was the only daughter. She and her father were very close. (Western Reserve Historical Society)

Though this was a specially-engraved, one-time coin to commemorate President James A. Garfield’s death, other coins have been minted to mark former presidents’ deaths. The most common of these coins is the John F. Kennedy half-dollar. The coin was proposed a month after President Kennedy’s assassination and the bill to strike the coin was quickly passed.  Jacqueline Kennedy, President Kennedy’s widow, was given the choice to have her late husband’s portrait on the half-dollar, dollar, or quarter.  She chose the half-dollar, replacing Benjamin Franklin’s likeness on the coin.  The first Kennedy half-dollars were struck in 1964 and are still being struck today.

While the death of a president is important, so is his birth.  This is exemplified by the Lincoln cent, first introduced in 1909 on the centennial of Lincoln’s birth.  When these cents were first introduced, the back of the coin depicted two pieces of wheat.  This was changed to an image of the Lincoln Memorial in 1959 during the sesquicentennial of Lincoln’s birth.  In 2009, to honor the bicentennial, the U.S. Mint produced four different backs on the penny showing Lincoln during four different stages of his life.  The first features a log cabin, representing his birth and early childhood in Kentucky.  Second is his formative years in Indiana, showing him sitting on a log.  Next, his professional life in Illinois is interpreted with an image of Lincoln in front of the Illinois State Capitol.  Finally, the U.S. Capitol represents his presidency.

Though President Garfield never had a coin (other than Mollie’s) struck to honor his death or birth, he is depicted on one coin.  The new gold dollars depict former presidents, starting with George Washington in 2007.  Four coins were released each year, with Garfield, the 20th President, going into circulation in late 2011.

The James A. Garfield presidential dollar was officially released into circulation at a November 17, 2011 ceremony held at James A. Garfield National Historic Site.  (U.S. Treasury image)

The James A. Garfield presidential dollar was officially released into circulation at a November 17, 2011 ceremony held at James A. Garfield National Historic Site. (U.S. Treasury image)

Coins can be looked at in one of two ways. The first is looking at them purely as forms of currency. The second is one that coin collectors and a few others can understand and appreciate. This is looking at coins as pieces of history, things that will be preserved for many years honoring an important person or occasion. This is the way I view my coins, and perhaps the next time someone hands you change, you will consider yours in the same light.

-Samuel Fuller, age 17, Cleveland, Ohio-Volunteer Contributor

The First Lady and the Queen: Two Women Brought Together by Tragedy

In the 1880s two notable women shared a bond that resulted from personal tragedy. One was a Head of State, Queen Victoria of Great Britain; the other was the wife of the Head of State, the American First Lady, Lucretia Garfield. On the surface, their lives did not suggest that the two women had much in common, but a closer look at their early married lives and later actions as widows demonstrates that similar conditions produced similar responses to their roles as the spouses of notable men.

Lucretia Rudolph met James A. Garfield at the Geauga Seminary in Chesterland, Ohio. The friendship which began there blossomed into a courtship at the Western Reserve Eclectic Institute (now Hiram College). A long engagement, and then marriage, followed. Both were 26 years old when they married in the home of Lucretia’s parents in Hiram on November 11, 1858. The first years of the Garfield marriage were difficult due to long separations; Lucretia later referred to these as “the dark years.” Garfield served in the Union army during the Civil War and was stricken more than once with illness; at one point he came home to recuperate. It was during this recovery in Ohio that their relationship finally began to improve and strengthen. In these early years of marriage, Lucretia bore first a girl, Eliza Arabella, and then a son, Harry. The death of “Little Trot,” and the birth of “the boy” drew Lucretia and her husband closer together.

This photo of James A. Garfield and Lucretia Rudolph was taken around the time of their engagement.  (Western Reserve Historical Society)

This photo of James A. Garfield and Lucretia Rudolph was taken around the time of their engagement. (Western Reserve Historical Society)

Likewise, some uncertainty plagued the heart of the young British Queen. Victoria was just 18 in June 1837 when she ascended to the throne of the United Kingdom. It was expected that Victoria would marry and produce an heir to the throne. The family hoped that she would marry her German-born cousin, Albert, Prince of Saxe-Coburg. Initially, Victoria did not want to marry Albert, but her feelings changed over time, and she confessed in her diary: “Oh, when I look in those lovely, lovely blue eyes, I feel they are those of an angel.” They married on February 10, 1840.

James and Lucretia had seven children; Victoria and Albert, nine. All of the children of Victoria and Albert lived into adulthood; five of the Garfield children did. However, all of these surviving children lived to see the early death of their father.

Prince Albert’s untimely death took place on December 14, 1861. He was just 42. He had long suffered from ill health. The exact cause of his death has been variously ascribed to typhoid fever or kidney failure. The Queen and five of their nine children were at Prince Albert’s bedside when he died. By the time of his death, Albert had become an indispensable support to the Queen. His death sent her into a deep mourning that lasted the rest of her life. Public grief resulted in the construction of many memorials to Albert, most notably Royal Albert Hall.

Prince Albert died in 1861 at the young age of 42, sending his wife into a deep mourning.  Queen Victoria never remarried and mourned her husband's death for the next 40 years.  (Wikepedia)

Prince Albert died in 1861 at the young age of 42, sending his wife into a deep mourning. Queen Victoria never remarried and mourned her husband’s death for the next 40 years. (Wikepedia)

The death of President Garfield in 1881 moved the Queen, who never ceased mourning the loss of her own husband. On September 25, 1881, the day before President Garfield’s massive funeral in Cleveland, Queen Victoria wrote a letter to Lucretia Garfield. “I have anxiously watched,” she wrote, “the long, and fear at times, painful sufferings of your valiant husband and shared in the fluctuations between hope and fear, the former of which decreased about two months ago, and greatly to preponderate over the latter- and above all I fell in deeply for you!” As a gesture of her deep sorrow for Mrs. Garfield and the people of the United States, the Queen sent a large wreath of white tuberose to the funeral. The wreath was placed on the President’s casket as his body lay in state in Washington, D.C. and during his funeral in Cleveland.

Lucretia Garfield was so touched by this gesture and the Queen’s handwritten note that she sought to preserve the wreath (along with many other funeral flowers and artifacts) after the funeral. She sent it to Chicago to be preserved using a wax treatment. Today, visitors to James A. Garfield National Historic Site can see the wreath displayed in the Memorial Library vault.

Queen Victoria sent this floral wreath and a handwritten letter of sympathy to Lucretia Garfield after the president's death.  The wreath was on Garfield's casket throughout the lying in state and funeral.  Today, visitors to James A. Garfield National Historic Site see it in the Memorial Library vault.  (NPS photo)

Queen Victoria sent this floral wreath and a handwritten letter of sympathy to Lucretia Garfield after the president’s death. The wreath was on Garfield’s casket throughout the lying in state and funeral. Today, visitors to James A. Garfield National Historic Site see it in the Memorial Library vault. (NPS photo)

Ironically, the Queen and her husband were both 42 at the time of his death, and Mrs. Garfield and the President were both 49 when he died. Queen Victoria and Lucretia Garfield would each live nearly 40 years after their husbands’ deaths. The Garfield’s oldest child, Harry, was nearly eighteen, and their youngest, Abram, was almost nine when their father died. Princess Victoria was 20 years old at the time of her father’s death; the youngest princess, Beatrice, was just eight.

The Queen, monarch of one of the world’s richest empires, entered widowhood with the advantage of not having to worry about her family’s finances. Though she had more domestic help available to her to assist with her large family, as Queen she had the added burden of ruling the British Empire.

Queen Victoria around 1887, twenty-six years after her husband's death and six years after the death of President Garfield.  (Wikipedia)

Queen Victoria around 1887, twenty-six years after her husband’s death and six years after the death of President Garfield. (Wikipedia)

Conversely, though relieved of her public role, Lucretia Garfield was faced with the daunting task of providing her young family both emotional and financial support. She moved back to the Mentor home and competently managed the family farm while raising and guiding her young children. A public subscription fund was started for the Garfields which eventually raised around $350,000. These funds, which would equal about $8 million today, allowed Lucretia Garfield to make a number of improvements to her Mentor property and home, including constructing the Memorial Library.

For both women, preserving their husband’s memories was very important. Queen Victoria left untouched several of the rooms Prince Albert had used. For the rest of her life, she also had a set of his clothes placed on his bed every day. In her Mentor home, Lucretia Garfield decided to leave the President’s office (what she called “the General’s snuggery”) the way he had left it when they moved into the White House – with few exceptions. Her most meaningful change was this: she had the words “In Memoriam” carved into the wood over the fireplace. “In Memoriam,” by Alfred, Lord Tennyson was their favorite poem.

In a new addition to the home, Lucretia Garfield also went to work on cataloging and organizing her husband’s papers, which covered his nearly 20-year public career. The papers were eventually stored in the Memorial Library vault that still holds the Queen Victoria wreath. (Garfield’s papers, stored in the vault for about 50 years, now reside in the Library of Congress.)

Lucretia Rudolph Garfield was just 49 when her her husband died.  She lived another 37 years, dying in March 1918.  This photo was taken around 1881, the year in which she was briefly First Lady and in which her husband was assassinated.  (Library of Congress)

Lucretia Rudolph Garfield was just 49 when her her husband died. She lived another 37 years, dying in March 1918. This photo was taken around 1881, the year in which she was briefly First Lady and in which her husband was assassinated. (Library of Congress)

After President Garfield died, his wife and others began to work on a proper memorial to serve as his final resting place in Cleveland’s Lake View Cemetery. A large fundraising campaign ensued that eventually raised $135,000 to build the massive and beautiful Garfield Memorial, dedicated on Memorial Day 1890. Mollie Garfield, the only surviving daughter of the couple, wrote this in her diary after her father’s death: “It is something really beautiful to see how much the people had gotten to love Papa through his sickness.  He would be deeply touched.” The President’s remains were moved into the Memorial, and Lucretia’s remains were placed by his side following her death on March 13, 1918.

When Prince Albert died in 1861, he was entombed in the Frogmore Royal Mausoleum in Windsor, Berkshire, England. Queen Victoria joined him there after her death on January 22, 1901.

Prince Albert and Queen Victoria lie together in the masoleum at Frogmore.  Other British royals are buried and entombed here as well.  (www.telegraph.co.uk)

Prince Albert and Queen Victoria’s remains lie together in the Royal Mausoleum at Frogmore. Other British royals are buried and entombed here as well. (www.telegraph.co.uk)

In the prime of life, few are prepared for the death of a spouse. Mrs. Garfield and Queen Victoria, though, met the challenges that faced them. In their private lives as widows, they raised their young, fatherless children by themselves; they devoted themselves to keeping the memories of their husbands alive for themselves, their families, and the public; and they both mourned the loss of their beloved husbands for the rest of their lives.

James and Lucretia Garfield's remains lie together in the Garfield Monument in Cleveland's Lake View Cemetery.  The urns in front hold the remains of their daughter, Mollie, and her husband, Joseph Stanley-Brown.  (www.midwestguest.com)

James and Lucretia Garfield’s remains lie together in the Garfield Monument in Cleveland’s Lake View Cemetery. The urns in front hold the remains of their daughter, Mollie, and her husband, Joseph Stanley-Brown, who had been Garfield’s private secretary during his 1880 campaign and his 200-day presidency. (www.midwestguest.com)

-Rebecca Hayward, Volunteer

“My Dear Mrs. Garfield”: Condolence Letters to Lucretia Garfield after the President’s Death, Part II

Is it not true that whenever someone dies, those who survive recall that person in life, remember some incident involving their own interaction with the deceased, and offer some compliment and kind words? These remembrances and kindnesses are offered in person and also in writing. So it was when James Abram Garfield died.

At a time when “the President” was not seen or reported on to the the degree that is seen today, and when Congress was the more influential branch of the federal government, the writers of these letters accord great respect for office Mrs. Garfield’s husband held, as well as for the man himself.

This image shows Lucretia Garfield (seated, center left) with her children and mother-in-law on the porch of the family's Mentor, Ohio home.  The empty chair symbolizes the loss of James A. Garfield, which was of course deeply felt by the family, but by the country as well.  (Lake County Historical Society)

This image shows Lucretia Garfield (seated, center left) with her children and mother-in-law on the porch of the family’s Mentor, Ohio home. The empty chair symbolizes the loss of James A. Garfield, which was of course deeply felt by the family, but by the country as well. (Lake County Historical Society)

Among those who wrote to Mrs. Garfield were three men who each had unique experiences of her husband. Their letters follow.

Mrs. J.A. Garfield

About three years ago, a gentleman came into the store where I was employed, and asked me if I could fit him to a hat. I told him I could. I put one on a size larger than he wore. Then he wanted to be fitted to a silk hat, but I told him I could not as I had none large enough, but could have one made for him. After taking the shape of his head, I held up his conform, and made the remark, “You have a very large head; the same size of Daniel Webster, and it is so regular and well-shaped, I cannot keep speaking to you about it; with that head, you are capable of doing anything you undertake, and of occupying any position in the world. You are a ten talent man.”

He then asked me twice if I knew his name. I told him I did not; well you can imagine my surprise, when he gave his name as Gen. Garfield of Ohio, and wished to know mine. He then told me he had just come from Maine, and felt a little blue over the defeat of the Republicans. I being a brother mason tried to cheer him up a little, by assuring him that the State of Massachusetts would go Republican…

He took me by the hand and said, “I am happy to have met you…” In the evening I carried him his hat, which he was very much pleased with. He then invited me to ride with him in his carriage to Faneuil Hall, where he was to address the Young Republicans of the State of Mass. And it was an able speech (as usual). On leaving him, he made me a promise, that if he ever came to Boston, he would call and see me. And I did look forward with so much pleasure when I might meet with him again… It would have been a privilege to have presented him with as good a silk hat as I make; for I so valued his Friendship and thought so much of his greeting to me, a stranger and a salesman.

Robinson's notation of James A. Garfield's hat size, as mentioned in his condelence letter to Mrs. Garfield.  (Library of Congress)

A.M. Robinson’s notation of James A. Garfield’s hat size, as mentioned in his condelence letter to Mrs. Garfield. (Library of Congress)

…I considered it such an honor to have met so great and good a man. I little thought then that he would be President or the fate that awaited him… I never shall forget him.

A. M. Robinson

Boston, Oct. 19th 1881

(Notation on the reverse blank side of the page: “Gen. Garfield size 7 5/8 Full”)

The Reverend Peter P. Cooney, a Roman Catholic priest recalled for Mrs. Garfield his introduction to General Garfield during the Civil War and the pleasure of their meeting again in the White House a few days after the President’s inauguration on March 4, 1881.

Dear Madam:

I beg leave to send you lines of condolence to the afflicted wife of him whom I have always held in the highest esteem – Jas. A. Garfield – late President of the United States, & whose virtues & merit I tried to express in an address delivered in South Bend, Ind., Sept. 26th, 1881 – the day appointed for his obsequies.

… It is now, Dear Madam, just one month since he died; & what a month of affliction & sorrow it must been to you! But God’s holy will must be done.

It is nearly nineteen years since I formed the acquaintance of Gen. Garfield. Until his inauguration as President, I never met him but once, viz. – at one of the meetings of the “Society of the Army of the Cumberland,” held in Cleveland. I then had only a few minutes conversation with him. But I always watched his Course, with much anxiety & pleasure.

And when he was inaugurated as President of the United States – to the great delight of his countrymen, I made it my duty to be present at Washington on that occasion – to share in his & your delight. I tried to get an audience with him, on Saturday, March 5th – but I could not on account of the Crowd that sought admittance to the “White House.” I waited then, until Tuesday, March the 8th, when I was more successful. I [then] had the pleasure of Congratulating Gen. Garfield & yourself in the large parlor of the President’s Mansion. You will perhaps recall the Circumstances on account of the peculiarity of my dress, compared with the others.

The President, after warmly shaking my hand, turned to you & said, “This is Rev. Father Cooney who was Chaplain, when I was Chief of Staff with Gen. Rosecrans.”

Lithography of Chaplain Cooney conducting a mass for the Army of the Cumberland during the Civil War.  Cooney was a chaplain during the time Gen. James A. Garfield was the Army of the Cumberland's chief of staff.  (Library of Congress)

Lithography of Chaplain P.P. Cooney conducting a mass for the Army of the Cumberland during the Civil War. Cooney was a chaplain during the time Gen. James A. Garfield was the Army of the Cumberland’s chief of staff. (Library of Congress)

Little did we then think that we would be called upon, so soon, to mourn his irreparable loss. But I hope your loss is his gain.

That day I will fondly cherish, as one of the pleasant memories of my life. Oh! How fleeting are the pleasures of this life. But, have Confidence in God. He will protect & Console you in the midst of your affliction, & aid you in rearing your children who inherit his name & fame.

The glory of being the wife of such a husband falls to the lot of but few women in this world.

I send you a printed copy of my address & the comments of the South Bend Tribune, whose editor was an officer in the army of the Cumberland, and therefore who knew Gen. Garfield well. I know it will be gratifying to you to read what others say of one you loved so sincerely. Notre Dame University is just two miles from South Bend.

Please present my condolence to the good mother of the late President. She will doubtless find much consolation in the thought that she was the mother of such a son.

With deep esteem & compassion, I am, Dear Mrs. Garfield, your humble servant.

P. P. Cooney, C.S.C.*

Notre Dame, Ind., Oct. 19th, 1881

* The Reverend Peter P. Cooney was born in Roscommon County, Ireland in 1822, and educated at Notre Dame University in Indiana, and St. Mary’s Seminary, Baltimore. Ordained in 1857, he became Chaplain of the 35th regiment, Indiana Volunteers. He was pastor of St. Patrick’s in South Bend from 1865-1871 and then served in various missions. He died in 1905. The initials C.S.C. stand for “Congragatio a Sancta Cruce” – in English, “Congregation of the Holy Cross.” This order, which founded Notre Dame University, is popularly known as the Holy Cross Fathers.

Chaplain P.P. Cooney during the Civil War.  He wrote a heartfelt letter of condolence to Mrs. Garfield after President Garfield's death.  (Library of Congress)

Catholic Chaplain Peter P. Cooney during the Civil War. He wrote a heartfelt letter of condolence to Mrs. Garfield after President Garfield’s death. (Library of Congress)

Recalling with evident pride and in great detail his correspondence with candidate Garfield, Rodolphus Bard, conjures up the campaigns of 1860 and 1880 in the following letter to Mrs. Garfield.

Mrs. Lucretia R. Garfield, Mentor, O

Respected Friend,

Please accept renewed assurances of our tender regard, and sympathy with yourself and family, in the almost overwhelming sorrow and affliction, through which you have been called to pass, and which comes with such crushing weight to all of our hearts in the death and sufferings of your beloved husband, our deeply lamented President James A. Garfield.

My very pleasant though limited acquaintance with him commenced in 1859, while still a resident of my native state, Ohio, and it was my privilege to attend the meeting at Kent, O when he was nominated for state senate. And afterwards, with two brothers to attend school at Hiram, and need I refer to the fact that such was the influence of that great, good man over the students (as teacher and Christian gentleman) that the diaries kept by the brothers are all aglow with kindly thoughts and inspirations received, while at Hiram.

I am proud to say that ever since Gen. G. entered the political field I have watched his career with the deepest interest, and was therefore not surprised at his nomination at Chicago. I had been impressed with the fact long before that the Almighty was not lavish with his gifts of such men to the world, and especially in political life, in our legislative halls.

It afforded me great pleasure to renew my acquaintance with him last year, and to contribute what little influence I could to secure his election, and among the mementos I most highly prize are form letters I received from him (which I shall have framed and keep for my children in memory of him) two of which were in relation to an incident in his life at Hiram that occurred during the Lincoln campaign in 1860, in which Gen. Garfield became master of ceremonies and made a grand success of what others had failed to perform.

I refer to the pole raising at a mass meeting at Hiram, Aug. 30, 1860. And I wish to say that this act, should it find a place in his biography, as I trust you will permit it to do – must forever form a golden link between the names of our martyred presidents, Lincoln and Garfield.

The interior of the Garfield Monument in Cleveland's Lake View Cemetery.  This monument is the final resting place of President James A. Garfield, who death led to so many condolence letters to Lucretia Garfield.  Mrs. Garfield joined her husband in this monument after her death in March 1918.  (www.brentdurken.com)

The interior of the Garfield Monument in Cleveland’s Lake View Cemetery. This monument is the final resting place of President James A. Garfield, who death led to so many condolence letters to Lucretia Garfield. Mrs. Garfield joined her husband in this monument after her death in March 1918. (www.brentdurken.com)

Herewith I enclose the article, and as I love and desire to see his name honored and perpetuated, as it will be through all time, growing brighter as the ages roll, may I not have the kindly assurance from you that this which he hath done may be recorded also for a memorial of him, As you will see by his appended letter, he remembered well the circumstance, and this letter was the last one he wrote before his trip to New York in July 1880, as he told me on his return home when passing through Meadville. He also spoke of the article to Hon. S. B. Dick our congressman & to the Hon. E. B. Taylor in a kindly manner, and they in turn to me. Would add, that last summer when at Hiram it was proposed to erect a Garfield pole on the 21st of last Aug. (Prof. Barber having sent me a poster. I wrote to him & also to Gen. Garfield asking or suggesting that they fix the date for the 30th, which would make it just 20 years from the Lincoln pole raising, and to make a grand affair of it. I received from Gen. Garfield in reply a kindly letter as follows.

Mentor, O. Aug. 14, 1880

My Dear Sir

Yours of the 12th inst. is received. I wish your suggestion could be carried out, and the pole raising fixed for the 30th inst. instead of the 21st. I fear however, that it may now be too late, but as you have written there you will soon know.

Your suggestion is an excellent one, and I shall be glad if it prevails.

Very Truly Yours

J.A. Garfield

You will see from his first and second letters on this subject, and from the fact when I furnished him a copy of the enclosed article before he left New York, with the permission to use as he saw fit, and from the fact that the Cleveland Herald obtained it from Mentor and published it just as started for New York, all goes to show that he thought kindly of and appreciated the record of the Hiram incident of 1860.

The thought has just occurred to me that whereas Gen. Garfield was deeply interested in Hiram College and that should Prof. Hinsdale complete the Biography of the Gen. that he could use the enclosed article to advantage, in that connection – and also use it as a cornerstone on which to establish a Memorial Hall as an enduring monument to the memory of our martyred Presidents – Garfield and Lincoln. For here their names were united in history, and in death they were not divided. For the friends of both (and they are legion) to raise an enduring monument on this spot made sacred 21 years ago, would seem to be a fitting thing to do. For here as elsewhere, though often attempted – the enemy could never spike his guns. Please excuse me for addressing you at such length and in such a familiar way, but I assure you, as I was proud of, and deeply interested in the promotion of, and eminence to which Gen. Garfield attained, and while we mingle our tears in sadness over his untimely death, I also feel a deep interest in all that goes on record, and that will enter into history concerning this great scholar, soldier, and statesman, and desire that his name in history may shine the brighter, even though I may be permitted to add but “one flower to the chaplet.”

Having lived for his country, died because of his firm convictions of duty, and a principle, leaving the impress of a noble Christian life upon a world acknowledging his greatness & goodness; His name [?] is secure. What grander conquest?

Noticing by the Cleveland papers today that you would have a few of the flowers from the Catafalque to distribute among friends. Will I as to [sic] much to request that a few small flowers be sent me as a memento, to be kept in memory with the Generals [sic] letters I now have. Again asking your pardon, and assuring you of our sympathy and high regard

I am with great respect, Yours, etc.

Rodophus Bard

Meadville, Pa. Oct. 17, 1881

Like the assassination of President Kennedy fifty years ago, President Garfield’s assassination continued to resonate for individual Americans into the next generation, as seen in this letter, sent to the former First Lady by John H. Schauk.

April 22, 1904

Dear Mrs. Garfield

The rare beauty of the enclosed poem makes one wish that you might see it… It is from the pen and poetic soul of the late D. L. Paine, an editorial writer of Indianapolis, who always thought his friends admired his poems only because they loved him. He therefore had none of them preserved in permanent form.

A friend rescued this and a few others…

Most respectfully and truly yours

John H. Shauck

At Elberon

If through the portals opening toward the light

E’er walked a man in armor clean and bright

That man, untrammeled, outward passed last night

From Elberon.

Firm-lipped, clear-eyed, clean-souled, he met his fate

Leaving behind no rancor and no hate,

And strode, high-browed, undaunted through the gate

At Elberon.

In deeds resplendent and in honor bright,

In high example shining as the light

He lives immortal, he who died last night

At Elberon.

Sept. 20, 1881.

-Alan Gephardt, Park Ranger

“My Dear Mrs. Garfield”: Condolence Letters to Lucretia Garfield After the President’s Death, Part I

A few years ago, while examining the papers of Lucretia Garfield at the Library of Congress, I came across hundreds of condolence letters to Mrs. Garfield. They came from people of all walks of life, and from many parts of the world. To read the letters is to be struck by the sentiments that are repeated over and over again. Writers were frequently sensible of intruding on Mrs. Garfield’s privacy. Phrases like the following appear repeatedly:

“My object in trespassing on your notice…”

“Pardon my intrusion…”

“I almost tremble at the thought of intruding upon your time…”

“Pardon the liberty I have taken in addressing you…”

“I beg you will pardon this unwarrantable liberty in addressing you…”

“I know it is wrong to trouble you in your great sorrow…”

“Hoping you will not deem it an impertinence…”

James A. Garfield, President of the United States for just 200 days in 1881.  He was the second president to be assassinated in office,, and his administration was the second-shortest in American history.  William Henry Harrison was president for just one month in 1841 before dying.(Library of Congress)

James A. Garfield, President of the United States for just 200 days in 1881. He was the second president to be assassinated in office, and his administration was the second-shortest in American history. William Henry Harrison was president for just one month in 1841 before dying.(Library of Congress)

Other themes that weave their way throughout the letters of condolence are President Garfield’s suffering, his fine character, and his eternal fame:

“Having lived for his country, died because of his firm convictions to duty and a

principle…”

“…for here their names [Lincoln’s and Garfield’s] were united in history…”

“…my great sorrow at the death of the Good, the Noble, and the Brave, the

Beloved President…”

“No one admired your noble husband more than myself…”

“…the name of Garfield [will be] to be a restraint on faction, and an incentive

to high and noble aims…”

“His sufferings have tried us all as in a fire, God grant we may come out

refined.”

“…he grew up to be a good man and always did his duty.”

“accept…[this] token of sympathy and sorrow for a good and great man…”

“We were satisfied with President Garfield and confident in the belief that his

administration would have given us peace and quiet.”

Of course, many contain strong spiritual or religious imagery and expressions of faith. Others ask for mementoes from the funerals, or for autographs of Mrs. Garfield, her husband, her daughter, and Grandma. Many letter writers offer Mrs. Garfield assistance, and others ask for her help.

Lucretia Rudolph Garfield was just 49 when her her husband died.  She lived another 37 years, dying in March 1918.  (Library of Congress)

Lucretia Rudolph Garfield was just 49 when her husband died. She lived another 37 years, dying in March 1918. (Library of Congress)

Here is a small sampling of the many letters received by Lucretia Garfield. For ease of reading, spelling and punctuation have been corrected.

Winfield, West Va.

Sep 24th 1881

Dear Mrs. Garfield,

This morning while reading one of the many accounts of our dear President’s heroism and noble forbearance in his long illness, together with the feelings I have for some time been trying to control, so overcame me that I thought I would write and tell you how very, very much I felt for you in your deep affliction. I am a little girl twelve years old but I think you will receive my heartfelt sympathy.

I have not offered a single prayer I believe since our President was first shot but that the first and foremost petition was for his recovery. But our Father’s will be done for He knows best. We know that our Dear President has gone from our love, to the love of God and his angels. My papa and mama do not know that I have written this but I felt I must do it.

Your sincere little friend

Josey McLean

Another girl, Violet Markam,* composed the following letter:

Tapton House

Chesterfield[England]

September 23rd 1881

May a little English girl tell Mrs. Garfield how sorry she is to hear of the good President’s death? I have read in the “Girl’s own paper” how good he was when he was a little boy, and how he grew up to be a good man and always did his duty. We are all so sorry for you here, and our Queen is very sorry for you too. I hope a wicked bad man won’t shoot her. I send you my love, though I don’t know you. A book of mine, “The Lame Prince” says love always consoles.

Violet Markham

Accepting God’s will is expressed in letter after letter.

Sep 23

But oh! How sad today. The heavens weep and our tears fall over our dear departed Leader, but our loss is his gain. And Dear Mrs. Garfield … let us prove faithful & true to our Heavenly Father. Then we shall have a joyful meeting with Jesus & our dear friends in glory the beautiful home God has prepared for his people.

May God lead, bless, & protect you as a family

Yours with much love

Hattie E. Woodard

Please forgive me if I have done wrong in writing to you. I am a poor country woman.

Mrs. A. A. Woodard

Talbotton Ga

Sept 20. 1881

Mrs. James A. Garfield

My Dear Madam

I sympathize very deeply with you & family in the loss of your noble great and good husband, General James Abram Garfield – but we have a great consolation in the belief that our loss is his eternal gain, for he was a good man, & loved the “meek & lowly Jesus.” I prayed often while he was sick for his recovery but the good Lord has taken him home, where we hope to meet him.

With highest regards &

Best wishes for yourself

I am your Obedient Servant

A.P. Watts, an Ex Confederate Soldier

The next letter, written on September 24, two days before Mr. Garfield’s Cleveland funeral, expressed the hope that had the President lived, reconciliation between the North and the South might have been achieved.

Mrs. Garfield and family,

…Coming from a section politically opposed to your late husband, we hope that you may the more fully recognize our deep sorrow and that our offering [a floral tribute] may be none the less acceptable and that it may in a small way bring the people of the two sections closer and more intimate, which we had fondly hoped would be one of the results of your good husband’s administration.

Again assuring you of our deep regret we are

Very Respectfully

Lounsbery, Hidden & Campbell

This letter was sent to Mrs. Garfield from Chiltern Hills school in England.

This letter was sent to Mrs. Garfield from Chiltern Hills, a school in southeast England, and concerned the Garfields’ daughter Mollie.  (Library of Congress)

Mrs. Garfield’s correspondents also offered assistance. Annie L. Watson, a teacher at Chiltern Hills, a school located in southeast England, suggested that Mollie Garfield be sent there to resume a normal life.

Chiltern Hills

Sept 23rd 1881

My dear Mrs. Garfield

At this moment when our thoughts are so much with you and yet so powerless to give you any evidence of our sympathy, it seemed to open the way yesterday when a member of my family said, “I wish Mrs. Garfield’s daughter could come here so that we might try to comfort her” and the wish was reflected on the faces of those around.

I determined to write and ask you to gratify it as soon as you could entertain the thought, and as trip is a long one, allow your daughter to be my guest up to the Christmas holidays. I have a lovely party of young girls about her own age, and daughters of my own also but little older.

The daily routine of our life is such that it would be the means of exciting a quieting influence after such trying scenes as she has been called upon to go through at this time of her life – and pursuits that will have a cheering influence, surrounded too by girls of her own age…

Should your daughter not feel inclined to come alone, it will afford me pleasure to include Miss Rockwell in my invitation, having a large house surrounded by attractive grounds…

By the same mail I send a copy of the prospectus of the school, giving also the names of friends who are of the same social standing as myself….Hoping you accept this letter as a token of our deep feelings in this your great trial – and allow us in any way to minister to your comfort. Believe me very sincerely yours

Annie L. Watson

Page two of the Chiltern Hills letter to Lucretia Garfield.  (Library of Congress)

Page two of the Chiltern Hills letter to Lucretia Garfield. (Library of Congress)

Condolences were sometimes accompanied by pleas for Mrs. Garfield’s assistance, some of which made discreet references to the fund that was collected in 1881 for the support of the Garfield family.

Oct 21st /81

Mrs. Garfield

Dear Madam, I wish to ask your assistance for a poor afflicted woman near us who, in September lost her husband with Consumption… He was a very industrious hard working man… and provided for a family of eight children…until… he died, leaving thirty acres of land with a mortgage of eight hundred dollars upon it. Mrs. Clark is a most excellent woman and mother, a good manager. If this mortgage could be paid her friends think there would be a possibility of keeping her children together.

Mr. Clark was a great Garfield man. He named his baby James Garfield but a few weeks before he died. And now Mrs. Garfield, would you…, [from] your great abundance that a great and sorrowing nation has so bountifully supplied [you] with – help this poor woman in her hour of sorrow and affliction?

I am your obedient servant,

Mrs. Mary Stiles

The condolence letters written to Lucretia Garfield tell us something the state of the nation in 1881, and the reaction from other nations. Though a terrible assault on the President had robbed the American people of the service of a “good” and “great” man, a devout people must acknowledge a just, wise, and ultimately merciful God. Many writers claimed to see in James Garfield the hope of a nation putting to rest decades-long hatreds. Still others associated personal calamities with the national tragedy. All responded with genuine compassion for Mrs. Garfield and her family. The Garfields’ grief was the nation’s grief, and their own. As at later times in history, so it was in 1881, as Americans and people the world over searched for understanding, compassion, and faith in the midst of the incomprehensible murder of President James A. Garfield.

*In later life, Violet Rosa Markham (1872-1959) became a writer, social reformer and administrator. During World War I, she was a member of the Executive Committee of the National Relief Fund, established to alleviate distress caused by the war. She was a vocal opponent of women’s suffrage. Among her friends were future Canadian Prime Minister, Mackenzie King, and John Buchan, the author of The 39 Steps, which was made into a film, by Alfred Hitchcock. 

As a young girl of nine years old, Violet Markham wrote a heartfelt sympathy letter to Lucretia Garfield.  Later in life, she became a vocal social reformer in Great Britian.  (Wikipedia.com)

As a young girl of nine years old, Violet Markham wrote a heartfelt sympathy letter to Lucretia Garfield. Later in life, she became a vocal social reformer in Great Britian. (Wikipedia.com)

 

In Part II of this blog, the condolences of three men who lives had been touched by James Garfield’s will be offered.

 

-Alan Gephardt, Park Ranger

The Remarkable Roscoe, Part III

Even though Conkling’s supporters endorsed reform at the 1877 New York Republican Convention, he thrashed reformers verbally, suggesting that they were amateurs, phonies, or hypocrites. He referred to the Civil Service as the “Snivel Service,” and called supporters of reform “man milliners,” who paraded “their own thin veneering of superior purity” while attacking Grant. “Their stock in trade is rancid, canting self-righteousness,” he said.

Yet, despite all the self-interested antagonism that he directed at Hayes, he still agreed with the President on important monetary policy matters. He stood with Hayes in opposition to the Bland-Allison bill, which called for the remonetization of silver. He called this an idea of “a nearly equal mixture of idiots and knaves.” Conkling voted against the measure, but failed to do anything to prevent a Senate override after Hayes vetoed it, and Bland-Allison became law.

As President, Rutherford B. Hayes sometimes had Roscoe Conkling's support.  Conkling did not, however, back President Hayes's efforts to reform the nation's civil service.  (Rutherford B. Hayes Presidential Center)

As President, Rutherford B. Hayes sometimes had Roscoe Conkling’s support. Conkling did not, however, back President Hayes’s efforts to reform the nation’s civil service. (Rutherford B. Hayes Presidential Center)

Conkling also stood with Hayes in the matter of “riders” to appropriations bills. In 1879, House Democrats attempted to “de-fund” the U.S. Army; to prevent it from “interfering” with Congressional elections in the South. Five times the Democrats attached such riders to appropriations bills, and five times Hayes vetoed them. Conkling supported Hayes every time, denouncing the efforts to compel Hayes “to give up his convictions, his duty, and his oath, as the price to be paid a political party for allowing the Government to live.”

But these were rare moments of good will. When the presidential election year of 1880 came around, he was anxious to replace the retiring Hayes with former president Grant. His support for Grant began in February 1880, soon after the latter’s return from a much publicized and praised trip around the world. Conkling led a pro-Grant majority at the New York state convention. It seemed as if Conkling had unified New York’s delegation to support Grant at the national convention. This was an illusion.

An intra-party power struggle played out in May, when state senator William Robertson (always a thorn in Conkling’s side) announced that he would vote for James G. Blaine, of Maine. Soon, a revolt against Grant that began in the New York delegation spread throughout the national convention that met in June. The “unit rule,” that pledged state delegations to vote as one for the candidate who had majority support in each came under attack. William Robertson led that fight in New York and Congressman James A. Garfield of Ohio fought the unit rule in the Rules Committee.

William H. Robertson caused Conkling a great deal of trouble, first by publicly announcing his support of Blaine for President in 1880; then by being named by President Garfield to be Collector of the Port of New York.  Robertson was not a "Conkling man," and therefore NOT acceptable to Cokling for the Collectorship.  Robertson's appointment put Garfield and Conkling on a collision course over the issue of who controlled the civil service in New York: the state's senior senator, or the President.  (Wikipedia.com)

William H. Robertson caused Conkling a great deal of trouble, first by publicly announcing his support of Blaine for President in 1880; then by being named by President Garfield to be Collector of the Port of New York. Robertson was not a “Conkling man,” and therefore NOT acceptable to Cokling for the Collectorship. Robertson’s appointment put Garfield and Conkling on a collision course over the issue of who controlled the civil service in New York: the state’s senior senator, or the President. (Wikipedia.com)

Irony of ironies, it was General Garfield – who hadn’t sought the nomination – who won it. Grant’s defeat angered Conkling. He didn’t think any better of Garfield than he did of Hayes. To many Grant Republicans, the Democratic nominee, General Winfield Scott Hancock, looked like a winner. Roscoe Conkling thought James Garfield was a beaten man. That wouldn’t be so bad; he could run Grant again in 1884.

So, as in 1876, Conkling did not go out of his way to support the 1880 national ticket. He troubled the nominee with his demands over control of New York appointments and cabinet appointments in a future Garfield administration. Once again, Conkling’s self-interest guided his thoughts and actions. Conkling and Garfield met on more than one occasion after the surprise Republican nominee became the surprise Republican victor. Conkling’s insistence that he control New York patronage was an irritant and a warning to the President-elect.

This Puck cartoon shows outgoing President Hayes (background) leaving civil service reform (in the form of a screaming baby) on incoming President Garfield's doorstep.  (Puck)

This Puck cartoon shows outgoing President Hayes (background) leaving civil service reform (in the form of a screaming baby) on incoming President Garfield’s doorstep. (Puck)

Garfield was determined to avoid what Hayes had gone through. When Garfield appointed William Robertson to be the new Collector of the Port of New York, a political battle between the new president and Conkling rivaled anything that had gone on between Conkling and Hayes. It was a months-long battle of wills that led Conkling to resign from the Senate, in the belief that he would be reelected, and thereby be placed in a stronger position to defeat the Robertson nomination and prevail over Garfield. Conkling’s gamble failed. Republicans in the New York Legislature were not about to defy their own president. Conkling was not reelected.

Meanwhile, a demented Charles Guiteau, having followed the course of the Garfield- Conkling fight in the press, assassinated the President. His distorted sense of reality led him to believe that removing Garfield would reunite the Republican Party – and save the country.

The combination of political defeat and Guiteau’s bullet brought Conkling’s political career finally and irrevocably to an end. Conkling acknowledged as much when he said after Garfield’s death, “How can I speak into a grave? How can I battle with a shroud? Silence is a duty and a doom.” Later he said, “I am done with politics now and forever.” He meant it.

After 1881, Conkling devoted himself to his law practice. Among his clients were financier Jay Gould, and the young inventor, Thomas Edison. He was a defense lawyer in the Supreme Court case, San Mateo County vs. Southern Pacific Railroad. It was a landmark case in which the Supreme Court declared that the “equal protection” clause of the 14th amendment was intended to protect corporations as well as individuals.

Sunday, March 11, 1888 was a miserable day in New York City. A heavy rain turned into sleet, and the sleet into snow. It was not long before the city was a mess, with traffic stopped, the elevated railway disabled, and shops closed. The next day the wind gusts were clocked at 75 mph. After spending the morning in court, Roscoe Conkling trudged two-and-a-half miles through huge drifts of snow to his home. He wrote late, “I had an ugly tramp in the dark…drifts so high that my head bumped against the signs… and fallen telegraph wires.” Upon arriving home, he collapsed.

This image shows New York City during the March 11, 1888 blizzard through which Conkling walked home.  He became ill and died about five weeks later, at just 58 years old.  (Library of Congress)

This image shows New York City during the March 11, 1888 blizzard through which Conkling walked home. He became ill and died about five weeks later, at just 58 years old. (Library of Congress)

Soon he was confined to bed, the victim of an abscess in his right ear. Ironically, Dr. D. Hayes Agnes, who had attended President Garfield, was called to Conkling’s bedside. By early April, an operation was necessary. A hole was drilled into Conkling’s head with a mallet and chisel to relieve a buildup of pus. It was hoped that the strong, athletic Conkling would pull through. He did not. He fell into a coma and died on April 18, 1888, at the age of 58.

What could be made of this man who once so towered over his competitors? The noted agnostic Robert Ingersoll eulogized Conkling, acclaiming him as a man who “stood for independence, for courage, and above all for absolute integrity …Roscoe Conkling was an absolutely honest man.”

This was not the view of all men at the time, and Conkling’s reputation remains largely negative because of all the controversy that he stirred in defense of his political machine. True, he could be principled, as when he urged President Grant to veto the inflation bill of 1874 and when he sided with President Hayes over the appropriations riders. He took the high road when he stood by Mississippi Senator Blanche K. Bruce, as their white colleagues altogether avoided the first elected black member of that body.

This statue of Roscoe Conkling stands at the southeast corner of Madison Square Park in New York City.  Conkling seemed destined for greatness, but his reputation is largely negative today due to his personality and unwillingness to compromise on issues like civil service reform.  (www.nycgovparks.org)

This John Quincy Adams Ward-sculpted statue of Roscoe Conkling stands at the southeast corner of Madison Square Park in New York City. Conkling seemed destined for greatness, but his reputation is largely negative today due to his personality and unwillingness to compromise on issues like civil service reform. (www.nycgovparks.org)

Conkling’s poor reputation, however, remains. He contributed no lasting positive record. The economic forces that were transforming the United Stated were controlled by men like Gould and Fisk, Rockefeller, Morgan and Carnegie. It was a transformation that Roscoe Conkling did not attempt to understand or guide. Intra-party squabbles, not the welfare of the nation, preoccupied Conkling. He repeatedly “let himself be caught up in inconsequentials.” Why did he allow this? Was it a basic insecurity that drove Conkling to act as he did? Was he just a mean-spirited individual who needed to dominate others? Alas, herein lays a mystery.

What is clear is that in his battles with two successive presidents, Roscoe Conkling helped to forge the start of a new path for the institution of the presidency that would make it in our time the most influential and watched position in American politics – and the world’s. In this, Conkling’s career in politics, after more than one hundred thirty years, still echoes.

-Alan Gephardt, Park Ranger

The President James A. Garfield Death Mask

On display in the James A. Garfield National Historic Site visitor center is the bronze death mask and hand of President James A. Garfield. The mask weighs 7 1/2 pounds, and the hand 2 1/2 lbs.

It was common practice into the 20th century for a plaster facial impression to be made moments after the death of a famous person. Sometimes the hand was cast as well. The purpose was to capture the last image of the person to use in later portraits or statues. After President Garfield died on September 19, 1881, the family asked the famous sculptor, Augustus Saint-Gaudens, to make a death mask of President Garfield. 

This death mask of Presdient Garfield was sculpted by renowned sculptor Augusts St. Gaudens after the President's death on Sept. 19, 1881.  The President's face appears gaunt; he had lost about 100 pounds between being shot on July 2 and his death.  This death mask can be viewed in the visitor center museum at James A. Garfield National Historic Site.  (Photo courtesy of Jim Steinhart)

This death mask of President Garfield was made by renowned sculptor Augustus Saint-Gaudens after the President’s death on Sept. 19, 1881. The President’s face appears gaunt; he had lost nearly 100 pounds between being shot on July 2 and his death 80 days later. This death mask can be viewed in the visitor center museum at James A. Garfield National Historic Site in Mentor, Ohio. (Photo courtesy of Jim Steinhart)

To create the mold, Saint-Gaudens would first have covered the deceased President’s face with lard and then painted several layers of plaster over it. When the plaster dried, the sculptor would have removed the plaster impression and taken it to his studio and used it to create a mold, which would later be used to create another mold that would be cast in bronze. The family had the last mold destroyed so that no other copies could be made.

Saint-Gaudens was an Irish-born American sculptor of the Beaux Arts period. He designed monuments to Civil War heroes such as William Tecumseh Sherman, Abraham Lincoln, and Robert Gould Shaw. He designed the $20 double eagle gold coin and the $10 Indian head gold coin.

Augustus Saint-Gaudens, show here in his studio, is probably the best-known American sculptor (though he was born in Ireland).  Today, you can visit his home and studio, which are preserved as Saint-Gaudens National Historic Site in Cornish, New Hampshire.  Find it online at www.nps.gov/saga.  (Smithsonian Institution American Art Museum)

Augustus Saint-Gaudens, show here in his studio, is probably the best-known American sculptor (though he was born in Ireland). Today, you can visit his home and studio, which are preserved as Saint-Gaudens National Historic Site in Cornish, New Hampshire. Find it online at http://www.nps.gov/saga. (Smithsonian Institution American Art Museum)

Masks have been in existence since the time of the Egyptian pharoah Tutankhamun, whose solid gold burial mask is an object of extreme beauty. At the end of many remarkable lives, historic figures such as Shakespeare, Washingon, Napoleon, Newton, Beethoven, Lincoln, and Lenin were immortalized with death masks.

Since the 13th century, death masks have helped sculptors of tomb effigies, but in medieval France and England real death masks were used for the royal funeral effigies that lay in state. Only Britsh examples still exist, because those in France were destroyed during the French Revolution.

This plaster of one of Saint-Gaudens' most famous sculptures is on display at Saint-Gaudens National Historic Site in New Hampshire.  It depicts Col. Robert Gould Shaw (on horseback) leading the 54th Massachusetts Infantry, the all-black unit famously depicted in the popular film "Glory."  (Boston College)

This plaster of one of Saint-Gaudens’ most famous sculptures is on display at Saint-Gaudens National Historic Site in New Hampshire. It depicts Col. Robert Gould Shaw (on horseback) leading the 54th Massachusetts Infantry, the all-black unit famously dramatized  in the popular film “Glory.” (Boston College)

Before the widespread availability of photography, the death mask was also used as a forensic tool to aid relatives in identifying a desceased body if the loved one was a missing person who had already been buried. One such mask recorded the face of an unidentified 16 year-old woman found drowned in the Seine in Paris in the 1880s. She was considered so beautiful that reproductions of the mask became very popular. In 1960, the face of ResuciAnni, the world’s first CPR training mannequin, was modeled after this drowned young woman.

-Pat Coil, Volunteer