Holidays with the Garfields

The Holiday Season (Thanksgiving through New Year’s Day) means different things to different people.  Some will devoutly observe the sanctimony of the holidays; others will conduct personal reflections on the changing year.  Often, these will be mixed with cherished opportunities to spend time with family and friends.

Though some traditions and customs may have changed over the years, James A. Garfield also observed the holiday season, celebrating with family and friends and reflecting on his accomplishments throughout the past year.

An avid diarist throughout the majority of his life,  Garfield often wrote details of his thoughts on the holidays each year.  Reviewing these diary entries reveals many things both interesting and a little surprising.

James A. Garfield was a dedicated diarist and left behind many recollections of the holiday season.    (Library of Congress)

James A. Garfield was a dedicated diarist and left behind many recollections of the holiday season. (Library of Congress)

New Year’s Day appears to be of more importance to Garfield than did Christmas and Thanksgiving.  He spent many New Year’s Days evaluating the previous year’s achievements and looking at opportunities for personal improvement.

Wednesday, December 31, 1851 – I have perhaps done as well during the past year as could have been expected, but I can do better next time- let me try.

Monday, December 31, 1877 – The year has been an eventful one in many ways, particularly in the line of my public and private life. I shall be curious to see whether it is the culmination of my strength, for I have reached the top of the ridge according to the ordinary calculations of human life.

On some years he included personal reflections that were quite somber.

Thursday, December 31, 1857 – I feel that I am not so good a man in heart as I once was.  Perhaps the business of living is the business of growing hardened to many things in life…I fear that my heart does not pray as it ought.  Oh my God, may the sins of this closing year be blotted from the great book of thy remembrance, and my soul be fitted for heaven.

Friday, January 1, 1875 – I fear (the past) two years have taken away something from my cheerfulness and buoyancy of spirit.  I shall try to resist the shadows and court the sunshine.

The center of Garfield's life during the holidays was, of course, his wife, Lucretia Rudolph Garfield, and their children.   (Library of Congress)

The center of Garfield’s life during the holidays was, of course, his wife, Lucretia Rudolph Garfield, and their children. (Library of Congress)

However, Garfield was not always melancholy around New Year’s Day.  He also enjoyed the social opportunities of the holiday.  As a young man, he noted New Year’s Eve, 1849, was spent at Chagrin Falls, Ohio.  It should not be too hard to imagine 18-year old James celebrating the holiday as young men are likely to- by laughing with friends and chatting with pretty girls.

Perhaps his oddest holiday season came in 1858, when he spent the week between Christmas and New Year’s Eve in intellectual debate with renowned traveling debater William Denton on the proposition that life on Earth exists not by direct, creative power but by progressive development.  Each gave 20 half-hour speeches in Chagrin Falls between December 27 and 31.  Both men claimed victory in the debate, but the experience won Garfield considerable experience, confidence, and local acclaim.

As for Christmas holidays, Garfield does not record much thought on the day in his diary.  As a young man, he typically spent the day at school or church in the morning, then with family in the evening.

Friday, December 25, 1857 – Classes as usual.  But few are gone away ‘to Christmas’.  Spent the evening at (future father-in-law) Brother (Zebulon) Rudolph’s.  A very pleasant time.  Read The Culprit Fay to the company.

As his family life evolved, Garfield wrote frequently of the joy he found in spending time with his wife and children.

Friday, December 25, 1874 – …at an early hour we listened to the exclamations of delight from the children at the presents which has been distributed during the night…I am glad to notice that Harry and Jimmy have…awakened to the love of reading.

Saturday, December 25, 1875 – Spent the day home with the children, who were delighted with their Christmas Gifts.  Crete (Lucretia) and I joined them in their games and made a very pleasant day of it…I did hope to get away to New York for a part of this vacation, but I enjoy being at home more than ever before.  I am glad this is so, although it probably indicates the advance of old age.

Sunday, December 24, 1876 – Attended church with Mother, Crete, Mollie, Irvin and Miss Mays. In the evening attended to the Christmas things and read from  (Alfred Lord Tennyson’s) In Memoriam.

Monday, December 25, 1876 – I read to Crete and Miss Mays poems from…In Memoriam which relate to Christmas…their beauties grow upon me at each reading.  I have, for many years, sung  “Ring out, Wild Bells” to a rude air…which Crete is good enough to say is excellent music.

The Garfields had a large family consisting of five children and James's mother, Eliza Ballou Garfield.  In 1879, Lucretia's father, Zeb Rudolph, came to live with them as well.  (Library of Congress)

The Garfields had a large family consisting of five children that survived to adulthood and James’s mother, Eliza Ballou Garfield. In 1879, Lucretia’s father, Zeb Rudolph, came to live with them in their Mentor, Ohio home as well. (Library of Congress)

The holidays were not always so serene for Garfield though.  As a prominent attorney and U.S. Congressman, other affairs frequently kept him busy and away from home.  In 1873 Garfield traveled to Boston on Christmas Eve to take and review testimony for a court case over disputed land in the city.  He spent Christmas Day there in preparation for the trial.  A few years later, in 1879, Garfield was in New York for New Year’s Eve, and longing for home.

Thursday, January 1, 1879 – I am homesick as a boy to be with the dear ones (at home) today.

Indeed, Garfield’s favorite way to spend the holidays was with his family and friends.

Thursday, December 31, 1857 – This evening we went to Bro. Rudolph’s with Crete…we read (George D.) Prentice’s Closing Year. How thrilling!!

Wednesday, December 31, 1873 – Sat up with Crete and watched the old year out.

Sunday, December 31, 1876 – After dinner read to the children from Audubon concerning the wild turkey, its character and habits.  In the evening…read Tennyson’s New Year’s and Christmas Poems until near midnight.  The clock struck the new year before we went to sleep.

Thursday, November 29, 1877 – Spend the day at home…read, wrote, played with the children and enjoyed our home Thanksgiving.

Wednesday, December 24, 1879 – spent several hours with Crete and the boys (Harry and Jimmy) getting Christmas things for the children and our friends.

Friday, December 24, 1880 – …the whole family was ready at six-ten (in the morning) to meet the dear boys (Harry and Jimmy, returning home from boarding school), who bounded in at 6.15 joyful and joy giving. 

The Garfields purchased their home in Mentor, Ohio in 1876 and only spent a few holidays seasons here before James Garfield's presidency and death.  Mrs. Garfield owned the property the rest of her life and spent many holidays here with her children, grandchildren, and extended families.  We have no evidence or photos describing how they decorated the home (if at all) during the holiday season.  (NPS photo)

The Garfields purchased their home in Mentor, Ohio in 1876 and only spent a few holiday seasons here before James Garfield’s presidency and death. Mrs. Garfield owned the property the rest of her life and spent many holidays here with her children, grandchildren, and extended family. Unfortunately, we have no evidence or photos describing how or if they decorated the home during the holiday season. (NPS photo)

Even though Garfield wrote about his holiday experiences some 150 years ago, it is clear many traditions and customs never get old and change.

-Benjamin Frayser, Volunteer

Advertisements

How Do Fees Help Your National Parks?

When the “founding fathers” of the National Park Service first established this agency in 1916, there were a handful of natural sites, mostly around the western United States, which came under the NPS umbrella. Funding for protection of these and future sites was to come from the Congressional budget every year, but could those leaders have predicted that nearly 100 years later, we would have over 400 units in this growing organization? Unfortunately, the funding hasn’t been able to keep up with the number of new parks being added to the fray, and that’s where fees play a big part.

Congress has given the National Park Service the authority to charge several types of fees; entrance; special amenity (special tours, behind the scenes experiences, etc); boating and camping; and others. These fees range from a few dollars per person to per car fees for some of the larger parks. Sites also sell the America the Beautiful – National Parks and Federal Recreational Lands Passes, affectionately known as the “annual” and “senior” passes. Depending on the size and amount of revenue generated each year, parks are able to retain nearly 100% of all their fees. Since it was paid by the visitors, this money is in turn used to fund projects that have direct visitor benefits. Facilities, improvements, and programs that make our audiences safer, more comfortable, and more knowledgeable about and appreciative towards our national parks are the types of projects funded by visitor fees.

At James A. Garfield National Historic Site, we’ve been able to do many things for our visitors over the years. Here are a few examples of our “fee projects”:

  • Interpretive Timeline – In 2010, the site commemorated the 30th anniversary of the establishment of the Garfield home and grounds as a national historic site. In addition to many public programs throughout the year, we constructed an interpretive timeline which layered the history of James A. Garfield National Historic Site with that of the National Park Service. The timeline was created by two of our seasonal rangers, who were students at the time and able to put some of their writing and graphics skills to work.
This interpretive timeline was  produced using fee dollars and hangs in the visitor center at James A. Garfield NHS.  (NPS photo)

This interpretive timeline was produced using fee dollars and hangs in the visitor center at James A. Garfield NHS. (NPS photo)

  • Warm Water – This might not seem like a big deal, but it’s nice to wash your hands with warm water, isn’t it? For several years the water heating units in the public restrooms were not functioning properly, and visitors who would wash their hands in colder months would experience absolutely freezing cold water coming out of the faucets! With fee money we were able to purchase new heaters and hire a contractor to install them.
Hot water heaters are now present in both public restrooms at James A. Garfield NHS thanks to fee money.  (NPS photo)

Hot water heaters (hidden inside metal case mounted to the wall) are now present in both public restrooms at James A. Garfield NHS thanks to fee money. (NPS photo)

  • Commemorating the Civil War – From 2011 through summer 2015, our staff and park staffs around the country have been commemorating the Civil War in many different ways. At the Garfield site, we’ve created three “post-up” banners  to supplement the static interpretation in our visitor center: The Civil War in Ohio; James A. Garfield and the Civil War; and Presidents in the Civil War. Additionally, we’ve provided the public with a Civil War encampment weekend each year, which brings history to life through reenactors like soldiers in camp, famous generals, and even President Lincoln and Frederick Douglass.  Fee money has paid for reenactor supplies like straw and firewood, fence banners, and activities for families.
These three panels have added a great deal  to our interpretation of the Civil War as the nation has marked that conflict's 150th anniversary in 2011-15.  We used fee dollars to pay for these panels.  (NPS photo)

These three panels have added a great deal to our interpretation of the Civil War as the nation has marked that conflict’s 150th anniversary in 2011-15.  We used fee dollars to pay for these panels. (NPS photo)

  • Get to Know the Presidents – About 5 years ago we purchased a brochure rack with the intention of filling it with brochures from other presidential sites around the country. This has become such a popular feature in our Visitor Center, that one of our volunteers has adopted the weekly duty of calling sites to replenish our rack. We love when our visitors show interest in other presidents (as long as Garfield is still their favorite)!
We purchased this rack with fee money and use it to hold the brochures of other National Park Service presidential sites.  This provides great info for our visitors and also reinforces that we are part of the larger National Park System.  (NPS photo)

We purchased this rack with fee money and use it to hold the brochures of other National Park Service presidential sites. This provides great info for our visitors and also reinforces that we are part of the larger National Park System. (NPS photo)

  • We’ve Got Wheels – If you’ve ever been to the Garfield site, you know there’s quite a lengthy walk between the point of entry at the visitor center and the Garfield home, where tours are led. Often visitors in poor health are not able to make that walk, or find themselves exhausted by the time they get up to the home. We purchased two new wheelchairs to escort visitors to and from the visitor center and house, so they can spend their energy enjoying the house and tour instead of worrying about the trip!
Fee money recently allowed us to purchase two new wheelchairs.  Elderly visitors or those with difficulty walking will appreciate these since the walk between our visitor center and the Garfield home is pretty long!  (NPS photo)

Fee money recently allowed us to purchase two new wheelchairs. Elderly visitors or those with difficulty walking will appreciate these since the walk between our visitor center and the Garfield home is pretty long! (NPS photo)

  • Thirsty? – many visitors, especially in the summer, bring water bottles to the site, and toss them when empty. Our new drinking fountain allows visitors to fill their bottles with cold, filtered water from a specially designed faucet that’s tall enough to accommodate a bottle. With this installation, we hope not only to encourage visitors to drink water, but to bring their reusable bottles from home and fill them up while visiting rather than buying water in plastic bottles and throwing them away.
Using fee dollars, we recently purchased this new water fountain for our visitor center.  You can get a quick sip of cold water here but also refill your own water bottles and help reduce the number of plastic bottles in use.  (NPS photo)

Using fee dollars, we recently purchased this new water fountain for our visitor center. You can get a quick sip of cold water here but also refill your own water bottles and help reduce the number of plastic bottles in use. (NPS photo)

  • Future projects – We’ve got several projects waiting to be funded, so please keep visiting so future visitors might reap the benefits of your fee dollars!
    • Establish distance learning programs which will allow us to provide programming to students and adults around the country, without the travel;
    • Repave pathways around the site to make the surface smoother for wheelchairs and strollers;
    • Create programming to celebrate the NPS centennial and presidential election in 2016;
    • And much, much more!

We can confidently say that on behalf of all the National Park Service staff and volunteers, we appreciate your continued support of our fee program and hope you see the benefits it yields. If you are interested in learning more about your fee dollars at work, please contact the site’s fee manager at 440-255-8722.

-Allison Powell, Park Ranger