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)
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.
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.
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 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.
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
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)
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
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.
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
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
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
In deeds resplendent and in honor bright,
In high example shining as the light
He lives immortal, he who died last night
Sept. 20, 1881.
-Alan Gephardt, Park Ranger