Assignment: Harry & Mollie Garfield’s Wedding Day

A Double Wedding, The Garfield Weddings, Married at Mentor. The headlines were deceptively simple for the grandest event in Mentor, Ohio since James A. Garfield’s successful 1880 front porch presidential campaign. But for an assassin’s bullet, it could have been a very different affair, with two of the twentieth President’s children being wed in the White House as the President reached the end of his second term. Instead, the young couples exchanged vows in the impressive new Memorial Library that Mrs. Garfield had added to the comfortable farm home the President had known.  The wedding provided an opportunity for newspapermen, and through them the nation, to revisit the people and places of the presidential campaign.

We have three newspaper articles describing the double wedding of Harry A. Garfield, President and Mrs. Garfield’s oldest son, to Belle Mason and the Garfield’s daughter Mary (always called Mollie) to Joseph Stanley-Brown. Joe Brown had been James Garfield’s private secretary during the campaign and in the White House.  The articles were carefully clipped from newspapers, right to the edge of the column, and pasted in scrapbooks. Only one has a dateline, and none includes a header to tell us the name of the paper. None has a by-line, and each has a very different take on the same event.

The Garfield Weddings is the most straightforward, just the facts, accounting of the weddings, with a lot of very specific details. It reads like a news wire service account, although none is named.  It includes detailed descriptions of the flowers and decorations, and plenty of column inches devoted to the brides’ and bridesmaids’ dresses. This information, virtually verbatim, was included in the other two, longer accounts. To give you a flavor of the coverage, here is part of one paragraph about the decorations.

“The house was beautifully decorated with palms, potted plants and cut flowers, and the atmosphere was fragrant with the perfume of roses, syringa [sic] and white carnations. Festoons and pendants of intertwined daisies hug like a curtain of green, white and gold in the wide doorway between the two large reception rooms on the first floor. . .and the large bay window in the library where the wedding parties were to stand during the ceremony, was canopied with roses and smilax and lined with palms and semi-tropical plants so as to form an alcove of soft greenery.”

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The guests, the music, the menu, the lists of attendants, the weather, the special train that brought most of the guest from Cleveland, and the honeymoon plans were all carefully reported. For the hundreds of newspapers across the country that wanted a “where are they now” report about the family they had known during Garfield’s brief presidency, this story would surely fit their needs.

Of course, the weddings were a more important story in Cleveland, where the Mason family was very prominent, and where Mrs. Garfield lived much of the year from 1882 to 1886. Cleveland reporters had sources.

A Double Wedding appeared in the Cleveland Leader on June 16. The newspaper is identified in the body of the story, and the date is written below the headline, presumably by the scrapbooker. The unnamed reported must have been in Mentor early in the day since his article begins with a wonderfully descriptive account of the arrivals of flowers, caterers and folding chairs. “The train was met at the depot by Mr. James R. Garfield, who was the master-of-ceremonies and under whose direction everything in connection with the reception and comfort of guests was prepared.”

The Leader also gives us a hint as to the source of information for all three articles. “The Western Associated Press was informed that all the family desired to have published would be given them by Mr. James R. Garfield, and that nothing else would be made public. . . But,” says our intrepid reporter without divulging sources, “the desired news was obtained.” He describes finding James R. Garfield on the porch; young Mr. Garfield was courteous but firm in declining to answer any questions. “Guests upon the streets were accosted in vain and even the neighboring farmers were reticent.”

In the end, the Leader article added to the story with brief biographies of the brides and grooms, a longer list of invited guests, and fulsome reporting on the arrival and departure of the special train that carried guests from Cleveland. Its description of the atmosphere around the home and the town provide a generous picture of a happy Garfield family.

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Married at Mentor is from the Cleveland Plain Dealer. Its begins, “Had a state secret to be preserved, the family and friends in attendance at the double wedding at the Garfield residence in Mentor yesterday could not have taken stricter precautions to prevent any knowledge of the event reaching the general public. . . Mrs. Garfield has always disliked newspapers and those employed by them and this sentiment was very plainly and emphatically evident yesterday.” [!]

This is the only article that contains illustrations—simple drawings of Hal, Belle, Mollie and Joe. It also includes all the required words about decorations, dresses and dinner. But scattered throughout are complaints about the way reporters were treated while covering the event.

This writer was offended that, “At the Union depot reporters were denied seats on the special train, and at Mentor the inhabitants were rather inclined to think that it was a cold day for reporters.”  The accommodations for the guests who took the special train were described as “bad, and the conveyances worse. The train arrived in the midst of a downpour of rain, and the hundred passengers were huddled into the two small waiting rooms until those eminent henchmen of the Garfield family, Joe Rudolph and Marshal Henry, could run them, in squads, to the Garfield house by means of open wagons and a buss [sic].”  Later in the paragraph the reporter says, “Joe Rudolph [Mrs. Garfield’s brother, Mollie and Harry’s uncle], usually so talkative, had had his lips sealed.” He complained again a bit later that some of the conversation among guest returning to Cleveland on the special train was about how successful they had been in freezing reporters out.

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The oddest part of this article is the focus on Mollie’s groom, Joseph Stanley-Brown. The biography of President Garfield’s son was dispatched in one, two-sentence paragraph. Mr. Brown, on the other hand, merited about half a column of newsprint, including this amazing bit of commentary:

“When the first rumors of his engagement to Miss Garfield were made public, friends of the family indignantly denied that there was any truth to them. Indeed at one time it was said that Brown’s attentions were distasteful to the family and that Mrs. Garfield went to Europe last fall to escape them. [Mrs. Garfield travelled to Europe with Hal and Mollie.] Certain it is, however, that the young couple were not engaged at that time, but the engagement must have been made by letter for immediately upon the return of the family to this country a few months ago, the final announcement was made that Brown and Miss Garfield were to be married. Friends of the parties say that this is a genuine love match and although Mrs. Garfield was in a measure opposed to it at first, she at last yielded to the wishes of her daughter.  One unpleasant rumor, which has been given considerable publicity, was to the effect that Brown had in his possession certain important political and state secrets involving Blaine and others and that the marriage was the price of his silence.”

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Mollie Garfield (left) and Belle Mason (right) at the double wedding ceremony in the Garfield home’s Memorial Library on June 14, 1888.  (Western Reserve Historical Society)

The Plain Dealer was well known as a Democratic newspaper, and James Garfield was a Republican president. James G. Blaine served as his Secretary of State and ran for President in 1884. But eight years after Garfield’s election, and on the joyous occasion of the marriage of two of his children, this is a remarkable piece of gossip to include in a story about a wedding. You have to wonder if this reporter is the one who gave the rumor its “considerable publicity.”

Readers are always cautioned to remember the source when judging journalism. Historians warn that we should think about the times. I will tell you that the brides and grooms were very happy. “To me it was ideal,” Belle Mason Garfield wrote to her new mother-in-law about the wedding.  And in the end, that is what matters.

 

-Joan Kapsch, Park Guide

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The Life of Thomas Garfield

Thomas Garfield was the second child born to Abram Garfield and Eliza Ballou Garfield. He was born October 16, 1822 in Cuyahoga County, Ohio.  By 1831, the Garfield family had grown to include Abram and Eliza and children Mehetable, Thomas, Mary, and James—the future President of the United States.  The Garfield siblings did have another brother named James Ballou who was born in 1826 but died in 1829.  Thomas was only ten when his father Abram died on May 8, 1833, leaving him as the man of house.  He worked the family farm alongside his mother Eliza and sister Mehetable.  Thomas wanted all of his siblings to attend school while he took care of the farm.  At one point in his young life Thomas had a job chopping wood for .25 a cord.  “When I was fifteen years old mother owed $7 on a wool-carding and cloth bill, and I went to work chopping three-foot wood at twenty-five cents a cord to pay it. I worked all winter at those wages, and that is the way I kept the family.  Those were hard times…”

Thomas was a deeply religious Christian.  Joining the Disciples of Christ at the age of 16, he never drank or smoked a day in his life and thought dancing was sin.

“If I could have my way, there would not be another drop of liquor sold in this country, or                brought into it. I never used tobacco, or tasted liquor in my life, I never bought a cigar, or a glass      of liquor, and never went to a circus or a dance. I went to a menagerie once, when a boy, but I              did not go into the next tent, where a circus was going on. I never owned a watch, nor had a                piece of jewelry. I have always lived a quiet, peaceful life, and have never cared for such things.”

He was a staunch Republican but never wanted to be involved in politics.  “I am an elder in the congregation of Disciples of Christ at Jamestown, and that is the only office I ever held. I have never sought preferment of any kind, and the township offices that have been offered to me I have always refused.”

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This book cover shows one of the few known images of Thomas Garfield, elder brother of President James A. Garfield.  (Kevin Scott Collier)

On October 18, 1849 Thomas married Mary J. Harper, a native of Maine. The couple lived in Solon, Ohio near family until they moved to Michigan. “We sold the farm in Ohio in 1854 and moved to Michigan. I lived three years in Byron Township, this county {Ottawa}, and then went back to Ohio, where I worked around on different farms for ten years. And then I came here to Jamestown Township, Michigan.” One reporter who visited Thomas at his Michigan home wrote, “…I climbed the hilly dooryard to the front door of a one-story house, built of wide pine boards, nailed upright and unpainted.  Through the window of the principal room, which occupied half the house, a spinning wheel, decked with fillets of wool, looked out.”

The Garfields moved to Jamestown, Michigan in 1867 and lived there for about ten years before a fire destroyed their house. Thomas wrote of getting financial help from his Congressman brother: “James helped me pay for it, and when our house burned in 1877, he helped me rebuild in return for what I had down for him.” The Michigan home had many pictures on the walls of James A. Garfield and their mother Eliza Ballou Garfield.  The Garfields had a son on August 25, 1850 and named him James Abram after his uncle. It was said that the baby had the same high forehead and the same features and form as his well-known uncle.  A second child was born to the couple, a girl named Eliza, after her grandmother, born in 1853. Two years later, on April 26, 1855, their last child, Florence, was born.

At the beginning of the Civil War Thomas wanted to enlist but was denied.  “I tried to enlist in the army with James, but they wouldn’t take me.”  There is no documentation as to why he was not able to serve, but it is known that he suffered from seizures (epilepsy).  Some reports said that James did not visit Michigan but Thomas refuted this by saying “James visited me several times.  He was here in 1878, when he spoke in the city on the resumption of a specific payment.  He was always so loving, and affectionate when he came to see me.” It wasn’t until after President Garfield was shot that reporters realized that he had a brother and they wanted the chance to interview him.  A reporter for the Chicago Inter-Ocean asked Thomas why he had not gone to see his brother after being shot.  Thomas’s response was because of the cost of travel, and also because he had been told that nobody would be admitted to see the President.  “My sister Mary and I went to Elberon Cottage before he died, but the doctors wouldn’t let us in.”  Thomas said this of the experience, “Mary was a good nurse, and James called for her in his sickness, and she was very anxious to go in to nurse him, but the doctors wouldn’t let her.  We have always believed he was doctored into death, and if Mary could have taken care of him, he would have lived.” Thomas was 59 years old when President Garfield was shot on July 2, 1881 in Washington, D.C.  After the death of the President the whole Garfield family (siblings, mother, wife and children and any other members) traveled to Cleveland for the funeral. The funeral took place on September 26, 1881.   The same reporter who had asked Thomas if he visited the President asked if he had attended the funeral. Thomas Garfield replied saying “Yes, sir, I was gone from the home for three days, and when I reached Cleveland was directed to go to the house of Mrs. Colonel Shelden, where my mother and sister were.”

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The Garfield funeral procession in Cleveland, Ohio on September 26, 1881.  (Harper’s Weekly)

Thomas Garfield’s name was mentioned during the presidential campaigns of 1892 and 1896.  People opposing the Republican party made it known to others that Thomas Garfield was going to be voting against the party he had always supported.  This claim was false and angered Thomas, who spoke out in papers against this claim but because the remarks were so close to the 1892 election results they were not seen by many. In 1897, he made it known before the election that this was again a false claim given from the other side.

“If my martyred brother were alive his voice would be heard would be heard from ocean to                ocean in favor of the Republican party, and its principles, and I shall not prove myself a traitor to           his memory, and to the people of my country, who placed him in the presidential chair, a                position the highest in the gift of the people, I believe the principles he advocated are as true

Just as the Garfield family in Ohio suffered loss so too did the Garfields in Michigan. Thomas and Mary Garfield lost their daughter Florence Garfield O’Dell in 1887 at the age of 32.   Mary, Thomas’s wife, died January 4, 1900 at the age of 71 from uterine cancer.  Thomas Garfield died at the age of 87 on April 12, 1910. He and Mary are interred in the Hanley Cemetery in Jenison, Michigan.  His daughter Eliza died in 1910 as well. Son James A. Garfield, named for his presidential uncle, died on May 6, 1926 at the age of 75.

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Headstone of Thomas Garfield and his wife, Mary.  (Findagrave.com)

Thomas helped shape the life of his mother and siblings—including his younger brother James, the future President of the United States—for the better.  Thomas and James shared an unbreakable bond all their lives and even President Garfield’s assassination could not break it.  Thomas Garfield was known to some as the “forgotten Garfield,” but today he is revered as one of the most important people in the life of the 20th President of the United States.

-Rebecca Hayward, Visitor Use Assistant