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

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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

“The Most Impressive Funeral Ever Witnessed”: The Funeral of President Garfield

James Abram Garfield died at about 10:45 on the evening of September 19, 1881, 200 days after he had been inaugurated the 20th President of the United States. At his bedside at a seaside resort in Elberon, New Jersey, were his wife, Lucretia, and his daughter, Mollie. A few close friends and a number of doctors were also in the room. Garfield’s older sons, Hal and Jim, were at Williams College in Massachusetts, and the younger boys, Irvin and Abram, were at home in Mentor, Ohio with an aunt and uncle. His 80-year-old mother, Eliza, had been in northeast Ohio for the past three months staying with family members.

The White House was draped in black mourning adornments after President Garfield’s death. (White House Historical Association)

The President had lingered eighty days since the shooting, and newspapers across the country carried reports of his condition day by day. The whole nation had watched, waited, and prayed with the family. When it was over, they knew how to behave. Twenty years earlier the nation had been torn by civil war, and more than 700,000 Americans had died. And sixteen years before Garfield’s death the nation honored and buried its first assassinated president, Abraham Lincoln. America had learned a lot about mourning.

On September 20, 1881, the 20th President’s body returned to Washington, D.C. on the same train that had transported him to Elberon fourteen days before. Garfield’s oldest son, Harry, had joined his mother and sister in New Jersey and accompanied them on the journey to the capital. All along the route mourners stood at trackside, heads bowed as the train went by and church bells tolled. Bridges and buildings were draped in black. At Princeton, New Jersey, students scattered flowers on the track and then retrieved the crushed petals after the train had passed to keep for souvenirs. The train was met in Washington by the Chief Justice, Garfield’s entire cabinet, and Presidents Grant and Arthur. The President’s coffin was borne to the Capitol to the beat of muffled drums. The Rotunda was draped in black and piled high with flowers. Over 70,000 people waited in line for up to three-and-a-half hours to walk past the open coffin.

This full page from Frank Leslie’s Illustrated Magazine (Oct. 1881) shows images of Garfield’s body being embalmed, the casket being carried to the train, and the train traveling from Elberon, New Jersey to Washington, D.C.

At eleven o’clock in the morning on September 23, the rotunda was emptied and Lucretia Garfield spent a lonely hour with the body of her husband of almost 25 years. When her vigil ended, the coffin was closed and would not be opened again.

At three o’clock, the memorial service began. Seventy members of the House of Representatives formed a double line around the rotunda. They were followed into the hall by members of the Senate, cabinet members, and diplomats from around the world. Bible verses were read, prayers were offered, a choir sang. The main address was given by Reverend F. D. Power of the Vermont Avenue Christian Church—the church President Garfield and his family attended in Washington, DC. Mrs. Garfield and her children did not stay for the ceremony at the Capitol.

“Immediately after the close of the services, the floral decorations were all removed, except the beautiful wreath, the gift of Queen Victoria, which had been placed upon the head of the coffin when the lid was closed, and which remained there when the coffin was borne to the hearse, and will be upon it until the remains are buried. This touching tribute of Queen Victoria greatly moved Mrs. Garfield.” [Cleveland Leader]

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)

Then the remains of the president were carried from the Capitol where he had served for almost 18 years, to the depot where he had been shot. The funeral train consisted of 7 cars. The engine and cars were festooned with flowers and palm fronds. All the brightwork was draped in black. Most of the trip home to Ohio was accomplished during the night, but every depot at every small town was appropriately draped with mourning and illuminated flags, and the townspeople stood at trackside to watch the train roll by. At one, a long line of Civil War veterans fell to their knees as the train passed. Pennsylvania coal miners came up from the pits to bear witness. Bonfires, cannon, and tolling bells marked the train’s passage.

A respectful twenty minutes behind the funeral train was a special train for legislators and other dignitaries who were accompanying the funeral party from Washington. A third train was crammed with reporters for the newspapers and magazines whose coverage had brought Garfield’s assassination and suffering to all those who now watched the funeral trains go by.

As the train approached Cleveland the crowds along the tracks got bigger. If she had looked out the train window, Mrs. Garfield would have seen people standing shoulder to shoulder in a solid line along the last two miles of its journey into the city. The funeral train arrived in Cleveland at 1:21 on the afternoon of September 24. Lucretia Garfield was escorted from the train by her son Harry and Secretary of State James G. Blaine. The coffin was borne by an honor guard of eight sergeants from the 2nd U.S. Artillery Company to the waiting catafalque at the city’s Monumental Park, now usually called Public Square.

An elaborate pavilion had been built there, similar to the one that protected President Lincoln’s coffin when his funeral procession had paused in Cleveland on its way home to Springfield, Illinois. Described as “probably the finest temporary structure of the kind ever erected in America”, it was forty-five feet square, with a thirty foot archway on each side. From each of the pillars which supported the arches, a canopy stretched to a point seventy-two feet above the ground, where it was topped with a globe. A gilt angel stood upon the globe. Its wingtips hovered ninety-six feet above the square. The names of the states ran up the columns, and cannon, their muzzles draped in black, guarded each corner. The pavilion was filled with floral tributes, an estimated $3,000 worth—so many flowers that local supplies were exhausted, and boxcars of flowers were hastily delivered from Cincinnati and Chicago. None received more attention by the mourners or the press than the wreath sent by Queen Victoria, which rested on top of the coffin. A military honor guard stood at stiff attention around the casket.

From a supplement to The Illustrated Times of London, October 1881: “The funeral of President Garfield, Lying in State at Cleveland, with the Queen’s Mourning Wreath on the coffin.”

On Sunday the catafalque was opened to the public. The line of viewers sometimes stretched for more than a mile. While the Marine Corps band played the Garfield Funeral March, Safe in the Arms of Jesus, and Nearer My God to Thee, the procession filed through the pavilion six abreast—a brisk 140 people a minute. They came all day, through the night and into the morning of Monday, September 26.

An estimated 250,000 people came into Public Square to see the pavilion, and perhaps have a chance to walk past the coffin to pay their mournful respects. Cleveland’s population in 1881 was 150,000.

The procession through the pavilion was stopped at 9:00 a.m. and the funeral service began promptly at 10:00 a.m. It was hot and sultry. The mourners included 18 senators, 40 congressmen, former president Rutherford B. Hayes and future president Benjamin Harrison. There were also governors, mayors, generals and admirals, including General Winfield Scott Hancock, the man Garfield had defeated in the presidential election just 10 months before. When all the dignitaries were seated, the Garfield family took their places. The president’s mother knelt briefly beside the coffin before joining the others.

The services began with the Episcopal burial service, followed by hymns and prayers. The eulogy was delivered by Isaac Errett, a Disciples of Christ minister who had been Garfield’s friend for many years. He took as his text: “And the archers shot King Josiah, and the King said to the servants, have me away, for I am sore wounded.” As he finished his sermon, Errett wept openly; so did a number of the mourners. After one more hymn and a benediction, the coffin was carried by ten soldiers to a funeral car, and the mourners took their places in carriages for the procession to The Lake View Cemetery, five miles to the east.

Ribbon worn by members of an Akron Masonic lodge that formed part of the Honor Guard for President Garfield’s funeral. (NPS photo)

The funeral car was heavily draped in black, showing no touch of color except for the white-tipped plumes bobbing from the heads of the twelve black horses that drew the car up Euclid Avenue. All along the avenue, people stood at solemn attention, reportedly ten to twenty people deep. The porches and windows of the grand mansions were full as well.

The ceremony at the cemetery was brief. A short oration was delivered by J. H. Jones, chaplain of the 42nd Ohio Volunteer Infantry, the unit Garfield had recruited for Civil War service and commanded for a time. The final benediction was offered by Burke Hinsdale, once Garfield’s student, and his life-long friend.

The coffin was placed in a flower-laden vault guarded by soldiers.* The Boston Globe called it “the most impressive funeral ever witnessed in America.” Newspaper accounts put its cost at $247,650. The verifiable expenses were about one-sixth of that.

*This was not the current Garfield Monument in The Lake View Cemetery that can be visited by the public. Garfield’s body was in a temporary crypt until being placed in the completed Garfield Monument, which was dedicated on Memorial Day 1890.

(Special thanks to Dr. Allan Peskin, whose article “The Funeral of the Century,” Lake County Historical Quarterly, September 1981 formed the basis for this post.)

-Joan Kapsch, Park Guide