The Story of “Uncle Joe” Rudolph

The small single engine plane flew low over Mentor, Ohio, allowing the 90-year-old passenger a good view of the scenery below. Uncle Joe waved to the children on the ground, thoroughly enjoying his first trip on an airplane. After landing he told his nephew, James R. Garfield, that he could now leave this world and meet up with his late wife and sister without embarrassment. Uncle Joe had been angry with himself for avoiding any trips on the newfangled machine.

Joseph Rudolph was born September 13, 1841 in Garrretsville, Ohio, the third child of Zeb and Arabella. He had an older sister, Lucretia, who would marry future President James A. Garfield. Joe was raised on a farm, an ideal place for a young boy to get into trouble. One summer day the younger Rudolph and a friend came upon a mud hole with a collection of hogs wallowing in it. The boys decided to chase away the animals and dive into the mud hole. It was great fun until Joe walked home to the farmhouse, where his mother somehow did not approve of the mud hole playground.

Several years later the Rudolphs moved a short distance to Hiram, Ohio so Joe’s older brother John and Lucretia could attend a more modern school. Later Zeb would build a home in the center of town where the Rudolph family lived for nearly 30 years. Joe spent his formative years here, eventually attending the Western Reserve Eclectic Institute (today’s Hiram College).

Though not a great scholar, Joe managed to handle the classwork at the Eclectic until April 1861 when the Civil War began. He and several other friends began sleeping on the floor and taking long walks before breakfast. This was done to prepare for enlistment in the Union Army. When the call for volunteers came, Joe, still shy of is twentieth birthday, joined the 19th Ohio Volunteer Infantry, a three-month enlistment. The regiment trained in Painesville where the town hotel served them meals and the Seminary girls showed them every kindness. When the 19th was transferred to Cleveland, Joe recalled the spirited farewell. He remarked, “At the station we had about the liveliest skirmish of our whole term of service. Each one of the hundred boys kissing two hundred Seminary girls goodbye, with the town girls thrown in, was a somewhat lengthy, but not tedious ceremony.”

Upon arrival in Cleveland Joe promptly deserted the 19th OVI and joined his friends in the 23rd regiment. They did their training at Camp Taylor until late June 1861, when the 23rd was ordered to Camp Chase in Columbus. A month later they left for Virginia, where the regiment saw little action until winter brought an end to the campaign. Joe camped with his friends from Hiram and survived a wave of camp fever that took the lives of a number of soldiers from the regiment.

Company A of the 42nd Ohio Volunteer Infantry, where Joe Rudolph soldiered during the Civil War. Hiram College Archives.


In late February 1862 Joe applied for another transfer, this time to the 42nd OVI, commanded by his brother in law, James A. Garfield. Joe managed to get two weeks leave in the process, allowing him to take a leisurely trip home to Hiram. After some welcomed home cooking he left for Kentucky to join Company A of the 42nd, which was made up of Joe’s classmates from the Eclectic Institute. He took part in the end of the Sandy Valley Campaign, where several regiments of Confederates were chased all the way back to Virginia.

While on duty months later in Tennessee, Joe received his first and only wound of the war. The 42nd was on a raid of the town of Tazewell, where Company A stopped a local citizen and stole his saddlebags. Among the contents was a quart bottle of whiskey. On the march back to camp Joe and the boys took several side trips to the bushes and drained the bottle. A short distance later the wobbly soldier lost his balance and fell off the trail into a pile of stones. Joe‘s forefinger got wedged under his musket, causing a severe wound. After the war he would tell a fancy tale of the incident. Joe would say, “I noticed no damage until we were in camp, where I found that the finger joint was smashed. But I am not sorry, as I have ever since been able to show that I suffered for my country.” Days later on a similar raid, Joe would see hundreds of Confederate soldiers just yards in front of him cut to pieces by Union artillery.

There were more incidents in the area near Tazewell. Rumors spread that Confederates were gathering on top of a nearby ridge. The 42nd was ordered to charge the ridge and remove the enemy troops. Halfway up the hill the boys came upon a huge berry patch. They had not eaten since the previous day. The entire regiment came to a halt, including the officers, which lead to an all-out assault of the patch. Joe would later describe the carnage. He stated, “The officers’ mouths so full of berries that they could give no orders, leastwise none that we could or cared to understand. Having filled our stomachs, we proceeded to the top. Not a Johnnie in sight.”

Joe Rudolph and his wife, Lide, at the Garfield home in Mentor, Ohio. Garfield family photo.

Of course it was not all fun and games for Joe. The 42nd took part in the Vicksburg campaign and saw serious action at Chickasaw Bluffs, Thompson’s Hill, and the Black River Bridge. They attempted a frontal assault on the city of Vicksburg, which became a futile effort to dislodge the Confederates. Joe recalled making a charge and seeing an enemy artillery shell heading right for him. He froze while the shell exploded about 40 feet from where he was standing. Fragments flew by on either side but failed to touch him.

There were many casualties at Vicksburg, the Hiram boys included. Some of the soldiers were killed by friendly fire, when clouds of smoke obscured the difference between blue and gray. On July 4, 1863 the Confederate army surrendered to General Grant. The Vicksburg campaign came to an end. Joe had “seen the elephant” after two years of hard fighting. He received a promotion to sergeant of Company “A” for his conduct as a soldier on the field.

Despite the intense fighting at Vicksburg, Joe and the boys still found time for more mischief. The 42nd was being transported on a steamer when Company “A” noticed a large barrel of fresh apples being loaded on board. They found a long pole, tied a bayonet to the end and quietly speared all the apples they could eat. The next morning they stole the captain’s breakfast by maneuvering the pole through a stovepipe opening above his table. Though the 42nd were now seasoned combat veterans and had seen the horrors of war, they still were boys at heart.

After the Vicksburg campaign, Joe was sent to New Orleans along with the 42nd. There was little to do there except court the local ladies who grew fond of the boys in blue. There would be marches and counter marches, but very little action over the next year. Joe received another promotion to Captain and Assistant Quartermaster, which meant he would stay in the army after his enlistment expired in the fall of 1864. Joe saw duty in Louisiana and Texas, where he set up warehouses and supply depots for Union brigades. He returned to civilian life in December of 1865.

In the 1880’s Joe would move to Mentor to live with his older sister, Lucretia, and his niece and nephews. He settled in the third floor apartment with his wife and his two sons. Joe became the gentleman farmer, overseeing the workers at the Garfield farm. When the United States declared war with Spain in 1898, the fifty-seven-year-old Joe attempted to enlist. Years later he was on vacation in England where he met some English soldiers on their way to action in World War I. Joe called out to the boys, saying, “I know what you are experiencing and I wish I were able to go with you!” One has to think if the soldiers had an extra rifle a certain Civil War veteran would have been seen charging out of the trenches in the French countryside.

Joe Rudolph is his later years. He was the last Garfield family member to live in the house at what is now James A. Garfield National Historic Site. Garfield family photo.

The rest of Joe’s ninety-three years were lived in quiet comfort at his sister’s home, where he was the last Garfield family member to live in the home that is now the main attraction at James A. Garfield National Historic Site.  Quiet and comfort…except for the day when a young female pilot knocked on the Garfield front door. There was still one more great adventure for Uncle Joe.

All quotes attributed to Joseph Rudolph, Pickups from the American Way, Hiram Historical Society, 1941.

-Scott Longert, Park Guide

A Double Wedding

Left to right: Mollie Garfield Stanley-Brown (Western Reserve Historical Society), Joseph Stanley-Brown (WRHS), Belle Mason Garfield, Harry Garfield (images from Lucretia Garfield Comer’s 1965 book Harry Garfield’s First Forty Years

            In the spring of 1888 Lucretia Garfield announced the upcoming double wedding of two of her five children to be held on June 14, 1888. The first marriage was that of Harry Garfield, the eldest son, and Belle Mason, the daughter of Lucretia’s cousin James Mason and neighbors to the family. Mollie, the President’s only daughter, was to marry Joseph Stanley-Brown, Garfield’s personal secretary in the White House and the person Lucretia tasked with organizing the President’s papers after his death. At the age of fifteen, Mollie wrote in her diary: “I don’t believe I will ever, [sic] in my life love any man, as I do Mr. Brown.” (December 14, 1882) The two ceremonies were to take place at the Garfield family’s Mentor residence in the Memorial Library, a room built by Lucretia to preserve her husband’s legacy. 

Lucretia Garfield’s announcement of her daughter’s marriage. Image courtesy of Western Reserve Historical Society.

          Enclosed in Lucretia’s Garfield’s invitation announcing her daughter’s wedding was a card admitting the guests to a special train running from Cleveland to Mentor and back again: “A special train for Mentor will leave the Cleveland Union Station at 3:15 P.M, Railroad Time, and returning, will arrive at Cleveland about 9:00 o’clock. The accompanying ticket must be presented to the Conductor of the train.”

Hand-colored illustration of wedding altar in the Memorial Library bay window. The original was accompanied by a wedding poem. Photo courtesy of Western Reserve Historical Society.

As the wedding date approached, the Mentor Farm was transformed into an inside garden, decorated with palms, potted plants, and cut flowers. Festoons and pendants of intertwined daisies filled the house. In the Memorial Library, the mantels were adorned with roses, white carnations, and maidenhair fern, and the large bay window, where the wedding parties stood during the ceremonies, was canopied with roses and smilax and lined with palms and semi-tropical plants. Here and there on the low bookcases stood large vases filled with red or white peonies and spikes of dark blue lupine. The Cleveland Leader reported that 6,000 rosebuds, 3000 carnations, 2000 daisies, and 200 yards of smilax were used in the ornamentation of the house. The bust of President Garfield that sits in the northeastern corner of the library was draped with the flag of the Williams College class of 1856 (Garfield’s alma mater).       

         At five o’clock P.M., the first ceremony began between Harry and Belle. The bride’s younger sister May was the maid of honor and Harry’s brother James was the best man. Belle walked down the aisle unaccompanied to the Wedding March from “Lohengrin.” Once the vows were made, May changed bouquets for the second ceremony, where she was maid of honor to her best friend Mollie. May had provided much comforted to Mollie after the death of President Garfield, prompting Mollie to write in her diary, “How nice it is to have one person to talk freely, as I do to Puggy [Mollie’s nickname for May]. It always does me so much good to tell my little secrets & things to her. I wonder if she knows how much I love her.” (December 15, 1882)

Brides Mollie Garfield Stanley-Brown (left) and Belle Mason Garfield. Mollie wore a gown made of delicate india silk crepe, with an overdress gracefully draped above a long-trained white underrobe in a princess shape. Joseph objected to a veil because he thought his bride would look “unnatural.” In her white-gloved hands Mollie carried June roses.
Photo courtesy of Western Reserve Historical Society.

        Following the two ceremonies was a wedding supper on the main floor, where curtains of daisy chains decorated the doorways of the parlor, dining room, and entry hall. Guests were seated at a table beautifully adorned with flowers and lights where they enjoyed a meal of bouillon, supreme of sweetbreads, Italian salad, personal ice cream, café, and two wedding cakes, one for each couple. Among the wedding guests who enjoyed the supper were ex-President Rutherford B. Hayes and Mrs. Hayes, and ex-Postmaster General Thomas L. James.

        At nine o’clock p.m., a return train carrying most of the joyful and well-fed guests departed for Cleveland. The two couples had their own departure plans. Hal and Belle left that evening for their honeymoon in northern New York, while Joseph and Mollie embarked on a trip to Kansas to visit Joseph’s mother and then onward to Europe where Joseph could continue his studies in geology at the University of Heidelberg in Germany.

Joseph and Mollie Stanley-Brown (left) and Belle and Harry Garfield reading congratulatory notes from President Franklin D. Roosevelt at their 50th wedding anniversary. The Charlotte Observer, June 16, 1938.

        On June 14, 1938, the two couples celebrated a momentous milestone – their 50th wedding anniversary – by recreating their 1888 double wedding. Mollie, Joseph, Harry, and Belle hosted a luncheon for fifty guests followed by a tea and reception for two hundred guests. Friends and families gathered at Harry’s summer home in Duxbury, Massachusetts for the joyful occasion. President Franklin D. Roosevelt and his wife were invited, but sent their regrets and congratulatory notes to both of the couples that they read at the reception.

-Stephanie Gray, Park Guide

Welcome to The Garfield Observer!

       Welcome to the brand new blog of James A. Garfield National Historic Site!  In our first post, we thought it appropriate to provide some background on how the site became a part of President Garfield’s family and later a part of the National Park Service.  

       Throughout Garfield’s seventeen-year career in the U.S. House of Representatives, he spent the year divided between a number of homes in Washington D.C. while Congress was in session and in his native northern Ohio during the summer break.  After years of summers spent at his wife Lucretia’s family home in Hiram and the recreational resort on Little Mountain near Painseville, Garfield desired a permanent family residence and a home to which he could retreat when his duties in the capital were finished. 

       In 1876, the Democratic state legislature redrew the lines of Ohio’s congressional districts and Garfield’s listed residence in Portage County fell outside the newly redrawn 19th district lines.  With the help of his friend and Cleveland businessman Dr. John P. Robison, Garfield discovered the Dickey farm in the safely Republican township of Mentor.  The farm was traversed by the Lake Shore & Michigan Southern railroad as well as the city’s main highway that connected Cleveland with Buffalo, New York, serving as the chief line of communication between the east and the west.  On September 26, 1876 Garfield made the widow Dickey an offer of $115 per acre for her 116-acre farm, and on Halloween the acquisition of the property was complete. 

So, at last, I am to be a farmer again.  As a financial investment, I do not think it very wise; but as a means of securing a summer home, and teaching my boys to do farm work, I feel well about it.”  (JAG Diary, October 31, 1876)

Dr. John P. Robison from History of Cuyahoga County, Ohio, 1879.

       The family did not move to the Mentor farm until the spring of 1877, so Garfield had his good friend Dr. Robison act as agent for his new land – managing construction projects, overseeing animal husbandry, and hiring the farm’s workers.  By the end of the year, Garfield owned roughly a 160-acre farm for which he paid a total of $17,500 – a hefty sum in the late 1870s – by taking out a mortgage on the property and borrowing money from Dr. Robison. 

       When congressional duties demanded his presence in Washington, Garfield often wrote to Lucretia about his yearning to be with the family in Ohio.  In May 1877 he penned in a letter how “sweet and inviting the dear, new home beckons to me away among the green fields of Mentor.”  When he was able to return to the farm, Garfield spent much of his time in the fields with his sons and farm hands tilling the soil and conducting a variety of agricultural experiments.  Ever the enthusiastic farmer, Garfield wrote, “I long for a time to study agricultural chemistry, and make experiments with soils and forces.” (JAG Diary, Sept. 24, 1879)  He equipped the farm with the latest machinery and supplies, including a Champion Drill to sow wheat and a Peerless Mower and Reaper.  He also improved the quantity and quality of the livestock, purchasing pure Durham cows and heifers, horses, pigs, and chickens.

       By the spring of 1880, Garfield and Lucretia decided to make some much needed changes to the house.  The original Dickey farmhouse was a small, 1 ½-story structure, clearly too small a home for the nine people who would reside there by 1879 –James and Lucretia Garfield, their five children, Lucretia’s father Zeb, and the future president’s mother Eliza.  That year, the Garfields enlarged the home to 2 ½-stories, added eleven rooms, constructed a front porch, and refurnished the interior.

“The Garfield Farm” floor plan, from the New York Herald, September 26, 1881.

       The year 1880 proved to be a busy one at the Mentor farm for that summer Garfield held his ‘front-porch’ presidential campaign from the property, nicknamed “Lawnfield” by the newspaper reporters who camped out on the grounds.  During the campaign summer, the Garfields welcomed numerous visitors to their home, such as former President Grant (and his right-hand man Roscoe Conkling, Garfield’s greatest political opponent), and the all-black Fisk University Jubilee Singers. 

1880 view of Lawnfield. (Wash drawing by delineator L.C. Corwine, Library of Congress)

The windmill added to the property by Lucretia Garfield was responsible for the home’s water supply. NPS.

       Sadly, once inaugurated as president, Garfield never returned to his Mentor home.  After his death on September 19, 1881, Lucretia and the five children returned to Mentor.  In 1885-6, Lucretia added a back wing to the home that included several extra bedrooms and the first presidential memorial library, where she preserved her husband’s papers.  She also oversaw the construction of a windmill to pump water up to the third floor of the home and a new carriage house. The Mentor farm remained in the Garfield family until 1936 when the Garfield children, by then grown with families of their own, donated the house to the Western Reserve Historical Society (WRHS) in Cleveland, Ohio.  In 1980, Congress designated James A. Garfield’s home as a National Historic Site within the National Park Service.  While the artifact collection is still owned by WRHS, the National Park Service has maintained full operations of the site since 2008.

       Lucretia once wrote to her youngest son Abram, “I somehow feel that the house here is a much more interesting monument to your father’s memory than anything that can be built merely as a monument, and I want it to be worthy of him.” (November 13, 1892).  We hope that the James A. Garfield National Historic Site today fulfills Lucretia’s wish. 

James A. Garfield National Historic Site, NPS.

P.S. We are launching this blog on July 2, 2012, the 131st anniversary of President Garfield’s shooting.  While some may call this morbid, we view it as a commemoration of his lasting legacy! 

-Stephanie Gray, Park Guide