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

“The Vanishing First Lady”-or Am I?

First Lady Lucretia Garfield lived for 36 years after her husband, President James A. Garfield, was assassinated in 1881 by Charles Guiteau.  During that time, she became a beloved figure in America, though she shunned publicity.  She created the first Presidential Memorial Library and became the matriarch of a large, close-knit and affectionate family.  Debbie Weinkamer, who portrays Lucretia, is a Garfield researcher, first-person living historian, and the Lead Volunteer at James A. Garfield National Historic Site in Mentor, Ohio.  Here she presents how Lucretia would speak for herself in answering the critics if she had the chance.  Not always self-assured, except in the company of friends and family, nevertheless, Lucretia had always met adversity head on, facing her responsibilities. 

I appreciate this opportunity to write to you in order to clear up some misconceptions about me.  Many of you have not heard much about me since my husband’s assassination and death in 1881.  Even the newspapers have called me the “Vanishing First Lady” and “Discreet Crete.”  I must admit: I have ducked all publicity, for I feel that in no way am I personally famous.  The name I bear is honored and honorable, but I am just an ordinary woman devoted to her husband and children.

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Mrs. Lucretia Garfield, ca. 1881.  (Library of Congress)

I did enjoy my husband’s rise to prominence in politics, contrary to many historians’ opinions of me.  At the beginning of his political career, I wrote to him that, “I feel so much anxiety for you that your public career be never marked by the blight of a misdirected step.  I want you to be great and good.”  I was one of his most-trusted confidants and advisors.  I didn’t expect him to be nominated for President in the political climate of 1876-1880, but thought that his time would eventually come.  However, after he received the “dark horse” nomination at the 1880 Republican Convention in Chicago, I wanted him to win the election – even though I knew that it would bring political difficulties to my husband and a terrible responsibility to our entire family.

My quiet, shy nature made me very reluctant to take over the social duties of First Lady, even though I had been a Congressman’s wife for 17 years and had lived in Washington with my husband and family during sessions of Congress since 1869.  However, I was very fortunate to receive the good advice and assistance of my friend Harriet Blaine, wife of my husband’s Secretary of State and “an experienced Washington grande dame.”  I came to rely on her fine judgment regarding many etiquette matters, including how to establish my calling hours at the Executive Mansion, and effective ways to handle newspaper correspondents and petty criticisms.

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A young James Garfield and Lucretia Rudolph around the time of their engagement.  They married on November 11, 1858.  (Western Reserve Historical Society)

(Here, I must pause to reveal some interesting correspondence regarding the Blaines…In April 1875, I received a letter from my husband concerning a rumor that when James Blaine was getting married to Harriet, the couple’s “warm blood led them to anticipate the nuptial ceremony,” and their first child was born about six months after their marriage.  My husband asked, would this fact “have weight with the people in the Presidential Campaign?” [Mr. Blaine was being considered by some for the presidency.]  

I replied, “It was a queer piece of gossip you gave me of Mr. Blaine.  I scarcely believe it.  But if it is true, it ought not to affect the voters very much unless it would have been considered more honorable by the majority to have abandoned the woman—seduced.  My opinion of Mr. Blaine would be rather heightened than otherwise by the truth of such a story: for it would show him not entirely selfish and heartless.”)

During his brief presidency, my husband paid me the best compliments a political wife can receive: that I was discreet and wise, that my “role as his partner in the presidential enterprise was essential to him,” and that I “rose up to every occasion.”

I have led a quiet, yet social, life since that terrible tragedy in 1881.  I created a “country estate” from my farm property in Mentor, Ohio and embarked on several building projects.  A “Memorial Library” addition was built onto the back of the farmhouse, complete with a fire-proof vault to hold my husband’s papers from his public career (and more than 1,200 letters shared between us).  I’ve been told that it may inspire others to create presidential libraries one day!

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Lucretia Rudolph Garfield in her later years, in a portrait by John Folinsbee.  This portrait hangs in the Garfield home at James A. Garfield National Historic Site in Mentor, Ohio.  (National Park Service)

My children have completed college, married, and now have children of their own.  I am so pleased to say that they have grown up to be distinguished citizens in their own right.  We all gather at the Mentor farm every summer, and I can be found wintering in South Pasadena, California.  I love to travel to New York City for the opera season and to visit my 16 grandchildren at least once a year.

I try to keep well-informed of science, cultural, and political events, both at home and abroad.  I have co-founded a ladies’ literary group (based on one that my husband and I attended in Washington) called the Miscellany Club, where monthly meetings are held in members’ homes and we take turns speaking on subjects related to a year-long topic, like “American History.” I often correspond with my oldest sons about political matters, which can get quite interesting since one is aligned with Woodrow Wilson and the other with Theodore Roosevelt!

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Mrs. Lucretia Garfield (center, seated) surrounded by grandchildren on her Mentor, Ohio property.  (Lake County Historical Society)

My five children have been a continual joy and inspiration to me.  And with the memory of my dear Husband and our little ones who didn’t stay with us very long…I have had a remarkable life.  For does not life grow richer as the years go by?  Even our losses lead us into wider fields and nobler thoughts.

Very respectfully,

Lucretia R. Garfield

 

-Debbie Weinkamer, Lead Volunteer

(This article originally appeared at http://kennethackerman.com/guest-blogger-debbie-weinkamer-on-lucretia-garfield-the-vanishing-first-lady-or-am-i/ on March 30, 2012.)

 

 

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