We’ve two more dead presidents to go, if we follow Sarah Vowell’s Assassination Vacation. Sarah is a very big fan of Abraham Lincoln’s; less so of her other two subjects, James Garfield and William McKinley.
Once again, all photo credits are to the Library of Congress.
Garfield was only four months into his first term when he was gunned down July 2, 1881; he died September 19.
He came to Washington from Lawnfield, his home in Mentor, Ohio. When Vowell visits, she imagines the candidate Garfield campaigning from his front porch (LC HABS OHIO,43-MENT,2-9), but feels most sympathetic toward the man when she is in his home library (LC HABS OHIO,43-MENT,2-16).
Given the shortness of his presidency and his lack of other claims to fame, Vowell is hard pressed to find traces of Garfield in Washington, DC. But she soldiers on, beginning her walking tour at the equestrian statue of the Democratic candidate defeated by Garfield, Winfield Scott Hancock (LC-DIG-npcc-00116). Then on to the Arts and Industries Museum of the Smithsonian, where Garfield’s inaugural ball was held (LC HABS DC,WASH,520A-5), and then to the back entrance of the National Gallery of Art, where the depot of the Baltimore & Potomac Railroad depot once stood. This is where Garfield was shot, and Vowell is seriously perturbed to find no historical marker commemorating the event.
After a brief stop to recover at the Sherman monument, she carries on to the corner of Fifteenth and F, where the assassin, Charles Guiteau, bought his gun. That building is long gone, but here is the corner, for what it’s worth (LC HABS DC,WASH,512-1).
Finally, Washington, DC offers this statue of Garfield (LC HABS DC,WASH,618-13). Vowell finds it
exceedingly gay. A life-size, fully dressed Garfield stands on top of a giant shaft. At the foot of the shaft, at eye level, three skimpily clad male figures recline. . . And Garfield looms over them, like a dirty old man pulling up in his car about to take his pick from a lineup of street hustlers.
But there’s more. Garfield didn’t die immediately from his wounds; he lingered on for the summer, and when he appeared out of danger, was taken by train to Long Branch, New Jersey, where he had a beach house. That is gone, too, so Vowell makes do with a visit to St. James Chapel, better known as the Church of the Presidents, popular site for worship by vacationing commanders-in-chief. Garfield’s remains were first taken there (LC HABS NJ,13-LOBRA,4-1).
And though her visit there appears not in Vowell’s chapter on Garfield, but in the next one, on McKinley, we’ll end today’s tour with the Garfield Memorial, Cleveland (LC-DIG-ppmsca-18119).