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Posts Tagged ‘James Garfield’

A Son, A Brother, and Assassins

Posted by Laurie Frost on August 4, 2009

jwbMy virtual tag-along on Sarah Vowell’s Assassination Vacation is just about over, but before leaving it behind, I thought we should have a look at some of the folks who made this trip possible and a couple of hanger-ons.

Once again, all photos credits are to the Library of Congress.

John Wilkes Booth (LC-DIG-ppmsca-13706) has name recognition, but what about those executed as his co-conspirators?

At first I had trouble finding a shot of Lewis Thornton Powell, who failed to kill Secretary of State William H. Seward the night Booth shot Lincoln. The Library of Congress prefers one of Powell’s other names, Payne (Vowell mentions that he also went by Paine). Once I got that worked out, I had no trouble finding what I think is the picture (credit: LC-USZ62-130829) of him Vowell talks about:


He smouldered, decked out in a jaunty, crumpled, double-breasted trench coat, staring at the camera dead-on. . . .the way he was reaching into his pocket struck me as gallant, as if he were Cary Grant pulling out a monogrammed cigarette case to offer a dame a smoke. Of course, right after that picture was taken, the government strung up Powell’s pretty neck.

 Booth was killed when apprehended. Of his co-conspirators, four (Mrs. Surratt, Lewis Payne, David Herold, and George Atzerodt) were hanged, and four sent to prison in Fort Jefferson on Dry Tortugas, Florida (Dr. Samuel Mudd, Michael O’Laughlen, Samuel Arnold, Edman Spangler).

 I failed to find a picture of Mrs. Surratt or of Dr. Samuel Mudd at the Library of Congress, but here are the rest, photographed by Alexander Gardner, who also shot Payne/Powell.heroldspanglerarnoldmclaughlin

3a24066r David E. Herold (LC-B817- 7784), who was with Booth when he was caught; Edman Spangler (LC-B8177787), Samuel Arnold (LC-B817- 7778),  Michael O’Laughlen (LC-B817- 7783), and George Atzerodt (LC cph 3a24066), who didn’t follow through on his assignment to kill Vice-prresident Andrew Johnson, but was executed just the same.

Can you recall the names of the other two assassins? Vowell has fun with the way Stephen Sondheim’s musical, Assassins, contrasts these two men’s personalities. Garfield’s was Charles J. Guiteau, who went to the scaffold singing; McKinley’s, Leon Czolgosz, a grim anarchist. So much for lasting noteriety. Photos of these two are less than sparse.


 If you look closely at this collage of nine images you’ll see Pres. Garfield, his doctors, the depot and room where he was shot; the coffin at the Capitol, and Guiteau and Guiteau’s gun (LC-USZ62-80339). 

3b46778rThere are only two photo selections in the Library of Congress of Czolgosz, and for one the rights status hasn’t been evaluated, so we’ll make do with this (LC-USZ62-99204).

Finally, a few pictures of two other memorable characters from Assassination Vacation. Vowell is clearly intrigued by the way that John Wilkes Booth’s brother Edwin’s acting career and social standing survived after his brother killed the much loved (and not least of all by Vowell herself) Abraham Lincoln. She writes of passing Edwin’s statue in Gramercy Park and visiting New York City’s Players Club, which he founded.














Here he is as Hamlet ( LC-USZ62-53046) and out of costume ( LC-DIG-cwpbh-00728).


And then there is Robert Todd Lincoln, or, as Vowell deems him, the “presidential angel of death.” His connection to Lincoln is obvious, but it is his weird coincidental eyewitnessing of Garfield’s and missing by moments McKinley’s assassinations that gains him this Vowellian tag. Moreover, although a fan of his father’s, she isn’t one of his son’s.

Possible explanations for her antipathy:

  • when Mary Todd Lincoln fought his efforts to have her placed in an asylum, son Robert “instigated a nasty public insanity trial.”
  •  as Garfield’s Secretary of War, RTL was responsible for seeing that the relief ship to support the Greely North Pole expedition was dispatched to the 25-man team with supplies for their second year in the Arctic. It was never sent, and 19 died. The remaining six survived by eating their dead comrades. When the cannibalized corpses were discovered, the government claimed that the survivors had used the dead as “shrimp bait.” Vowell notes: “That’s how ugly the scandal was — that turning human flesh into shrimp bait was the positive spin.”
  • during McKinley’s term, Robert served as special counsel to the Pullman company during its suppression of labor negotiators.  
  • yet he survived to represent his family, “clearly enchanted,” at the dedication of the Lincoln Memorial in 1922.
  • rbt todd



Robert Todd Lincoln in 1865 (LC-DIG-ppmsca-19229) and 1922 (LC-USZ62-33031)

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More Postcards Sarah Vowell Didn’t Send You on Her Assassination Vacation

Posted by Laurie Frost on July 29, 2009

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 19.127765pr lawnfield

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).

hancockGiven 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 bac029510prk 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).029484pr


Finally, Washington, DC offers this statue of Garfield 042787pr(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).038224pr

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).18119r

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