On This Date in History: President James A. Garfield was shot in a train station by Charles Guiteau on this date in 1881. Guiteau had wanted a political appointment to a consul Generalship of a foreign country. Guiteau lacked in social graces and had lurked like a stalker around the White House for about 4 months so it’s no wonder that Garfield did not oblige. In early July, the President had been quite gleeful. One of his chief politcal opponents, Sen. Thomas Platt, met his political demise when Platt was discovered by reporters as he fooled around in a hotel room with a married woman. Someone, most likely a Garfield supporter, had placed a ladder below a hotel room window and reporters just happened to have such curiosity that they climbed the ladder only to Senator Platt and the woman in action. Apparently, many newspapers refused to print the story claiming it was not fit to print. Nevertheless, in the early morning of July 2, 1881 Garfield reportedly was doing handstands on his son’s bed in celebration. The President is said to have remarked, “Suicide is the chief mode of political death.” Little did he know that his own lively spirits were near an end.
Garfield was due to catch a train from Washington to Elberon, NJ from which he was to go to a Williams College reunion. Garfield’s entourage arrived at the Baltimore and Potomac railraod station and at 8:30AM on this date in 1881, Charles Guiteau shot President Garfield in the back. One story claims that the bullet nicked an artery and that eventually killed him 11 weeks later. The bullet was lodged in his body and another story says that if they had left it alone, he would have lived. Both stories allude to the doctors ignoring the research of Louie Pasteur who had brought to light the idea of bacteria. It was common for surgeons to wear the same coat from surgery to surgery. I suppose that a display of blood on their garments proved their work ethic. As an example of the state of the medical profession with regard to germs, a common form of treatment for a number of maladies was a beefsteak enema! Garfield’s doctors were among those who pooh-poohed and mocked germ theories. The skeptical physicians arrived on the scene and didn’t bother washing their hands nor the instruments. The first doctor on the scene put a hot water bottle on the wounded president’s feet then removed it and opened a window. Then he closed the window and called another doctor. The second doctor, Robert Reyburn, thought it was all a prank and took his time getting to the train station. When he arrived, he poked his dirty fingers into the hole in his body looking for the bullet.
By that time, 10 doctors were in the train station and they finally decided to move the president. Over the next several weeks, the President got weaker and doctors were flummoxed. Alexander Graham Bell was summoned to try to locate the bullet with some gizmo. But, all of that poking and prodding with unsterile hands and instruments is surmised by many historians to have brought about the President’s demise, just 6 months into his term. But then again…
It could have been the presence of one man who brought the doom. Robert Todd Lincoln was Abraham Lincoln’s oldest son and the only one still living in 1881. He had served on the staff of General U.S. Grant and was in Washington at the conclusion of the Civil War. His parents had invited him to come see Our American Cousin at Ford’s Theatre but he declined, saying he was tired. For the rest of his life he felt a sense of guilt, always wondering what would have happened had he gone to the theatre instead of going to bed. While he was not present in Ford’s Theatre when John Wilkes Booth fired the fateful bullet, he was at the 16th President’s bedside when he died.
In 1881, Robert Lincoln was the Secretary of War for the Garfield administration and he was expected to travel with the president to New Jersey. It has been well documented that President Lincoln had dreams prior to his assassination related to his death. Some histories claim that Garfield had been having similar dreams and wanted to discuss them with Robert Lincoln which was the reason that he invited his Secretary of War to accompany him on the trip. But, Lincoln was running behind and was a bit tardy to the train station. Just as he arrived, Robert Todd Lincoln heard the shot that resulted in the second presidential assassination in United States history.
Twenty years later, President McKinley was at the Pan-American Exposition in Buffalo, New York on September 6, 1901. Presidential invitation in hand, Robert Todd Lincoln arrived just in time to hear two shots ring out. The President of the United States had been assassinated for the third time in history and Robert Todd Lincoln had either been present at the death or the shooting of all three men. Again, some histories claim that McKinley had been having dreams relating to his own death and wanted to talk to Robert about it. As a veteran of presidential assassinations, supposedly and perhaps predictably, Robert Todd Lincoln refused to attend any more public functions with the president, thinking that his presence at all of the shootings was more than just coincidence. He became somewhat of a recluse for the remainder of his life lamenting that “there is a certain fatality about presidential functions when I am present.” However, he did become the president of Chicago’s Pullman Company. He died in 1926. Robert Todd Lincoln’s assocation with presidential assassination followed him even death. Robert Todd Lincoln’s grave can be found in Arlington National Cemetery…just a few yards from that of John Fitzgerald Kennedy…who was killed when riding in a Lincoln.
Weather Bottom Line: Snow White and I had a dinner picnic along the river on Thursday, knowledgeable that this streak of dry and relatively cooler weather is about over. Friday’s winds will be out of the East, rather than Northeast as high pressure moves toward the Eastern Seaboard. By the time we get to Saturday afternoon, the winds will shift to a more southerly component and temperatures will rise again to the 90’s and humidity levels will surge. So, its back to the regime we had for a couple of weeks and I suspect that it will be with us for a stretch. So, hope you got a chance to enjoy the fabulous weather while it lasted…certainly gave me a break on the air conditioning bill. Oh..BTW…there is a low trying to form in the extreme NE part of the Gulf of Mexico but I see zero evidence that it will be of any significance except to give the media something to talk about over the weekend related to the Gulf Oil Spill.