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Tomb Raiding


The James Garfield tomb is perhaps my favorite example of Gilded Age hyperbolic self-memorialization. This amazing building mythologizes our 20th president and his incalculable contributions to the nation both through finery inside the tomb and stone carvings adorning it. Essentially, when Garfield died, Republican leaders and plutocrats decided to put on a show and give him the temple they wanted for themselves. Emphasized are Garfield’s role in saving the Union and freeing the slaves, which, again, is really a projection of how these men saw themselves, regardless of their actions after the war.



With a tomb like that, you’d think Garfield was something more than a Republican political hack.

Unfortunately, the followers of Winfield Scott Hancock have struck back:

Even in death, President James A. Garfield can’t seem to catch a break.

Last week, someone apparently broke into Garfield’s tomb in the Cleveland suburbs and stole 13 commemorative spoons from a display case.

“We were like, ‘Really? They took spoons?’ ” said Katherine Goss, president and chief executive of Lake View Cemetery, which houses the Garfield tomb.

The spoons, Goss said, “would be hard to sell in a historical auction because everyone would wonder where they came from.”

The thieves left behind several other pieces of memorabilia and even some cash in a donation box, Goss said, leading her to guess that “someone had to prove that they had been inside the monument — so they had to take something.”

The evidence left behind by the burglars, she said, included a broken stained-glass window, a T-shirt, two cigarette butts and, of course, an empty bottle of Fireball cinnamon whiskey.

No doubt it was an issue over tariffs related to Fireball cinnamon whiskey.

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  • bexley

    It was Zombie Benjamin Butler.

    • rea

      If it was William S. Rosecrans, you’d have to say he had every right.

    • Lee Rudolph

      Call in Lara Croft.

  • Malaclypse

    Friends, we of LGM must put aside our differences with the forces of vodka, for they are small, and immediately declare war on the abomination that is Fireball cinnamon whiskey.

    • No doubt it was an issue over tariffs related to Fireball cinnamon whiskey.

      Wait – how do we know they were Canadian?

      Friends, we of LGM must put aside our differences with the forces of vodka, for they are small, and immediately declare war on the abomination that is Fireball cinnamon whiskey.


      • LeftWingFox

        Given personal prejudice and experience with Fireball drinkers, they were probably from northern New Brunswick.

    • “declare war on the abomination that is Fireball cinnamon whiskey”

      Had a big whisky fan friend of mine say something similar recently. I countered that having people who are generally not whisky drinkers drink that stuff, however gross, is like welcoming the fairweather fans back on the bandwagon when the team makes the playoffs. You’re being a killjoy if you yell at them, so just let them in the tent in the knowledge that at least a few of them will graduate to the real thing and be your friends.

      • Melvin the Lurker

        Anything that gets the folks at the bar I work at to drink anything at all besides bottom-grade vodka is a step in the right direction, however small.

    • Does this mean I have to enlist in the other side’s army if I soak my Cinnabon in Jameson’s?

    • TribalistMeathead

      Yeah, but a) it tastes good and b) finally, a shot that’s acceptable to drink at brunch.

    • JustRuss

      I am a whiskey drinker, and I confess, Fireball is one of my guilty pleasures. I know it makes me a bad person, but come on, who doesn’t love cinnamon?

      • Linnaeus

        I’m not a huge fan of cinnamon myself. I like it in some things, as long as it’s in the right proportion. Often, though, the taste annoys me.

    • Anna in PDX

      Ha ha. Never tried cinnamon whiskey but all you guys are such liquor snobs I usually slink away from your booze conversations in order not to be banned from this site for being such a lowbrow.

  • ThrottleJockey

    Wasn’t he a Republican back when the Republicans were the good guys?

    • I am not prepared to call the Republicans in 1880 “good guys,” unless you mean “decided that the white South was right about race relations, believed that unions were the devil’s work and so let’s call in the army, and felt the need to reinvent the wheel of corruption in all sorts of new and fun ways.”

      • ThrottleJockey

        I was thinking relative to the Dems who were still opposed blacks, no?

        • Frank Somatra

          It’s a complicated question that can be summed up as “the modern Libertarian and Republican parties are several orders of magnitude better than both major parties in 1880.” However, Hancock, if I recall correctly, was quite good, if I recall correctly, though I mostly know of him through his actions in the Civil War. Anyone confirm that?

          Interesting note about Garfield: he “was for a short period a sitting Representative, Senator-elect, and President-elect.”

          • Hancock was a very staunch Unionist but he was also very much a white supremacist, states-rights Democrat who promoted Johnson’s Reconstruction policy, so much so that Grant transferred him out of the South in 1869.

            • rea

              Hancock was also president of the NRA, oddly enough.

              • RMC

                As opposed to Ambrose Burnside, who was their first Prez.

          • Anonymous

            It’s a complicated question….

            Translation: “I don’t want to say”

    • I thought Garfield was at least sincere in his attempts at promoting civil rights.

      • He spoke good words about it but so did lots of Republicans at this time. Honestly, it’s wise to never take a Republican speech of the Gilded Age at face value or translating into action in any way. I am highly skeptical that he would have done much of anything to promote civil rights.

        • Another Holocene Human

          But he seemed serious enough to somebody about reforming the civil service to get shot, so there is that, right?

          You’re killing me here–I’m part Welsh and as such very vaguely related to Garfield in some way and always grew up being told he was a hero. I’m prepared to think of him like my great grandfather, also Republican/Union Club member, who had a few heroic moments in a life mostly that consisted of being a selfish asshole. You’re destroying my illusions, man.

          • While I think Garfield did support some level of civil service reform, his assassination wasn’t because of that support. It was because his side of the Republican Party won and the other side didn’t so one guy who didn’t get an appointment shot him. Civil service reform came out of that assassination.

            • Another Holocene Human

              So he’s, like, the Matthew Sheppard of civil service reform?

              From what I understand, it took a long time for Garfield to die and his doctors helped kill him. Supposedly if they’d left the bullet alone he might have recovered, but instead they kept trying to fish it out in unsanitary procedures and Garfield died of sepsis or something like that.

              It seems like with everyone around the guy feeling guilty about something that the giant tomb is a way for the Republicans to put it past them. Memorialize him as a hero and shut up all the questions about the people around the president or the intra-party divisions?

              • It’s worth remembering how new modern medicine with doctors that actually understood how bodies operate actually is.

                • drkrick

                  They may be saying the same thing 100 years from now. I know the psychologists will.

                • Alexander Graham Bell tried to use a metal detector to locate the bullet, but it was a failure.

                  Apparently,Joseph Listers discoveries hadn’t quite crossed the Atlantic yet.

                  Lister left Glasgow in 1869, returning to Edinburgh as successor to Syme as Professor of Surgery at the University of Edinburgh and continued to develop improved methods of antisepsis and asepsis. His fame had spread by then, and audiences of 400 often came to hear him lecture. As the “germ theory of disease” became more widely accepted, it was realised that infection could be better avoided by preventing bacteria from getting into wounds in the first place. This led to the rise of sterile surgery. Some[who?] consider Lister “the father of modern antisepsis”.

            • wjts

              It was because his side of the Republican Party won and the other side didn’t so one guy who didn’t get an appointment shot him.

              Guiteau was on Garfield’s side in the intraparty fight. He was convinced that he – a failed lawyer and preacher who wrote a pamphlet endorsing Garfield – had been instrumental in Garfield’s defeat of Hancock and accordingly deserved to be rewarded with an ambassadorship to either Austria-Hungary or France. When his requests were refused, he shot Garfield. Upon his arrest, he is said to have proclaimed, “I am the Stalwart of the Stalwarts – Arthur is President now!”

            • Manny Kant

              Guiteau was basically just a nut. He wasn’t actually a “Stalwart” in any real sense. He was a lunatic who grasped on to the idea that he was a “Stalwart” while building up a sense of grievance against the Garfield administration.

          • DrS

            You’re destroying my illusions, man.

            What, are you trying to encourage Loomis here? I’m sure he’s got moar horse pics. ;)

          • rea

            His big moment in the war–he was Rosecran’s chief of staff at Chickamauga–did not go well, to put it mildly.

            Crucial moment at Chickamauga–the Union right has been routed and is retreating in disorder to Chattanooga. The Union left, under George Thomas, is standing like a rock. Rosecrans and Garfield had been stationed behind the right, and carried away in the rout. Rosecrans gives Garfield an order–return to Chattanooga and start reorganizing the routed forces, while Rosecrans joins Thomas at the front. Garfield declines, pleading military ignorance–he has no idea what to do. Instead, he goes to the front, and Rosecrans goes to Chattanooga. Garfield later spins this as his heroism and Rosecrans’ cowardice.

  • The contrast with the relatively tasteful Lincoln Tomb is amazing. You’d think Garfield saved the Union and Lincoln was just some guy.

    • My thought on visiting the Garfield tomb was that at least Jefferson had the good sense to be buried in his back yard.

    • rea

      Lincoln’s tomb was burglarized, too, although less successfully.

    • jim, some guy in iowa

      the Lincoln tomb is a bit more extravagant than I expected, though nowhere near as gaudy as Garfield’s. kind of amazing to read it was falling apart within 30 years of being built, though

      it seems it’s always hacks that get the royal treatment- is there an example of a first-rater, so to speak, that got something as Trump-esque as Garfield’s joint?

      • rea

        Grant did pretty well when it came to handing out tombs . . .

        • Lee Rudolph

          And Who, after all, was on first before being buried in Grant’s tomb.

      • Just a Rube

        Does Napoleon count? Or are we limiting ourselves to Americans?

        • jim, some guy in iowa

          ah, there we go. knew there were exceptions, just couldn’t think of them

          • Manny Kant

            If we’re not restricting ourselves to Americans, Tamerlane has a pretty ridiculous tomb.

      • Another Holocene Human

        I figure the year it was built has more to do with it than the man. This is a time when America’s robber baron class had consolidated power and knew that European elites severely looked down on them and they were trying to build respect and legitimacy with very public architecture. Look at some of the state capitals and public libraries they built. Or headhouses for subways, even. Like Roman patricians building a Roman city with all the accoutrements in a conquered territory, the Gilded Age elites wanted to prove their worth and remake the whole meaning of American–wealthy, powerful, reaching for the skies, awe-inspiring.

        Took a while for uniquely American architecture to find its own voice again.

        • Another Holocene Human

          (Although in the Midwest there was a lot of interest in Celtic stenciling at this time, kind of an odd contrast given how Irish were perceived at the time. I don’t think I’ve seen it on the East Coast but some marvelous examples are still extant in the Midwest.)

        • Aimai

          You’d think the guy had conquered all of India with that level of ornamentation.

        • Vance Maverick

          Which uniquely American architecture are you thinking of? Our lack of a uniquely American anything is kind of what makes us American.

          • I feel that Cheetos are uniquely American.

            • JustRuss

              And Fireball whiskey?

              • DrS

                Don’t give Taco Bell any new menu ideas.

                • DrS

                  At least for free!

                  It’d be sad for you to see the new Fireball Cheetos Taco and not get a cut.

          • dn

            Richardson. Sullivan. The “shingle style”. The Prairie School. The American version of “arts and crafts” style.

          • Linnaeus

            Maybe not uniquely American, but perhaps distinctly American.

          • wjts

            Which uniquely American architecture are you thinking of?

            Frank Lloyd Wright’s uninhabitable space-age bachelor hobbit holes?

            • Or his impractical business buildings?

              • BigHank53

                Hey–you got a problem with rain gutters on the inside of buildings? Philistine.

      • Ahuitzotl


    • Denverite

      I thought the Lincoln tomb struck just the right note between solemn and grand.


    Not another “Fireball Cinnamon Whiskey Rebellion!!!”

    • Bill Murray

      what if it was combined with Bacon’s Rebellion, to make a cinnamon-bacon whiskey

  • Steve LaBonne

    The Garfield Memorial is only one of the highlights of Lakeview Cemetery, a remarkable outdoor historical museum. Check out the gorgeous Tiffany-designed Wade Memorial Chapel, where my wife and I had our wedding in 2012. we get a kick out of telling people we were married in a cemetery. ;)

  • What is Garfield supposed to be doing in that statue? Is there something in his navel?

    • CD

      Hoisting himself out of his chair after dinner and heading for bed, I’d say.

    • herr doktor bimler

      Plugging a bullet hole.

  • CB

    ‘Fireball Cinnamon Whiskey’ is the most offensive part of that entire article

  • rw970

    “The spoons, Goss said, “would be hard to sell in a historical auction because everyone would wonder where they came from.””

    I’m tickled by the idea that there are people who would recognize James Garfield’s commemorative spoon collection at a glance. Truly, our great nation contains multitudes.

    • Aimai

      Agreed. Also, perhaps, the spoons would be hard to sell because THEY ARE SPOONS. My Sister In Law bought us some commemorative college spoons when our daughters were born. I am still a bit astounded by the choice, which she saw as perfectly natural. Have child, want child to go to college in 17 years, buy commemorative spoon to express this wish. There was something so very magical and quotidian about this kind of thinking.

    • FMguru

      “I’m tickled by the idea that there are people who would recognize James Garfield’s commemorative spoon collection at a glance.”

      The sort of people who would bid on collector-grade antique spoons probably would.

    • Hogan

      The folks from Antiques Roadshow would be all over that.

    • Njorl

      The only question is whether the thieves were working for one of the many billionaire illicit spoon collectors directly, or if they were working for one of the notorious hot spoon dealers.

  • low-tech cyclist

    In the admittedly unlikely event that I ever pass through Cleveland again, I’m gonna have to see that tomb. Such impressive ostentation can’t just be passed by.

    • Steve LaBonne

      Seriously, if the weather is good try to set aside a few hours for the whole cemetery. You’ll be glad you did.

    • It’s also about 100 feet from John D. Rockefeller’s grave, which being a Baptist with the misfortune of living long past the era of crazy tombs, is just a big obelisk.

      • Oh sure, you *say* it’s an obelisk, but it’s clearly a marker for the New World Order and the Rosicrucians!

      • Another Holocene Human

        A big obelisk is a bit harder to vandalize and set ablaze, I think. Even attempting to topple it is not without its risks.

  • Gawd. I’ve only seen pictures of this, and only the outside. Had no idea the inside was just as strange.

    In photos, the thing always looks extraordinarily grimy.

    • Another Holocene Human

      All the buildings in the rust belt once looked like that, you know. Pittsburgh must have spent a lot of money to make it look the way it does now. Used to be black with white streaks from the acid rain. Western Europe looked the same.

      Has everyone forgotten so quickly?

      • jim, some guy in iowa

        I have an interest in old railroad pictures and it is amazing how *filthy* everything was- it makes an interesting contrast with the xanadu-style stations

        • If you were finding the best one word with which to describe the past, “disgusting” would be competitive.

          • N__B

            Courtier: Sire, sire, the peasants are revolting.

            Tsar: The peasants are revolting? The peasants are disgusting.

            • dk

              You said it, they stink on ice!

        • Hogan

          Unless you were riding the Delaware, Lackawanna and Western.

      • Bill Murray

        Has everyone forgotten so quickly?

        or about the peppered moth and industrial melanism

      • I realized that and thought about noting it…

        • Northern England was like this in the 1980s; suddenly, your home town looked up and noticed that the buildings were all black and hadn’t been built that way, and hired someone to sandblast them, and the world changed colour overnight. This happened about the time Thatcher killed off the industries, but the big improvement in the air came well before that.

          One of the last to go was the Queen’s Hotel in Leeds, a late empire/moderne near-skyscraper over the railway station, which was covered in shit well into the 90s, when someone finally sandblasted it and it turned out to be snow-white.

          But it was the stone buildings that were weird; I grew up thinking it was naturally that colour.

  • Cinnamon whiskey? Is this a thing now?

    • J R in WV

      Bubblegum Vodka!!! Meteor time NOW!

      Alcohol for people who want to be drunk, but don’t like the taste of alcohol.

      So sad.

  • dn

    Wow. As 19th-century eclectic revival architecture goes it’s actually not as unrestrained as some, but that’s not saying much. (The architect actually did a reasonably artful job of jamming together elements from different historical periods and places. All hopelessly confused, and ridiculously over-the-top given that we’re talking about James Garfield, of course, but still…)

  • ninedragonspot

    And a world away, the tomb of Beijing opera legend Tan Xinpei (1847-1917) was broken into. There was nothing inside worth stealing, however.

    Merely a coincidence?

    • Another Holocene Human

      Ugh, that photo is really depressing. People suck.

    • brettvk

      I’ve never used the “translate page” option before. That was…interesting.

  • LuigiDaMan

    Have your fun, Erik, but it was always a great place to take a date for free.

  • Lurking Canadian

    Whatever faults he may have had, I will never lose my awe that Garfield somehow came up with a distinct proof of the Pythagorean theorem that nobody else had thought of in the roughly 2500 years since Pythagoras died. That is hard core smarts for a president.

    • Linnaeus

      He could also, from what I’ve read, write Greek in one hand and Latin in the other simultaneously.

    • snarkout

      The only American president to have been a university president (at least until TRESSELMANIA 2024 hits the nation).

      • Lee Rudolph

        Eh? Garfield was president of Columbia University from 1948 to 1953??

      • rea


        • rea

          And Woodrow Wilson

          • Hurling Dervish

            Thomas Jefferson

            • Manny Kant

              Thomas Jefferson was never president of UVA, a position which wasn’t established until the twentieth century. Both he and Madison served as “Rector,” but I think that was more an honorific than a practical responsibility.

  • Sockie the Sock Puppet

    Sounds like a Breaking Bad fan with too much time on her hands.

  • Baramos

    It was probably Marie Schrader.

  • Pingback: ExecutedToday.com » 1882: Charles Guiteau, James Garfield’s colorful assassin()

  • Casual Observer


    I’ll take up the cause of Garfield. He wasn’t some gilded age stooge that you’ve unfortunately portrayed him to be. He was a fine and modest, and perhaps the most intelligent man to serve as President. Don’t let your “I hate modern Republicans, so even Lincoln must be a bastard” taint your view of him.

    1. He liked bi-metalism, although curiously he hated the greenback when he was in the House, because he thought a strong currency was necessary in the immediate aftermath of the Civil War to maintain international respect for American commerce during Reconstruction.

    Remember that bimetalism is a little guy versus evil goddamned banker fight that continues to this day. Before the Fed, roughly all of our elections had protracted fights on the gold standard, or the silver standard. The evil banksters wanted a gold standard. Why? Well, debts were fixed and fixed over time, so bankers hated inflation. Debtors, in particular farmers, loved inflation and loved bimetalism as it meant that they could actually get out from under their notes when the price of their commodities rose and their debts stayed fixed.

    2. He grew up a farmer, and encouraged modernized agricultural practices and technology, and the export of American agricultural products. He also favored home ownership policies.

    3. In addition to proving the Pythagorean theorem, mastering languages, serving as a university professor, and being a general smarty pants, he also is the only President who worked as a clergyman.

    4. He appointed Sen. Blaine to be Secretary of State, and encouraged Pan-American relationships with Latin America. Blaine also continued his crusade against the British navy and advocated for more American fishing rights.

    5. He really screwed over Senator Conkling, who by all accounts was a Stalwart Machine Grant Republican and lecher (read “prick,” though Conkling did help to author the 14th and 15th amendments) from NY leading to Conkling resigning from the US Senate in a huff.

    6. His one appointee to the Supreme Court was Stanley Matthews, whose own short tenure was significant in authoring Yick Wo v. Hopkins, which took on the evil close-minded bigots in San Francisco, who at the time hated the Chinese.

    7. Garfield himself was one of the lawyers to represent and argue on behalf of Lambdin Milligan before the Supreme Court in Ex Parte Milligan, which held that military tribunals shall not try US citizens when the civilian courts are open.

    For a guy who got killed during his first year in office, he’s not too shabby. He’s certainly not a standard guilded age politician, and in many ways, he was a compromise candidate when the guilded Reconstructionists couldn’t agree on their respective corporate stooges.

    • Garfield’s greatest skill was somehow managing to be both massively corrupt and somehow coming out it with his reputation intact, as was seen in Credit Mobilier.

      We can argue about bimetalism I guess, so fine. The rest of it isn’t enough to say one thing or the other in evaluating him. I certainly don’t care about his achievements outside of politics. As for Conkling, at this point, there aren’t really Republicans one can legitimately root for here.

    • He liked bi-metalism

      I like AC/DC too, but damned if you want me as President.

  • heckblazer

    Just because when the hell else will it be topical, I present the ballad “Charles Guiteau” from the Anthology of American Folk Music.

  • simple mind

    Looks like a fancy armory.

  • Richard Welty

    you may want to look in to this monument to William McKinley on the Antietam Battlefield: http://www.nps.gov/anti/historyculture/mnt-mckinley.htm

    • It’s worth noting that monuments to McKinley were pretty much the end of the Gilded Age memorialization era, and they are everywhere around the North. That’s especially true in Ohio, but I’ve driven through New England towns with big McKinley statues as well.

    • Casual Observer


      I think you’re being too hard on the man. Part of the reason for the elaborate tomb — as well as the elaborate monuments to McKinley — are that these guys were murdered while in office.

      Chet Arthur and Benjamin Harrison have modest tombs despite being Gilded Age Republicans. (Interesting fact, Benjamin Harrison’s describes him as a “lawyer and publicist” but if you keep reading on the stone, you see as an afterthought that he was also President of the United States).

      JFK has many monuments, museums, roads, parks, performing arts centers, and airport terminals. He had great achievements, but his legacy has IMHO exceeded those achievements. Part of the reason is that he, too, was murdered while serving as President.

      Guys who get assassinated while running nations get special memorials. If you think conservatives are intolerable now, can you imagine all the bullshit we’d have to put up with if Hinkley had succeeded in killing Reagan?

      Seems fair to me that those who die while holding our highest office, get lauded.

      • Yes, but what does any of this have to do with being too hard on his policies?

        • Casual Observer

          I think you’re being too hard on his policies because the man was killed in his first year in office. I’m not a professional Garfield scholar, but nothing jumps out at me as particularly bad about the man’s policies. He was known for trying to clean up the post office and for railing against the spoils system. He beat and pissed off a lot of the Republican cranks who were really, really corrupt. He did a few notable things with foreign policy in the Americas, and then he was killed.

          Not sure what he did that was so bad. He gets a big tomb because he didn’t tick off a lot of people and he was murdered.

    • Casual Observer

      Richard, great find! The McKinley coffee memorial is terrific. It reads,

      “Sergeant McKinley Co. E. 23rd Ohio Vol. Infantry, while in charge of the Commissary Department, on the afternoon of the day of the battle of Antietam, September 17, 1862, personally and without orders served “hot coffee” and “warm food” to every man in the Regiment, on this spot and in doing so had to pass under fire.”

      Not to belittle Wm. McKinley’s war accomplishments, but, of course, what what were the other members of the Regiment doing when they weren’t drinking hot coffee or eating warm food? One presumes that many, and I daresay most, of them were trying to win the battle of Antietam.

  • Hurling Dervish

    I just found out the Garfield Tomb has a ballroom in it. What the heck?

  • Aaron Baker

    Wow. Look at a well-preserved Roman tomb like the Mausoleum of Galla Placidia, and it’s positively plain by comparison.

  • Jamie

    I have to assume this was not about selling historic artifacts. I grew up in Ohio. There is rather a lot of anger. I would never do this (I got away), but taking a trophy doesn’t surprise me.

    I don’t endorse that. But I get the impulse.

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