Home / General / Erik Visits an American Grave, Part 33

Erik Visits an American Grave, Part 33


This is the tomb of James Garfield:

2016-03-23 15.22.20

Garfield grew up in Ohio, raised by his widowed mother. He attended Williams College in Massachusetts, moved back to Ohio and entered politics as a Republican. He served in the Ohio state senate from 1859-61 and then volunteered for the Union Army during the Civil War. He rapidly rose to the rank of major general, fighting at Shiloh, among other battles. However, his war service ended in late 1863 when he was elected to Congress in 1862; nearly a year between the election and the start of the next legislative session was the norm at that time. In that year, he also fought effectively at the Battle of Chickamauga. After he left for Washington, he became a protege of Salmon Chase and aligned himself with abolitionists who felt that Lincoln was moving too slow on slavery, particularly in following Thaddeus Stevens’ advice to confiscate the lands of treasonous plantation owners and redistribute them to their former slaves. In the early years of Reconstruction, Garfield continued his alliance with the radical Republicans, hoping to impeach Andrew Johnson and being shocked and angry when that failed.

But by 1870, Garfield was rapidly moving toward a more conservative position. While he supported the 15th Amendment, he did not support the Ku Klux Klan Act of 1871, critical to Grant’s suppression of the KKK, because he worried about the effect upon habeas corpus. He became a classically Gilded Age hard money supporter, deriding greenbacks.

Like other politicians of the period, Garfield also had shady financial morals. He was caught up in the Crédit Mobilier scandal. Although it did not seem that he directly accepted Union Pacific money, he certainly was aware of the scandal and was personally offered money. At the very least, he knew about the entire scandal as a powerful congressmen and did nothing at all about it. This did not hurt him in the future. He got himself elected to the Senate with the support of the state’s powerful senator John Sherman and quickly became a dark horse for the Republican nomination in 1880. Ulysses S. Grant, who was actively seeking a third term after taking four years off, James Blaine, and John Sherman were the early favorites. When none of the three could win a majority of delegates, support began to move toward Garfield. He won election that fall over Winfield Scott Hancock. Horatio Alger wrote his campaign biography; you already know what Alger emphasized in it.

The major issue Garfield faced as president was the division between the two factions of the party, a division made clear to him as Grant’s supporters refused to support him until the very end. This of course would help lead to his assassination by the disgruntled office seeker Charles Guiteau in 1881. Some have claimed Garfield would have made a good civil rights president, but I am skeptical. He would have been good for African-Americans on patronage and he did propose some educational programs, but the general feeling within the Republican Party for aggressive action to protect black rights in the South was very low in 1881. Even if he had survived the full four years, it’s unlikely any bill would have passed for him to sign and probably not likely that he would have spent much political capital on it, although I guess we will never know.

Garfield’s tomb is big enough but it’s the inside that is really amazing. 1881 was Peak Gilded Age. Money was flowing and Garfield was part of that monied elite by this time. His policies had helped make a lot of wealthy people wealthier. So they went all out for Garfield. I visited the grave before and have been inside, but when I visited this March, the inside was closed. But these pictures other took will do.


Here is the statue of Garfield inside the tomb, with the sun reflecting on the glorious man, reminding us all of his awesomeness. In the background, you can see the ornnateness of the entire thing, which includes up to the high rotunda. That’s even better seen here:

Final Destination II

Here is the actual grave:


James Garfield is buried in Lake View Cemetery, Cleveland, Ohio.

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  • jim, some guy in iowa

    classier in the original Tutankhamun I think

    • rea

      You can’t quite see it in these pictures, but the floor mosaic incorporates a lot of swastikas.

      • The word swastika comes from the Sanskrit svastika, which means “good fortune” or “well-being.” The motif (a hooked cross) appears to have first been used in Neolithic Eurasia, perhaps representing the movement of the sun through the sky. To this day it is a sacred symbol in Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism, and Odinism. It is a common sight on temples or houses in India or Indonesia. Swastikas also have an ancient history in Europe, appearing on artifacts from pre-Christian European cultures. https://www.ushmm.org/wlc/en/article.php?ModuleId=10007453

        It had a good 5000 year run but then some disgruntled German painter had to go ruin it for everyone.

        • efgoldman

          It had a good 5000 year run but then some disgruntled German painter had to go ruin it for everyone.

          I didn’t know the history (of the symbol, not Germany) when, sometime when I was in high school, I saw an old 1930s movie which used swastikas as a screen border for the titles. My teenage self’s jaw dropped all the way to the rug.

          • Origami Isopod

            There are still some older public buildings in the US that incorporate the swastika into their interior design. Tile patterns and so forth.

    • ChrisTS

      Seriously. This is a BIG mothaf*er tomb.

      ETA: how many family apartments could be fitted inside this monstrosity?

      • efgoldman

        how many family apartments could be fitted inside this monstrosity?

        It depends. What does the code require in square feet per zombie?
        Where’s N_B when we need him?

        • ChrisTS

          Heh. I admit, I was just thinking in non-code terms.

          • N__B

            At a guess, code occupancy for maybe twenty…or for two hundred if used as a dance club.

      • DCGuy

        It’s not really huge. Have been there several times–much family is buried nearby.

  • Why isn’t the coffin open? Actually, shouldn’t it be under a huge slab of concrete to keep him in?

    I’ve only seen the above-ground coffin one other place: Les Invalides, where Nappy Bonaparte is un-buried.

    • Grant is buried in the same fashion

      • And where is Grant buried, again?

        (‘Though I think “entombed” might be a better word.)

      • EliHawk

        Though it’s still inside a big concrete stone casing though, rather than just sitting on the slab.

    • Napoleon’s tomb was impressive but I found Marshal Foch’s to be more moving.

      • Yeah, but are his remains in the box below or on the shoulders of the soldats?

        And I’ll be damned, I even visited the Army museum when there, but missed/don’t remember Foch’s tomb.

        • wjts

          I once sent a picture of this statue of Haig to a friend with the note, “Pictured: Field Marshal Haig. Not pictured: hundreds of thousands of dead Tommies in the Somme mud.”

          And I missed the museum at Les Invalides, opting instead for the frankly kind of disappointing Rodin museum across the street.

          • Ahuitzotl

            For about eight months, my regular route to work involved walking past that statue of Haig, and I made a point every time of spitting on it, in memory of my grandfathers.

            And I have to agree about the Rodin museum being disappointing

        • I think his remains are actually in the box below.

          It’s been a few years but I recall his tomb being close to Napoleon’s.

    • AB

      The miracle of Soviet science that kept Lenin looking so good had yet to be discovered.

  • efgoldman

    A palace tomb for an American doesn’t sit really well.

    • Even a man as truly transcendent as James Garfield?

      • Downpuppy

        Probably better remembered for the medical malpractice that turned a middling wound fatal than anything he did in life.

        • FMguru

          I think he’s more remembered for his love of lasagna and his hatred of Mondays.

  • Downpuppy

    Amongst the ways Cleveland Heights is the Cambridge of Ohio, Lakeview is like Mt Auburn. I grew up about a mile from it & only went in on my own to look around, never on school or family trips. It is quite nice.

  • cpinva

    Garfield died as the result of the many Dr.’s sticking their (unwashed) fingers in the entry wound, in an effort to find the bullet and extract it. this resulted in a massive blood infection, eventually leading to his drawn out, very painful death.

    subsequently, the many physicians involved all sent bills to the white house, for “services” rendered, for a total amount of approx. $80,000. all of them were denied payment.

    • efgoldman

      subsequently, the many physicians involved all sent bills to the white house, for “services” rendered, for a total amount of approx. $80,000.

      A lot of money in 1881! Equivalent to $1,982,093.39 today.

      • cpinva

        “A lot of money in 1881! Equivalent to $1,982,093.39 today.”

        yeah, I was pretty stunned when I first read about this, and I’ve never seen one of the actual bills, so I can only guess what might be on it, aside from the direct labor of the individual dr. if it’s anything like a modern bill from a hospital, they were probably trying to charge the gov’t for each article of clothing they wore, while attending him. also, meals & lodging (many of them were from out of town), transportation, both to/from DC, and their daily trip from their hotel to the white house. I’m going out on a short limb, and guessing they didn’t try and charge for a pregnancy test (they pulled that stunt, when my younger brother was in the hospital, after wrapping his car around a tree), but I assume they also charged for any drugs they gave him, and incidental supplies.

        also, A.G. Bell tried to find the bullet, using his newly invented metal detector, but was unsuccessful. it turns out that it might have worked, had the bed frame not been made of steel, thus screwing up the magnets in the detector. oh well.

        according to wiki (and many drs. who’ve studied the case) the initial wounds weren’t necessarily fatal (no vital organs were hit, and he didn’t suffer massive internal bleeding), it was the drs. poking and prodding, with unwashed fingers. he died from the infection.

        his assassin, Charles Guiteau, was barking mad. were he alive today, and did the same thing, there’s some doubt as to whether or not he would be deemed mentally competent enough to stand trial. back then, if you could just stand, he was going to trial and a hangman’s noose.

        • The Dark God of Time

          “in all cases that every man is to be presumed to be sane…until the contrary be proved…and that to establish a defense on the ground of insanity, it must be clearly proved that, at the time of the committing of the act, the party accused was labouring under such a defect of reason, from disease of the mind, as not to know the nature and quality of the act he was doing; or if he did know it, that he did not know he was doing what was wrong” (The Daniel M’Naghten’s Case, 1843, p. 722)

          He didn’t fall within this ruling, as he clearly knew that he was breaking the law.

    • Woodrowfan

      not every biographer agrees it was his doctors that doomed him. some claim his initial wounds would have been fatal. I tend to agree with you though, that his doctors did him in. At the very least they sure as hell didn’t help! Hey, lets dig for the bullet with our fingers!!!!

      I recently read a history of air conditioning. there were lots of interesting early experiments made in an attempt to spare a dying Garfield the awful heat & humidity of a DC summer.

      • wjts

        Hey, lets dig for the bullet with our fingers!!!!

        That’s just medical progress: in an earlier, less enlightened age, they would have used their toes.

        • ChrisTS

          Oh, teeth, surely?

          • wjts

            I stand quite corrected.

            • ChrisTS


              Of course, there might be other parts one could use to dig out.. never mind; I feel ill, now.

  • efgoldman

    wrong place

  • O-Town Dog

    Classy. Beautiful architecture. Also a little… uh, galling, that this dead man is buried in a nicer home than I will ever live in. Eh, so it goes.

  • Richard Hershberger

    When I first started researching early baseball, I did a lot of work on 1881. The newspaper coverage of Garfield’s condition was amazing. One paper had four status reports a day, all printed in the daily edition. Then there were the lovingly detailed accounts of Guiteau’s trial, and finally of his execution, complete with detailed diagrams of the death row and execution chamber.

    As a side effect, the word ‘crank’ was popularized in relation to Guiteau. A couple of years later some sports writers applied it to persons who were just a bit too enthusiastically devoted to baseball. Over the next few years the sense softened, and it became a standard work for baseball spectators. A parallel process was occurring at the same time with “fan,” shortened from “fanatic.” The two words coexisted into the early 20th century. “Crank” gradually dropped out of use, for reasons that are not clear to me.

  • Hogan

    Horatio Alger wrote his campaign biography

    Hawthorne wrote the campaign biography of Franklin Pierce, who went to college with him; Hawthorne was appointed consul at Liverpool, and later toured Italy, which led to his last novel The Marble Faun.

    William Dean Howells wrote Lincoln’s campaign biography and was appointed consul to Venice.

    There’s probably a dissertation in there for someone with a high tolerance for boredom.

    • wjts

      If you don’t have a high tolerance for boredom, you shouldn’t be writing a dissertation on any subject.

    • The Dark God of Time

      Hawthorne’s nomination was not without precedent. Thomas Jefferson appointed Philip Freneau (“Poet of the Revolution”) as the State Department’s first French translator, while James Madison, in 1811, sent Joel Barlow (Hasty Pudding) to France as chief negotiator on a tricky non-impressment treaty. And President Tyler continued the custom by appointing Washington Irving (The Alhambra) as minister to Spain in 1841.


      • galanx

        Gore Vidal’s 1876 has the main character, a journalist and historian, writng the campaign bio for Samuel Tilden, the Democratic candidate, among other favorable coverage, in exchange for the post of Ambassador to France, where he has spent many years.

        A good tonic if you’re depressed by the present state of politics: it could be much worse.

  • Nick Conway

    Classic forgotten president. There are only a few presidents more forgettable, one might be Benjamin Harrison. His wikipedia page claims that he was actually strong on Civil Rights, or at least made an effort:

    I was wondering if anyone knows more about Benjamin Harrison? Is he possibly underrated as a president? After all, the bar is pretty low, especially in the Gilded Age era. Just seems like an interesting guy.

    • Matt McIrvin

      He’s mostly known now for being the grandson of the only President with a shorter term in office than Garfield’s.

      • skate

        I thought Harrison was mostly known for being the guy in between Cleveland’s two non-contiguous terms.

        Also a Miami University graduate for the Ohio cognoscenti.

    • Harrison did nothing of particular interest or note. Like most Gilded Age Republican presidents, he was decent on issuing patronage to African-Americans. He did sign the bill creating the precursors to the national forests. But a huge yawn overall.

      • EliHawk

        He did sign the Sherman Antitrust Act, leaving a nice tool for future generations to actually use, even if he didn’t.

      • DocAmazing

        If you’re a student of Hawai’ian history, you’ll recognize him form the failed first annexation treaty, in support of Sanford Dole and the white platers responsible for the Bayonet Constitution.

        • He was certainly open to American imperialism, yes.

        • Richard Hershberger

          On a baseball history note, Alexander Cartwright (who did not in fact invent baseball, though he did play it, which is more than can be said for Abner Doubleday, who also did not invent the game) was a merchant in Hawai’i. He had gone west as a forty-niner, then discovered that standing up to your hips in a stream of ice melt isn’t nearly as much fun as it sounds, so he moved to Hawai’i instead. He was a member in good standing of the American expat commercial community, and a friend and adviser to the royal family. Then he was part of the group that overthrew it and called in the US government. Swell.

    • N__B

      I seem to remember that the White House got electric lights during Harrison’s term and he was scared of getting a shock from them.

    • Woodrowfan

      He was fairly active for the time, but he had a solid Republican congress, whereas most presidents of the time had to face one that was divided (usually Democratic House, Republican Senate).

      He supported expanding the navy, which had been neglected since the Civil War. There’s a great story about an American ship’s captain being embarrassed when a French attache came on board and was reminiscing about the old style cannon on the American ship. This was pre-Mahan BTW but not by much. His first book was published in 1890 so he didn’t create the support for the naval buildup, but his works certainly built on it.

      The Sherman Silver Purchase Act and the McKinley tariff were important if only because they were factors in the coming Great Depression of the 1890s. The former led to a run on the US gold reserves. Basically investors could buy US Notes with silver, and cash them in for gold. As silver prices dropped that became a bargain.

  • Garfield found a (somewhat) novel proof of the Pythagorean Theorem.

    • efgoldman

      Garfield found a (somewhat) novel proof of the Pythagorean Theorem.

      And without a computer or even a Bowmar Brain.

    • wjts

      I’m sorry to say that my own (somewhat) novel proof (“I’m looking at a right triangle now, and, yeah, that seems pretty plausible.”) has not been warmly received by the mathematical community. Although given that these same blinkered ignoramuses have consistently refused to recognize wjts’ Conjecture (“Every integer greater than 1 can be expressed as the sum of two integers”) as being at least as interesting as Goldbach’s Conjecture, I can’t say I’m surprised.

      • Pseudonym

        I believe that over 90% of integers less than or equal to one can be expressed as the sum of two integers as well.

        • wjts

          My God…

          • ChrisTS

            Yes, my child?

            • Ivan Turgenev

              I ask for nothing. After all, whatever a man prays for, he prays for a miracle. Every prayer reduces itself to this: Great God, grant that twice two be not four.

  • sleepyirv

    This of course would help lead to his assassination by the disgruntled office seeker Charles Guiteau in 1881.

    This is something of a misnomer, like describing John Hinckley as a disgruntled Jodie Foster suitor. Charles Guiteau was a crazy person who thought he should be appointed ambassador to France because of a speech he delivered on a street corner. Though the media did pick up on this angle to connect it to the serious patronage debate going at the time, we do not need to follow their lead.

    • Adam Roberts

      Reading the Wikipedia page on all this (being British, I’m lamentably ignorant) one sentence in particular stood out: ‘Guiteau purchased a gun he thought would look good in a museum, and followed Garfield several times.’ Wow.

      • Thom

        How thoughtful of him.

  • Vance Maverick

    No link to your previous visit to the tomb?

    Out here there’s a somewhat histrionic memorial near the Conservatory of Flowers.

    • I am always interested in people remembering what I write in the past. This because I almost immediately forget everything I write because I move on to something else. I had totally forgotten that post.

      • Vance Maverick

        I wasn’t quite sure, so had to Google it. But I was pretty positive I had first learned of this tour de force from you.

    • Origami Isopod

      I’m getting a malware warning on the second link, Vance.

  • socraticsilence

    Well, that goes in the Old Last Will and Testament: “Like Garfield but less restrained”

  • gogiggs

    He’s laid to rest about a mile from one of the most intense concentrations of medical expertise in world history.
    Lakeview is just up Mayfield from University Hospitals, which, if you go a few blocks west, on Euclid, is in the process of borging into the Cleveland Clinic.
    UH cured the shit out of my cancer a few years back.
    Septicemia always wins.

  • twbb

    “you already know what Alger emphasized in it.”

    How political connections are the key to success?

    Seriously though, I have a soft spot for corrupt northern politicians who despite their corruption still were on right on the most important issue of the day. Give me the shady James Garfield and Samuel Butler and even Simon Cameron over the honorable defenders of slavery like Robert E. Lee or Stonewall Jackson.

  • Srsly Dad Y

    Andrew Johnson was, of course, impeached. What failed was the effort to remove him from office. I wouldn’t bother but for the fact that students might read this.

  • oaguabonita


    Immediately reminded me of Napoleon I’s tomb at les Invalides in Paris. Given the timeframe (construction commissioned in 1842, emperor’s remains installed in 1861), can’t help wondering if Garfield’s memorializers were inspired by it.

  • DCGuy

    You also should visit Garfield’s statue in front of the Capitol. Dis you stop by his house? It’s about 20-25 miles E of the tomb. His son became a fairly distinguished architect. There are still descendants in the area.

    BTW, Lake View has all kinds of interesting people buried there: Eliot Ness, John D Rockefeller (he lived nearby for many years), the guy who invented the traffic signal, and a host of others. It’s one of the great “garden cemeteries–nicer than any in DC, although they should have left the duck pond alone–now it has a lot of graves nearby.

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