Sandra Scott Travels: Remembering The Short Presidency of James Garfield

Log cabin where Garfield was born

Log cabin where Garfield was born

Last week I asked: Who was the last president to be born in a log cabin?

It was President Garfield.

Log cabin where Garfield was born
Log cabin where Garfield was born

The James A. Garfield National Historic Site is located in Mentor, Ohio, just a short detour off Interstate 90 east of Cleveland.

Recently John and I visited and learned many interesting facts about a president who only served 200 days.

The last 80 days of Garfield’s presidency was spent trying to recover from an assassination attempt.

Garfield on his death bed
Garfield on his death bed

On the morning of July 2, 1881, as Garfield walked through the railroad station with his two sons on the way to New Jersey for a short vacation, a disgruntled job seeker, Charles Guiteau, shot him.

For 80 days, doctors made several unsuccessful attempts to remove the bullet.

Alexander Graham Bell, one of his physicians, was unsuccessful in locating the bullet using the metal detector he invented.

Front porch of Lawnfield
Front porch of Lawnfield

Sterile operating conditions had yet to be universally accepted.

We also visited a replica of the log cabin where Garfield was born in 1831in the nearby village of Moreland Hills.

He was the youngest of four children.

His father died when he was two, leaving the family in poverty.

At the age of 16, he worked for a short time on the canals.

Garfield sworn in
Garfield sworn in

He earned enough money to further his education becoming a teacher, an ordained minister, then college president, and a member of the US Congress.

The James A. Garfield National Historic Site Visitor Center has an 18-minute video, several interesting displays and is where the house tours start.

The informative video said that Garfield “was the most prepared individual ever to be elected to the White House.”

During the Civil War when Garfield was 30 years old, he was promoted to Brigadier General making him the youngest general in the Union Army.

 Garfield's study and favorite chair
Garfield’s study and favorite chair

Garfield was the only president to ascend to the presidency from the House of Representatives.

He never sought the presidency and conducted his campaign from the front porch of his house in Mentor.

Hundreds would gather to hear him speak and reporters would camp out on the lawn.

He felt that instead of touting himself, he would let others do that for him.

He may have been a great president had he lived for he advocated equality for women and blacks.

Windmill tower
Windmill tower

He appointed four black men, including Frederick Douglass, to posts in his administration.

I loved his comment: “I am exceedingly disgusted with all the wire pulling of politicians and total disregard of the truth in all their operations.”

There are interesting features of Garfield’s beloved Ohio home, Lawnfield, where he said, “It is the one place I feel at peace.”

The wallpaper and a side table have a spider web motif.

Victorians believed that house spiders brought good luck and good fortune.

After his death his wife, Lucretia, worked hard to preserve his memory including creating a memorial library in the house to honor him.

Near the house there is a windmill tower that was used to pipe water to the house.

Garfield's grave site - Cleveland’s LakeView Cemetery.
Garfield’s grave site – Cleveland’s LakeView Cemetery.

On the stairs there is a large Japanese temple bell.

President Garfield may have been born in a humble log cabin but his final resting place is an impressive monument 180-feet tall that combines Romanesque, Gothic and Byzantine architectural styles.

It is located in Cleveland’s LakeView Cemetery and is on the National Register of Historic Places.

The caskets of Garfield and his wife are on display.

It is open to the public daily.

In one day it is possible to visit all three Garfield sites.

Trivia Tease™: Where is the Cobblestone Museum?

Look for the answer next week.

Sandra and her husband, John, have been exploring the world for decades, always on the lookout for something new and unique to experience. We have sailed down the Nile for a week on a felucca, stayed with the Pesch Indians in La Mosquitia, visited schools in a variety of countries, and — to add balance to our life — stayed at some of the most luxurious hotels in the world. Let the fun continue!