DITTRICK Museum Blog

How Did Garfield Die? (part 2)

Continuing our series from Monday–come hear more at Thursday’s EVENT!

Tuesday: (Picture source: Kouwenhoven, John Atlee. Adventures of America, 1857-1900: A Pictorial Record from Harper’s Weekly. New York: Harper & Brothers, 1938. Print.)

In this wood engraving published on August 13, 1881, President Garfield appears lying on the bed while Alexander Bell, the father of the telephone, looks for the bullet with an electronic detector. Bell’s device failed to find the bullet, but in part this was due to Dr. Bliss, who prevented Bell from being more thorough. Other industrial inventions were also applied to relieve the pain felt by Garfield. For example, the president’s room was “air-conditioned” by fans that blew air over ice. Even so, none of these industrial miracles could overcome the fatal infection brought on by doctors’ dirty, unsterilized fingers and instruments. At the end of August, President Garfield’s health had seriously declined.

Posting by Celia Wan, Dittrick Museum Intern