How did Garfield Die? [Part 5]

Friday.jpg

Friday: (Harper’s Magazine, Volume 25, 673)

On September 26, 1881, President Garfield’s body arrived in Cleveland, Ohio, (not far from his home in Mentor). The engraving above shows Garfield’s catafalque, solemnly escorted by honor guards and mourning citizens. Many felt they had lost more than a man; they had lost the promise of equity he represented. At the autopsy after Garfield’s death, people found that the bullet did not strike any major organs, arteries or veins. Today, historians of medicine generally agree that Garfield’s wound was not lethal, but caused by infection introduced, sadly, by his own physician. In the wake of the catastrophe, germ theory gained wider acceptance–and so, perhaps due to Garfield’s sad but high-profile case, more lives were later saved by antiseptic medicine. Garfield was permanently buried at Lakeview Cemetery in Cleveland, and his monument still stands as a testament to this chapter of medical history–the transition to modern antiseptic!

How Did President Garfield Die? [part 3]

Continuing our series on Garfield’s death–join us for the talk Thursday, and read more at the Plain Dealer, cleveland.com!

wednesdayWednesday: (Harper’s Magazine, Volume 25, 628)

On September 17, 1881, Harper’s Weekly published these scenes with the following titles: “Removing the President from the White House” and “Removing the president from the Express Wagon to the Railway car.” He had already been bedridden some time and through the hottest months. When September arrived, the President demanded to be removed from to the seaside; Dr. Bliss tried to forbid it, but Garfield insisted that he was not asking permission. Carefully removed to a train, he was transported to the Francklyn Cottage in Elberon, New Jersey, with loyal followers throwing straw on the tracks to make the ride easier.  Garfield had always found comfort and peace in seeing the ocean; however, the fresh airs and tranquility did not aid to his recovery. In the following weeks the President’s conditioned worsened.

Posting by Celia Wan, Dittrick Museum Intern

How Did Garfield Die? (part 2)

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

tuesdayTuesday: (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

How Did President Garfield Die??

Have you ever wondered? President Garfield felled–but not by a bullet!

On July 2, 1881, President James Garfield was shot by a disgruntle federal job seeker, Charles Guiteau. Although nonfatal, these two shots eventually caused President Garfield’s death, due to the lack antiseptic procedures during his treatment. President Garfield’s doctor probed the abdominal wound with his fingers and failed to locate the bullet in his body!

The tragedy of President Garfield was detailed in countless newspapers across the United States in the summer of 1881, which triggered nationwide concerns on causes of infection and protection of public health. This week, our blog will chronicle the assassination of President Garfield by featuring one newspaper illustration every day! Join us for the “live” updates–and then register for a free event!

This unfortunate story will be concluded by our panel, CONVERSATIONS: Presidents, Public Health, and Pre-antiseptic Medicine,  on Thursday, September 15th in the Dittrick Museum/Allen Library Powell Reading Room. Brandy Schillace, PhD and TEDx speaker, will give the history. Eric Rivet, Western Reserve Historical Society Curator of Collections and Exhibits and Scott Frank, Director of CWRU Master of Public Health Program and Director of Shaker Heights Health Department, will join us in the discussion!

mondaySource: Art and Picture Collection, The New York Public Library. “The tragedy at Washington — the night-watch before the Executive Mansion.” The New York Public Library Digital Collections. 1881 – 1881. 

On the night of July 8, 1881, worried citizens congregated in front of white house, waiting for news on President Garfield’s health. At 9:30 am on that same day, the President was assassinated by Charles Guiteau at a railroad station in Washington D.C.. On his trip to his Alma Mater, Williams College, for a speech, the President received two shots upon entering the waiting room at the station. However, it was later reported that none of the bullets hit Garfield lethally. Guiteau was arrested before he could walk out of the train station and he soon surrendered to the police.

Although shocked, Garfield remained conscious after the assassination. He was transported back to the White House for medical treatment. In the following months, the regular bulletins issued by the President’s doctors kept the concerned public updated on his health condition. Stay tuned!!