James A. Garfield Collection
4 record storage boxes of documents and photographs, 4 half-size
James A. Garfield, 20th President of the United States, was born in Orange Township, Cuyahoga County, Ohio on November 19, 1831. His father, Abram, succumbed to congestion of the lungs following a forest fire when James was only two years old. Consequently, his fatherless family experienced the harshest poverty, and from an early age Garfield was forced to support himself and to contribute to the support of his family. He later said, “Poverty is very inconvenient, but it is a fine spur to activity, and may be made a rich blessing.” He attended the Geauga Seminary for one year, taught some classes there, then advanced to the Western Reserve Eclectic Institute (later Hiram College), working as a janitor to pay his tuition. He also taught classes at the Institute. The necessity to transfer to another institution in order to earn his undergraduate degree motivated him to enroll at Williams College in Massachusetts in 1854, where he graduated with honors two years later. He returned to Hiram as a full instructor, became Head of the faculty and later was formally installed as Principal.
He studied law in 1859 and, while still Principal at Hiram, was admitted to the Cleveland Bar. The voters of Summit and Portage Counties elected him to the Ohio State Senate shortly thereafter. He helped to recruit the 42nd Ohio Volunteer Infantry Regiment and was its colonel during the Civil War. He was later made Brigadier General for heroic service in Kentucky and West Virginia, and was ultimately transferred to a post as Chief of Staff for the Army of the Cumberland. His strategy and military tactics during the Battle of Chicamauga (Cherokee for River of Death) were among the most brilliant of the war. In 1863 he was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives from Ohio, where he served for 17 years. At this time, he formally left his position as Principal of the Eclectic Institute, but he remained a member of the board of trustees until his death.
Garfield was drafted as the Republican nominee for President of the U.S. at the Republican National Convention of 1880 and elected President that same year. He had served as President for only four months when a disgruntled office-seeker named Charles Guiteau shot him in the back in Washington, D.C. on July 2, 1881. The ultimate cause of his death was a combination of aneurysm and a form of blood poisoning caused by the presence in his body of the bullet, which doctors were unable to remove. Garfield lingered between life and death for two and a half months, finally dying on September 19, 1881, at the early age of 49 years.
In excess of 150,000 persons filed past the funeral bier as Garfield lay in state at the intersection of Superior and Ontario Roads in Public Square in Cleveland, Ohio. His body was taken to Lake View Cemetery in a lengthy funeral procession in inclement weather to be interred with simple formality until a more suitable resting site could be appropriated. An army regiment was encamped at this site for many months as an honor guard. A smaller detachment stood guard for the remaining nine years until his final entombment in the Garfield Monument took place.
Almost $135,000 was collected through popular subscription to erect the Garfield Monument. Final construction costs amounted to $225,000. The monument was dedicated on Memorial Day, 1890. Four American presidents were in attendance, along with other notables of the day. After her death in 1919, the body of his wife, Lucretia Rudolph Garfield, was entombed next to Garfield in the crypt of the monument.
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