Do you like integrity in politics, intense levels of record keeping, the pursuit of all knowledge or civil service? Then James Garfield is your man. I pretty much knew nothing about him other than he was President and shot, but you know, when you are in Northern Ohio you should get the park stamp. Following our long day at Cuyahoga and swimming in the hotel pool, I figured we’d get to sleep in a bit. Of course instead we were actually done eating hotel breakfast at 7 am so I just packed up and loaded the car. Obviously the Garfield monument wasn’t open at this point, so we swung by a coffee place to fuel up and headed to Headlands Beach State Park, since my kids have never been to an ocean I figured Lake Erie would impress them. It did. As Ranger saw the expanse of water he began to walk faster, then jog, then flat out run full tilt to the water. They were so overwhelmed they decided to swim at 8 am in early June, fully clothed. We spent a couple hours splashing, collecting rocks and chasing seagulls. It was very refreshing.
When we arrived at the Garfield house we flashed our nifty National Park pass, received a house tour time, and were let loose on the exhibits. We tried to start with the museum portion but it turned out the Junior Ranger book is better served by starting with the movie. The movie was interesting and informed Mike and I enough to help guide the kids through the exhibits. Garfield was only President for about 8 months, so his legacy is rather limited. He was an actual self made man and worked as a child as mule boy on the canals. He worked his way through school, eventually becoming President of the university. He was an odd guy, purchasing entire bookshelves of books from stores regardless of subject and then reading them all, all the way through. He kept all his correspondences, even asking for some of them back from the recipient. He kept his working farm and had his children working it. He was elected to Congress and at the 1862 request of President Lincoln resigned his post as Brigadier General to take up his seat. He served in Congress for 18 years. He also didn’t want to be President and ended up nominated because people were deadlocked at the convention as the party of Lincoln was fracturing.
While we were visiting there was an exhibit of Lucretia Garfield’s dresses, after they are displayed they must lay resting for 5 years. Lucretia was very interesting and an accomplished artist, we really enjoyed the framed drawings she did and the hand painted tiles she painted and used on her fireplace. The neatest thing about the Garfield house is that it is contains 80% original furnishings, decorations and wall coverings. It went straight from the family to the NPS. She also had a pair of crocheted slippers from Ida McKinley!
The grounds are amazing, the visitor center is in the old stable and there are lots of interesting facts about old growth trees and gas leaks! There is also a butchers trough that for many years the tour guides thought it was for watering, but an actual butcher on a tour informed them of the stone trough’s actual use. I really enjoyed reading about his integrity and how he carried that out in his personal and public life. While he had very little time to execute his ideals, his intense commitment to personal documentation definitely left a huge legacy. He was one of the first politicians to actual do his own campaigning in a time when it was ungenteel to talk of such things. He ran his campaign from his front porch. A tactic later used by McKinley as well.
His death, sadly, was not caused by the assassins bullet but by poor medical techniques. His head physician did not believe in sterilization, though it had been around for 20 years, and his 2 other doctors (one was a woman!) wanted to do it. Garfield actually died of a secondary infection more than 2 months later. Had they just left the bullet alone and not prodded him with dirty instruments who knows what his legacy might have been. The tour guide told us that the saying “Ignorance is Bliss” is actually about Garfield’s head doctor, Dr. Bliss, because he killed his patient from refusing education. I read a book after I got home, “Assassination Vacation” by Sarah Vowell, about the deaths of Lincoln, Garfield and McKinley I definitely recommend picking it up before doing an Ohio tour. Though she found him more boring than I did, but that may be because his moral fiber is more relevant to our current political climate than it was when she wrote it.
Overall this tour was fantastic and Wild Thing slept in the baby carrier so there was no touching of the ORIGINAL WALLPAPER. He woke in time to run around and inspect the grounds, while the big kids were sworn. Definitely worth doing, and Garfield is a great addition to a Civil War Unit if you are home schooling. We picked up some replica civil war bullets in the gift shop and magnet of the Ohio 8, who knew Ohio was so Presidential??