Tuesday, January 01, 2008

The death of James A Garfield...Shot by a madman, sadly killed by his doctors. The great and terrible assassination in 1881

James A. Garfield 1831-1881.... 20th President of the United States
Even Alexander G. Bell got into the act trying to locate the bullet with a crude metal detector. However the bed springs interfered with his signals and he mentioned were he thought the bullet may be, but was not sure. Of course the doctors operated on the poor man again with out finding the bullet.
The assassin
Pass to view the remains in the Capitol rotunda
The President as drawn after his death in New Jersey.
The widow mourns over her fallen husband.
The President and his wife lie in state in their monument in Ohio.
Garfield's casket lying in state under the Capitols rotunda.
A closer view of the two coffins in the tomb. There are several points to be made here. The first thing that comes to mind is the difference in the styles of the coffins. Mrs. Garfield died in 1918, so her casket is quite a bit more modern in style. Secondly, Garfield's casket that we see here is an out covering of the casket, not the casket like we see in the photo above. The casket he was placed in was put into a larger outer shell. That is what you see here. It was a common practise in the 19th century to have several layers to a coffin or casket as we call them today.
One of the many memorial books put onto the market as soon as Garfield died. This book came out in fall of 1881. I am sure every memorial book was already written and sadly the writers were waiting like vultures for the moment of death to pounce and produce their book.

A you can see here this book fills us into all the details of life, death, autopsy, burial, etc etc...

Dr. Willard Bliss and his team of doctors is in many respects one of the reasons James A Garfield died. Many may find this statement harsh, as Bliss was Garfield's head doctor in the case after he was shot.
Yes, Charles Guiteau became incensed when his application to be the U. S. ambassador to France was denied. And yes he shot the President in the back on July 2, 1881. In the Washington D.C. train station terminal.

But what that madman could not do, the Presidents doctors did! Bliss would insert his fingers, unsterilized probes, unsterilized knifes into President's wound.
Many other doctors would make probes into the poor man's wound. Doctors from the Army and Navy were brought in to consult on the wound. One of them actually pierced the Presidents liver with their finger!

There had been talk before of cleaning instruments and sterilizing them. But these doctors did not believe in that. Therefore the wound that started as a small entrance wound ended up being a 20 inch canal of oozing puss. It was a loosing battle.

The President grew steadily weaker. No one thought that perhaps they might just leave the bullet where it was. They just kept probing and digging and cutting...All the time the President got weaker still. Till he was so weak that it became only a matter of time before he would die. Garfield was in fine physical health before he was shot, yet by the time of his death he looked like a man in his 70's. He was but 49 years of age.

There was matter of arrogance here, but of course they were the experts. Garfield's wound was not that serious. In fact he should have been encouraged to move around. But they pushed, probed and cut him till he was a lost cause. I find the assassination of James A. Garfield a terrible loss. It needed not to be.

For of the four Presidents who have been assassinated, he is the one who should not have died from his wounds.

In fact if the doctors had done absolutely nothing, he would have probably lived!!!!

But hindsight is 20/20, and Garfield died. He was the second of three Presidents to die at the hands of an assassin in a 36 year period from 1865 till 1901.

This of course led to the many memorial books that came out in droves that had hardly an accurate statement in them. But they bought by a grief stricken nation as they mourned their dead leader.

Garfield was pictured all over and his casket laid in state under the dome of the Capitol.
Garfield was given a grand funeral and today lies in state in his mausoleum. His and his wife's caskets are on display, and in a sense they remain lying in state there, so long after the fact.
It is a unique thing in the world of the Presidents. No other President's casket is on view. All of them are buried, in mausoleums, or uncased in stone vaults.