President Garfield Dead! Sept. 19, 1881

Eleven weeks ago we reported on the violent attack made on our President by Charles J. Guiteau at a Washington, D.C. train station.

After the shooting, the President was removed from the scene and taken upstairs at the train station. Doctors searched the President’s body, but they could not locate a bullet they believed was lodged somewhere within.

James Garfield, one of the President’s sons wept openly at the predicament his father faced and Robert Todd Lincoln, Secretary of War, was heard to lament, “How many hours of sorrow I have passed in this town.” He was surely thinking of the death of his father as well as plight of President Garfield.

Later, the President was carried back to the White House and he was told by the doctors that he might not survive the night. It was a delightful surprise that the President in fact did survive the night and the American public followed the updates on his health with great interest.

During the summer his condition fluctuated, fevers came and went in their own time.  And his diet changed as the President struggled to eat solid food.  With the heat of the Washington summer, the Navy had its engineers created a contraption to cool the quarters of the President. Fans blew air over large blocks of ice and into the sickroom, lowering the temperature within.

As the doctors continued to attempt to find the bullet with various instruments and human dexterity, the great inventor, Alexander Graham Bell created a device to detect metal. Sadly, the device failed to locate the bullet.*

September 6th was a day of great hope and perhaps desperation. They moved the President to the New Jersey shorte in hopes that the fresh air and quiet would aid in his recovery. The calming view of the ocean did little to help him and more infections invaded his body.

Suffering from a heart attack or some other ailment (aneurysm following blood poisoning or pneumonia) at 10:35 p.m. on this day… Monday, September 19, 1881.

In two months he would have reached his 50th birthday.


*It was later surmised that the metal frame of the bed was the problem. Metal beds being uncommon at the time, they may not have considered it a factor.

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