Posts Tagged ‘President James A. Garfield’

National City Christian Church

National City Christian Church is located on 5 Thomas Circle (MAP), in northwest D.C.’s Logan Circle neighborhood.  It is the national church of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ, often abbreviated simply as the “Disciples of Christ” or “Christian Church”), a mainline Protestant Christian denomination.  And during today’s lunchtime bike ride I visited the church.

The church’s neoclassical building was designed by John Russell Pope and completed in 1930.  It has a “monumental character” typical of Pope’s style and seen in his other works, such as The Thomas Jefferson MemorialThe U.S. National Archives and Records Administration building and the West Building of The National Gallery of Art.  The church’s design was partly influenced by British architect James Gibbs’ Saint Martin-in-the-Fields church, built at Trafalgar Square in London in the early 18th century.   The National City Christian Church building, which is constructed of Indiana limestone, is a contributing property to the Greater 14th Street Historic District, and was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1994.

The church building also features stained glass windows commemorating the two presidents thus far associated with the church.  The first is President James A. Garfield, who  preached there, and whose family pew is still displayed adjacent to the sanctuary. The other is President Lyndon B. Johnson, who along with First Lady Lady Bird Johnson worshiped there and mingled regularly with other parishioners in Fellowship Hall after services.

However, churches are more than the buildings in which they worship.  The congregation that eventually became the National City Christian Church was organized in 1843.  James Turner Barclay, a physician and pioneering Stone-Campbell Movement missionary, helped to organize the congregation.  In the 1950s and 1960s, the church had a congregation of some 800 regular Sunday worshipers.  However, in 2004, the church’s senior pastor, the Rev. Alvin O. Jackson, resigned following a heated acrimonious dispute. The ouster of Jackson followed the resignation or firings of some two dozen church staffers, and the development of a deep intra-congregational dispute.  Attendance declined over time; in 2011, Sunday attendance was about 125, with mostly older congregants.

The church has experienced other recent troubles as well.  It’s chief financial officer, Jason Todd Reynolds, was discovered to have embezzled $850,000 in church funds from 2003 to 2008.  In 2011, Reynolds was convicted of 12 fraud-related charges, and sentenced to eight years in prison.  The losses from Reynolds’ embezzlement scheme caused serious damage to the church’s financial health.  It’s financial health was further exacerbated as a result of the magnitude 5.8 Virginia earthquake on August 23, 2011, which caused tens of thousands of dollars in structural damage to the church building.

Revitalization of the greater 14th Street neighborhood, thriving with an influx of new residents, hasn’t been significantly reflected in the church’s once-large congregation.  The rapidly aging denomination, which has experienced a membership crash of its own, no longer makes membership and attendance figures for individual congregations freely available. But the congregation’s recently released annual report is telling.

It’s financial troubles and declining congregation continued, and in 2017 National City was forced to sell the Campbell Building, a wing of the building that housed the educational  facilities of the church.  According to Church Moderator Jane Campbell, the building was “only partially used, had major maintenance issues, and would have cost millions to bring into usable condition – and then we would have had to find tenants as the activities of National City itself no longer fill the building.”

Currently the under-utilized building and diminished congregation continues to operate.  However, whether the National City Christian Church can reverse the overall decline it has experienced in the last half century remains to be seen.   Only time will tell.

The Assassination Site of President Garfield

President James A. Garfield was the 20th president of the United States, serving from March 4, 1881, until his death by assassination six and a half months later while waiting to catch a train at the Baltimore and Potomac rail station.  The site where it happened s just a few hundred yards from the 20th President’s official Presidential Memorial in an area of the city that has gone through many changes since the train station’s building and tracks were demolished in 1908 during a redesign of the National Mall.  The National Gallery of Art’s West Building is now located there (MAP).  But one thing stayed the same at the site for the first 137 years after President Garfield’s assassination.  That was the absence of a plaque or historical marker to indicate what happened there on July 2, 1881.  But that recently changed.  So on this bike ride, I went there to see the new historical marker.

When President Garfield was elected in 1880, a man named Charles Julius Guiteau falsely believed he had played a major role in his victory.  He also thought he should be rewarded with a consulship for his efforts in electing the new President.  So he submitted applications to serve in Paris or Vienna, despite the fact he spoke no French or any other  foreign language.  But when the Garfield administration rejected his applications, he decided it was because he was part of the Stalwart faction of the Republican Party, and President Garfield was affiliated with the opposing Half-Breed faction of the party.  Guiteau was so offended at being rejected for a consular position that he decided President Garfield had to die so that Vice President Chester A. Arthur, who was a fellow Stalwart, would succeed him.  He thought this would not only end the war within the Republican Party, but would lead to rewards for fellow Stalwarts, including himself.

As difficult as it is to imagine in today’s political world, the assassination of President Abraham Lincoln was seen as a fluke due to the Civil War, and Garfield, like most people, saw no reason why the president should be guarded.  In fact, the President’s plans and schedule were often printed in the newspapers.  Knowing his schedule and where he would be, Guiteau followed Garfield several times.  But each time his plans to kill the President were frustrated, or he lost his nerve.  Then in the summer of 1881, when the President had been in office for only four months, Garfield decided to take a train trip to New England to escape the swampy summer heat of D.C.  Right after he arrived at the Baltimore and Potomac rail station, Guiteau emerged from where he had been hiding by the ladies’ waiting room and walked up to Garfield and shot him twice, once in the back and once in the arm, with an ivory-handled pistol, a gun he thought would look good in a museum.  Guiteau was quickly apprehended, and as he was led away, he stated, “I did it. I will go to jail for it. I am a Stalwart and Arthur will be President.”

The wounded President was taken upstairs to a private office in the train station, where several doctors examined him.  There they probed the wound with unwashed fingers, another thing that is difficult to imagine today.  At Garfield’s request, he was then taken back to The White House.  The physician who took charge at the train station and then at the White House was Willard Bliss, an old friend of the President’s.  About a dozen physicians, led by Dr. Bliss, were soon probing the wound, again with unsterilized fingers and instruments.

Although in considerable pain despite being given morphine, the President did not lose his sense of humor.  He asked Dr. Bliss to tell him his chances, which Bliss put at one in a hundred. The President then replied, “Well, Doctor, we’ll take that chance.”  In addition to his treatment, Garfield was also being given oatmeal porridge and milk from a cow on the White House lawn for nourishment.  However, he hated oatmeal porridge.  So when he was told that Indian chief Sitting Bull, a prisoner of the U.S. Army, was starving, Garfield initially said, “Let him starve,” but then quickly changed his mind and said, “Oh, no, send him my oatmeal.”

During the President’s treatment, Alexander Graham Bell attempted to locate the bullet with a primitive metal detector.  (The use of X-rays, which likely would have helped the President’s physicians save his life, would not be invented for another fourteen years.)  However, he was unsuccessful.  But they were able to help keep Garfield relatively comfortable in the stifling heat that he had been trying to escape with one of the first successful air conditioning units, which reduced the temperature in the sickroom by 20 degrees.

During the weeks of intensive care after being shot, Garfield would alternately seem to get better and then take turns for the worse.  He developed an abscess around the wound, which doctors probed but most likely only made worse.  He also developed infections that cause him to have a fever of 104 degrees, and he lost a considerable amount of weight.  Eventually, Dr. Bliss agreed to move him to Elberon, part of Long Branch, New Jersey, where his wife had been recovering from an illness at the time her husband was shot.

There, Garfield could see the ocean as officials and reporters maintained what became a death watch. Garfield eventually succumbed to a combination of his injury and his treatment.  On September 18, Garfield asked Almon Ferdinand Rockwell, a friend and business associate who was at his bedside, if he would have a place in history. Rockwell assured Garfield he would, but told him that he still had much work to do.  The President responded, “No, my work is done.”  He died later that night.

According to many medical experts and historians, Garfield most likely would have survived his wounds had Dr. Bliss and the other doctors attending to him had the benefit of modern medical research, knowledge, techniques, and equipment.  In fact, much like President Ronald Reagan after the assassination attempt at The Washington Hilton here in D.C., Garfield would probably also have survived being shot.  Instead, the treatment he received at least contributed, and most likely caused his death.  It is thought that starvation also played a role in President Garfield’s death.

Four presidents have been assassinated while in office.  And two of them occurred here in D.C.  President Lincoln was killed at Ford’s Theater in 1865, and just 16 years later President Garfield was shot by Guiteau less than a thousand yards away from where President Lincoln was shot by John Wilkes Boothe.  There were already official markers for President Lincoln at The Petersen House in D.C. where he died, President William McKinley in Buffalo, New York, and President John F. Kennedy in Dallas, Texas.  Now all four sites have been properly recognized.  I’ve now been to the two sites here in D.C.  The other two, however, are a little too far away for a lunchtime bike ride.

   

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Robert Todd Lincoln’s Gravesite

On this day in 1926, six days before his eighty-third birthday, Robert Todd Lincoln died in his sleep at Hildene, his Vermont home.  He was the son of President Abraham Lincoln.  And his grandson, “Bud” Beckwith, who died in 1985, is the last person known to be of direct Lincoln lineage.  In observance of the anniversary of his passing, on today’s lunchtime bike ride I went to Arlington National Cemetery to visit the sarcophagus, where he is buried with his wife Mary and their son Jack.

Robert Todd Lincoln was Abraham Lincoln’s oldest son and the only Lincoln child to survive into adulthood. While he didn’t make quite the mark on history that his father did, he did have a pretty interesting life.  The following are some of the most interesting and unusual facts about him.

Lincoln was a witness to the assassinations of three presidents, including his father.  The younger Lincoln was there at The Petersen House, where his father was taken after being shot across the street at Ford’s Theater by John Wilkes Booth.  Years later, while serving as Secretary of War to President James Garfield, he was with the president at the Sixth Street Train Station in D.C. when Charles Guiteau shot him.  Garfield died two months later.  Twenty years after that, Lincoln was a guest of President William McKinley at the Pan-American Exposition in Buffalo, New York, when the President was shot by Leon Czolgosz. McKinley died just over a week later.  After that I imagine that future presidents were quietly glad that these events caused Lincoln to believe he was bad luck, because thereafter he refused to attend state events or accept Presidential invitations.

Lincoln’s life was once saved by Edwin Booth, a famous actor and brother of John Wilkes Booth, the assassin of his father. The incident took place on a train platform in Jersey City, New Jersey.  On a crowded platform, Lincoln fell off into the space between the tracks and the platform.  But Booth pulled him by his collar to safety.  The exact date of when this happened is uncertain, but it is believed to have taken place before John Wilkes Booth’s assassination of President Lincoln.

After having her involuntarily committed to a mental hospital, Lincoln had a strained relationship with his mother.  Mary Todd Lincoln is fairly widely renowned today for being mentally ill, but it wasn’t quite such an open secret when she was still alive. Lincoln, however, realized that his mother needed psychiatric help, so he had her committed following a hearing that declared her insane.  She was eventually able to gain her release.  However, by that point she felt as though she had been publicly humiliated, and never patched up her relationship with Lincoln before her death.

Lincoln was the last surviving member of the cabinets of Presidents Garfield and Arthur.  And he was part of President Grant’s junior staff at Robert E. Lee’s surrender at Appomattox Courthouse to end the Civil War, and was the last surviving witness to that event.

Lincoln was also a graduate of Harvard University, on the personal staffs of three Presidents beginning with Ulysses S. Grant, a successful and eventually wealthy lawyer, peripherally involved in politics, successor to George Pullman as company president and later chairman of the board of the Pullman Palace Car Company, a dedicated amateur astronomer and golfer, and a participant in the dedication ceremonies for The Lincoln Memorial for his father.

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James A. Garfield Memorial

Despite serving in office for only 200 days, President James A. Garfield is, in my opinion, one of the most unique and interesting Presidents in history.  For this reason, and because it was on this day in 1881 that President Garfield succumbed to wounds inflicted by an assassin 80 days earlier, for this bike ride I chose to ride to the James A. Garfield Memorial.  It is located on the grounds of the United States Capitol Building in the circle at First Street and Maryland Avenue (MAP ) in the Downtown area of Southwest D.C.

Born in Orange Township, now Moreland Hills, near Cleveland, Ohio on November 19, 1831, James Abram Garfield was the last of the seven Presidents who were born in log cabins.  His father, Abram Garfield, was from Worcester, New York, and came to Ohio to woo his childhood sweetheart, Mehitabel Ballou.  When he got there and found out she was married already, he married her sister Eliza, instead.  His father died when he was still a baby, and he was raised by his widowed mother and elder brother, next door to their cousins, in virtual poverty.

Before eventually entering politics, Garfield first unsuccessfully tried his hand at being a frontier farmer.  Then, after completing his education, he worked teaching Greek and other classical languages for his alma mater in Ohio (now called Hiram College), where he met and eventually married one of his students, Lucretia Rudolph.  Together they had seven children, one of whom lived to be 102 and did not die until the 1970’s.  He also served in the Union Army during the Civil War.

While still serving in the Army in early 1862, Garfield began his political career.  He ran for the U.S. Congress in Ohio’s newly redrawn and heavily Republican 19th District, and won.  During his time in Congress, Garfield supported and voted for the impeachment of President Andrew Johnson in 1866.  Also during his time in Congress, Garfield served on a specially-created Electoral Commission that decided the disputed outcome of the 1876 Presidential election, giving the presidency to his party’s candidate, Rutherford B. Hayes.

Then, while still serving as a Congressman in 1879, Garfield was elected by the Ohio Senate to replace John Sherman as U.S. Senator from Ohio because Senator Sherman resigned his seat to campaign for the presidency.  Garfield then went on, unexpectedly, to beat Sherman in the primaries and then win the 1880 presidential election.  As a result, there was a period of time, following the presidential election, where Garfield was a sitting congressman in the U.S. House of Representatives, U.S. Senator-elect, and the U.S. President-elect, all at the same time.

Some other interesting aspects of Garfield include that he was the first primarily left-handed President, but he was also ambidextrous.  It is said you could ask him a question in English and he could simultaneously write the answer in Greek with one hand and in Latin with the other.  Also, as a minister in the Disciples of Christ Christian Church, Garfield is the only President to ever have been a preacher.  Also, as a former professor of languages, Garfield was the first President to campaign in multiple languages. He often spoke in German with German-Americans he encountered along the campaign trail.

On the morning of July 2, 1881, just four months into his presidency, President Garfield went to D.C.’s Baltimore and Potomac Railroad Station, then located at the corner of Sixth Street and B Street, and the present site of the West Building of the National Gallery of Art.  He was there to catch a train on his way to a short vacation.  As he walked through the station toward the waiting train, a man named Charles Guiteau stepped behind the President and fired two shots.  Guiteau was an attorney and political office-seeker who was a relative stranger to the President and his administration in an era when Federal positions were doled out on a “who you know” basis. When his requests for an appointment were ignored, a furious Guiteau stalked the President, vowing revenge.

In comparison to the enormous amount of security now surrounding the President when he travels, it is incredible to think that when President Garfield was killed he was walking through a public train station with no bodyguard or security detail.  He was scheduled to travel alone, and was being seen off at the station by two of his sons and two friends.  One of those friends was Robert Todd Lincoln, the son of the first President to be assassinated.

Guiteau’s first bullet grazed Garfield’s arm.  The second bullet passed below the president’s pancreas and lodged near his spine, and could not be found by doctors.  Doctors made several unsuccessful attempts to remove the bullet while Garfield lay in his White House bedroom, awake and in pain.  Alexander Graham Bell, who was one of Garfield’s physicians, invented a metal detector to try to find the location of the bullet but the machine kept malfunctioning, apparently due to the metal framework of the bed Garfield lay in.  Because of the rarity of metal bed frames at the time, the cause of the malfunction was not discovered.

By early September, Garfield, who was recuperating at a seaside retreat in New Jersey, appeared to be recovering.  However, he took a turn for the worse and succumbed to his injuries.  He died 80 days after being shot.  Historical accounts vary as to the exact cause of Garfield’s death.  Some believe that his physicians’ treatments, which included the constant probing of the bullet wound with unsterile instruments, may have led to blood poisoning.  His treatment also included the administration of quinine, morphine, brandy and calomel, as well as feeding him through the rectum.  Many believe that the medical treatment he received eventually led to, or at least hastened, his demise.  Autopsy reports at the time said that pressure from his internal wound had created an aneurism, which was the likely cause of death.  Garfield’s spine, which shows the hole created by the bullet, is kept as a historical artifact by the National Museum of Health and Medicine.

Garfield was the second President to be assassinated, after Abraham Lincoln in 1865.  At 200 days, Garfield’s presidency was the second shortest, behind William Henry Harrison’s presidency, of just 31 days.  Also, Garfield is the second youngest President to die in office, behind John F. Kennedy, who was 127 days younger that Garfield was at the time of their deaths.

This ride was an interesting one, much like Garfield himself was interesting.  And it was not a very long ride, but it was for a President who did not serve for very long in office, and did not live a very long life.  Garfield worked as a farmer, a janitor, a bell ringer, a carpenter, a canal boat driver, a college professor, a lawyer, and a preacher.  He was also a Brigadier General in the Army, a Congressman, a Senator and a President of the United States.  So I guess maybe it’s not about how long you live, but what you do while you’re alive that counts.  

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General Winfield Scott Hancock Memorial

General Winfield Scott Hancock Memorial

This bike ride took me to the General Winfield Scott Hancock Memorial, which is located at 7th Street and Pennsylvania Avenue (MAP) in the Penn Quarter neighborhood of northwest D.C. The equestrian statue was created by American sculptor Henry Jackson Ellicott together with architect Paul J. Pelz. It was commissioned on March 2, 1889, and dedicated on May 12, 1896, by President Grover Cleveland. The memorial is part of a group of statues entitled “The Civil War Monuments in Washington, D.C.” which are spread out through much of the central and northwest areas of the city. They are listed as a group on the National Register of Historic Places.

Winfield Scott Hancock and his identical twin brother Hilary Baker Hancock were born on February 14, 1824. The twins were the sons of Benjamin Franklin Hancock and Elizabeth Hoxworth Hancock. Indications of Winfield’s future military career started early. He was named after Winfield Scott, a prominent general in the War of 1812. He also attended the United States Military Academy at West Point.

Winfield Scott Hancock was a career U.S. Army officer and was known to his Army colleagues as “Hancock the Superb”. He served with distinction in the Army for four decades, including service in the Mexican-American War and as a Union general in the Civil War. He was noted in particular for his personal leadership at the Battle of Gettysburg. He was also wounded twice.

Hancock was the Democratic nominee for President of the United States in 1880. Although he ran a strong campaign, Hancock was narrowly defeated by Republican James A. Garfield. Of almost nine million votes cast, Hancock lost by only thirty-nine thousand votes. Hancock took his electoral defeat in stride, however, and actually attended Garfield’s inauguration.

Some other interesting facts about Hancock include that at the close of the Civil War, he was assigned to supervise the execution of the Lincoln assassination conspirators, including Mary Surratt. Also, he was elected president of the National Rifle Association in 1881. Hancock’s last major public appearance was to preside over the funeral of President Ulysesses S. Grant in 1885.  And Hancock’s portrait adorns U.S. currency on the $2 Silver Certificate series of 1886.  It was also in 1886, in a manner that seems incongruous with the successful life he had led, Hancock died, the victim of an infected carbuncle.
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John Philip Sousa's Birthplace

John Philip Sousa’s Birthplace

On this bike ride I went by some of the places in D.C. that have a connection to “The American March King”, John Philip Sousa.  Because the bandmaster and composer was born in D.C., spent much of his career here, and eventually was buried in D.C., there are many connections between him and the national capitol city.

John Philip Sousa was born to Maria Elisabeth Trinkhaus, a Bavarian immigrant, and John Antonio Sousa, a Spanish immigrant of Portuguese descent.  His parents moved to D.C. in 1854 where his father became a trombonist with the U.S. Marine Band. John Philip Sousa was born later that year, on November 6th.  At one point in time Sousa aspired to be a baker, but a career in music was almost inevitable.  Besides having a father who was a musician, Sousa started his music education by playing the violin as a pupil of John Esputa and George Felix Benkert for harmony and musical composition at the age of six. He was found to have absolute pitch. During his childhood, Sousa studied voice, violin, piano, flute, cornet, baritone horn, trombone and alto horn.

His early education and training would serve him well throughout the rest of his life.  Sousa was enlisted at the age of 13 by his father as an aprectice in the Marine Corps in order to prevent him from running away and joining a circus band.  He stayed in the Marine Corps for seven years, but at the age of 20, Sousa received a special discharge from the Marines and embarked on a career as a professional musician.  He toured with two companies and a vaudeville show, worked at two Philadelphia theaters, taught music, composed operettas, and even corrected proofs at a publishing company.  In 1879, Sousa conducted Gilbert and Sullivan’s immensely popular H.M.S. Pinafore. Under his masterful orchestration, the amateur company at his command was able to turn professional.  Its success led to a season on Broadway where famous composers took in Sousa’s production.

Word of the young music director’s accomplishments did not escape the attention of his former employer; and in 1880, the 25-year-old Sousa returned to the U.S. Marine Band when he was named its 14th leader.  He remained as its conductor for the next dozen years.  Sousa led “The President’s Own” band under five presidents from Rutherford B. Hayes to Benjamin Harrison, and played at two Inaugural Balls, those of James A. Garfield in 1881, and Benjamin Harrison in 1889.  He left the Marine Corps again the following year.

After leaving the military, Sousa organized and started his own band in 1892 , named The Sousa Band.  He and his band spent the next 39 years touring and playing concerts in America and around the world.  It was during this time that Sousa composed the vast majority of works in his voluminous musical portfolio, which included 136 marches, such as:  “The Washington Post,” for the celebrated newspaper of the same name; “Semper Fidelis”, the official march of the United States Marine Corps, and; “Stars and Stripes Forever”, officially designated by an act of Congress as the national march of the United States.  It was also during this period, in 1917, that Sousa became the leader of the U.S. Navy Band and directed concerts to raise money for World War I.  The Sousa Band performed at 15,623 concerts, including at the World Exposition in Paris, at which time the Sousa Band marched through the streets to the Arc de Triomphe – one of only eight parades the band marched in over its nearly forty years.

Interestingly, Sousa held a very low opinion of the emerging and upstart recording industry. Using an epithet coined by Mark Twain, he derided recordings as “canned” music.  In fact, Sousa’s antipathy to recording was so strong that he almost never conducted his band when it was being recorded.

For the first stop on my bike ride I went by the house, located at 636 G Street (MAP), in the Capitol Hill neighborhood of Southeast D.C., where Sousa was born.  Over the years the house has gone through a number of private owners. It was most recently purchased in 2008 by Gunnery Sergeant Regino Madrid, a violinist with “The President’s Own.” Founded in 1798 by an Act of Congress, “The President’s Own” United States Marine Band is America’s oldest continuously active professional musical organization. Today, “The President’s Own” is celebrated for its role at The White House and its dynamic public performances. “The President’s Own” encompasses the United States Marine Band, Marine Chamber Orchestra, and Marine Chamber Ensembles, and performs regularly at the White House and at more than 500 public performances across the nation each year.

On this bike ride I also road over and back across The John Philip Sousa Bridge, which carries Pennsylvania Avenue across the Anacostia River in Southeast D.C. (MAP).  It has partial interchanges with unsigned Interstate 695 at its western terminus and with District of Columbia Route 295 at its eastern terminus. The first bridge at that location was built in 1804.  Later, it was replaced by an iron, underslung truss bridge on masonry piers which was built between 1887 and 1890. The same masonry piers were used in the construction of the present bridge, which was named after Sousa in 1939, and completed in 1940.

Lastly, I stopped by Sousa’s final resting place at Historic Congressional Cemetery, located at 1801 E Street (MAP), which is also in the Capitol Hill neighborhood of Southeast D.C.  Sousa’s gravestone is inscribed with a fragmant of his greatest march, “Stars and Stripes Forever”, and is located within a family plot that includes graves for his wife and three children.   Although he lived a full life and had enjoyed an incredibly successful career that took him all over the world, his gravesite is located within sight of the bridge named in his honor, and just a mere mile away from the house where he was born.

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