The President and the Lunatic

After assassinating President Garfield, a lunatic gunman mounted an insanity defense, which the jury--and the nation--rejected despite compelling evidence to the contrary

One warm summer night in 1881, a scrawny, nervous man sat in his boarding house a few blocks from the White House. Outside his window, gaslights flickered and horses clopped over cobblestones, but Charles Guiteau barely noticed. For six weeks now, a divine inspiration had festered in his fevered brain. The president, God told Guiteau, had to be “removed.” Read more »

The Air-conditioned Century

The story of how a blast of cool, dry air changed America

IN THE SUMMER of 1881, as James Garfield lay dying of an assassin’s bullet in the White House, a team of naval engineers was called in to solve a vexing problem: how to cool the President’s bedroom. The temperature in Washington was hovering above ninety, and the humidity was uncomfortably high. Read more »

Assassin On Trial

A century ago a President’s murderer went on trial for the first time in our history. The issues raised then continue to trouble us.

The twentieth President of the United States was shot in a Washington, D.C., railroad station on July 2, 1881. He died seventy-nine days later from infections resulting from his wound. Read more »

Tree House

John Mason Hutchings, an Englishman, first, saw Yosemite Valley in 1855 and never got it out of his system. Nine years later he returned to the valley to be innkeeper of the Hutchings House, the frame hotel at left. Before long the hotel’s cooks—Hutchings’ wife and mother-in-law—demanded a separate kitchen. But when it came time to build, an obstacle presented itself in the form of a huge cedar, twenty-four feet around at the base.Read more »

My Friend Garfield

One summer brought excitement and glory to the young secretary of a political leader. How could he know that the next one would brim with tragedy?

In 1880, Joseph Stanley Brown—there was no hyphen m the name then—just short of his twenty-second birthday, had a job that almost any young man might envy, as secretary to Ohio’s Congressman James A. Garfield. A product of Washington’s public schools, Brown was self-tutored in shorthand and typewriting, the latter a new and rare skill.Read more »

“Murder Most Foul”

Two shots rang out in the railroad station, and the President of the United States slumped to the floor, mortally wounded

Early on the morning of July 2, 1881, President James A. Garfield was awakened in the White House by his two older sons, Harry, seventeen, and James, fifteen. Their mood was sportive, for they were all about to leave on a vacation together. They challenged their father to jump over the bed. Garfield, whom Thomas Wolfe included in that procession of “gravely vacant and bewhiskered faces” between Lincoln and McKinley, was indeed bewhiskered. But he was not a stuffed shirt: he jumped over the bed.

 
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