Friday, August 3, 2012

So, you are feeling stupid at a cocktail party and need something to talk about to make you look smart. You can be a real dork and talk about assassinated presidents and then they will slowly walk away and you won’t have to worry about participating in any conversation. Being then left alone with your thoughts you may continue.
Thank goodness there were only four that died this way. Two of them Abraham Lincoln and John F. Kennedy come easily to mind but who were the other two? William McKinley had been president already for a term before he got killed, but, Who was the other president that died?
He was James A. Garfield, in office for only four months when he was shot in 1881. Yet, he was one of the most extraordinary presidents we have ever had. He was brilliant. Born into incredible poverty in a log cabin, his father died before he was 2 years old. He was a janitor and a carpenter and saved the money to put himself through college. By his second year in college they made him an assistant professor of literature and ancient languages.
By the time he was 26 years old, he became the college president. Completely astonishing. There is a recent book written about the life of this president called , A Tale of Madness, Medicine and the Murder of a President ,Destiny of the Republic by Candice Millard. The saddest part of this true story in American History that no one even knows anymore is that this brilliant guy did not have to die. If born in later years, safeguards in medicine would have healed his wounds.
He was a Civil War hero who became a 9 term Congressman and was drafted by fellow republicans to run for president. It was an office he never sought. He knew that being president would be a very difficult and lofty position . It was being held under the “spoiled “ system. At that time in history it meant that anyone could petition the president for a government job regardless of experience or ability. So, every day there could be hundreds of office seekers showing up at the White House every day. One of those office seekers became his assassin.
The assassin was Charles Guiteau who was known to be a drifter who had failed at everything he ever did in life. He tried law, evangelism even a free love commune in the 1800’s. His nickname was Charles Get Out so many people got disgusted with him. Day after day he would wait on line wanting to be The Minister to France and was never chosen for the job. Then, in his disillusionment he decides that he has a divine message from God that he needed to kill the president.
This is 16 years after Lincoln is assassinated and there still isn’t any secret service or protecting police force specifically designed to protect him. On July 2, 1881 the president was scheduled to travel by train from Washington DC to Massachusetts. The assassin even shined his shoes on that day because he knew that he would finally be getting some attention after he shoots the president.
Garfield just takes a few steps into the train station and out of the shadows he is shot twice, once in the arm and once in the back. The gun shots are not fatal. It does not hit any vital organs. Within minutes doctors converge on the president using their fingers to poke and prod his open wounds trying to get the bullets out. Gross and extremely unsanitary.
It was an extremely germ infested environment and American doctors at that time didn’t even believe that germs existed at that time in history. According to Doctor Jeffery Reznick of the National Library of Medicine, they rejected the use of antiseptics pioneered by Joseph Listor who Listerine would later be named. Someone told me to spray Listerine around the doors to keep mosquitoes out of the house but that was a different blog.
Hence, this brilliant man dies from his germ infested body and isn’t president long enough to even be remembered. But I will remember him and I don’t even mind being the geek thinking about this kind of stuff and not being in the main conversation about nothing at a party. Yes, a history lesson folks. Duh!

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