May 7, 2018

Learning about President Garfield

Ohio is known as the “Mother of Presidents.” Seven United States presidents were born in Ohio plus William Henry Harrison made Ohio his home. On a recent trip to Ohio, John and I had the pleasure of meeting James Garfield. Well, not the original President Garfield but Edward Haney, a Garfield
portrayer. We were in Stow, Ohio and the Brimfield Historical Society and Kelso House Museum was not far away. I contacted them and found that they had a special presentation Thursday evening and as luck would have it the timing was perfect.  We arrived a bit early and Judi Allen from the Historical Society gave us a great house tour. 

Houses have interesting histories just like people. The Kelso
House, built in 1837, was at one time Union House, an inn with a ballroom on the second floor where dances and magic shows were held. Most inns, in the 1800s usually had two entry doors – one for the women and one for the men.  The women were not allowed in the tavern area but had their own sitting
room. My, how times have changed. There are several outside buildings including what was once the public outhouse.

The meeting with “President Garfield” was held in the historical society’s meeting room on the lowest level. 

Garfield personally greeted and introduced himself to individual
guests just as if he was campaigning.  Garfield told about his early days in a log cabin where one night there was banging on the door.  A huge bear had come to call.  His father chased it up a tree, got his rifle, and shot it out of a tree the meat providing meat for many meals and a warm
rug. His father died when he was young leaving his mother to raise the family and work the farm. One day young Garfield was reprimanded for a minor infraction in school. The school master ordered him to go home.  He walked all the way home and then returned to school. “Master Garfield did I not send you home.” “Yes, sir, but you didn’t say I had to stay.”

His dream was to go to sea and see the world. He left school early to earn money by working on a canal boat guiding the mules. “The closest I got to the water was when I fell overboard into the canal and nearly drowned. I decided I should go back to school.” 

Education was important to Garfield’s mother; she saved up enough money so he could attend Western Reserve Eclectic Institute.  He only had enough money for one semester but impressed the faculty and was offered a scholarship. Afraid of accumulating debt he worked many jobs while in school and ended up teaching at the school. 

John and I have visited his home, Lawnfield, where Garfield was known for his front porch speeches. “My wife would graciously meet people at the door but would not let them in the house so I spent a lot of my politicking on the front porch.”

President Garfield’s time as president was short.  He refused to grant an office seeker, Charles Guiteau, a position in the government because he was a “cheat and dishonest.” Guiteau shot Garfield in a Washington train station. President Garfield lingered for three months. Mr. Haney looked like Garfield and made the life of Garfield seem real by telling personal stories. It was an informative evening. The historical society had provided a large buffet of appetizers, desserts with wine that became our dinner.