be careful where you clique
July 1881 : “To General Sherman: I have just shot the President. I shot him several times as I wished him to go as easily as possible. His death was a political necessity. I am a lawyer, theologian, and politician. I am a stalwart of the Stalwarts. I was with Gen. Grant, and the rest of our men in New York during the canvass. I am going to the Jail. Please order out your troops and take possession of the Jail at once. Very respectfully, Charles Guiteau.”
The story of Charles Guiteau really livens up 19th Century American History. Imagine, the post Civil War Reconstruction period is at an ebb, Ulysses S. Grant is drunk on some porch and writing his memoirs, “the tales of brave ulysses”. The American Superpower has not yet spawned into international waters.
It’s the time of Railroad magnates and corrupt New York political machines. A time of communes and religious fanatics. One in particular, the Oneida Community of New York preaches that Jesus already came back in the year 70 AD, so it’s ok to have group sex. Children were selectively bred to increase the community quality. Quality is job one. What were these children to do? Make silverware of course. The modern day Oneida Company is the fruit of those loins.
One apple that fell off to the side of the Oneida tree was Charles Guiteau. He didn’t like the community so much, maybe they didn’t like him either. Maybe they knew he was a nutcase. Whatever, he left and became some kind of bill collector lawyer in Chicago.
When James A. Garfield became president, Guiteau insisted that it was because of HIS efforts that Garfield had won the election. Charles Guiteau had indeed given a short speech commending Garfield at a church picnic somewhere. Charles even wrote to the president elect and said “you’re welcome for all the help. now, can you please make me ambassador to Austria-Hungary.” When Garfield didn’t say thank you. Guiteau wrote again and said he’d be willing to go to Paris instead.
No reply, Charles decides it’s time to shoot Garfield on God’s behalf. He borrows money and shops for a very good looking gun with a shiny ivory handle. He wants it to look good in the museum. He tracks Garfield to a train stop in New Jersey. Guiteau gets his shoes shined, arranges for a cab to take him to jail… and THEN shoots the president.
The first shot grazes Garfield’s arm. The second one digs in to his lumbar vertebrae. It was July 2, 1881. Garfield doesn’t die till September 19. Weeks become months. The doctors dig but can’t seem to find the bullet. Remember the idea of germs is still unknown to everyone. Alexander Graham Bell is called in to locate the bullet. He builds a metal detector to pinpoint it, but the iron bed keeps setting him off course.
Meanwhile Guiteau is in custody becoming a celebrity. The minutes of his trial are theatrical. More than once he gets into wrestling matches with his defense team, passes notes to the press about his ongoing bid for the White House, announces visions and prophecies, proposes marriage to a number of distinguished ladies, and most importantly- blames the death of Garfield on the doctors. As for his insanity- a landmark case for the courts- he delineates a fine line between being medically insane and being Charles Guiteau insane.
In the end he is condemned to hang in the District of Columbia on June 8, 1882. With his appeals rejected, Guiteau begins turning his attentions to arranging his death pomp. He requests an orchestra to be present and playing while he swings from the rope. Request Denied. He writes a poem instead:” I’m going to see the Lordy Lordy. “
After all the fun and games, Guiteau’s body goes AWOL. Nobody knows for certain how or why, but at some point a portion of his brain shows up on display at the Mütter Museum in Philadelphia at the College of Physicians. The exact nature of Guiteau’s insanity is a subject of ongoing debate. Many assume he was suffering from tertiary syphilis. Funny how a little bug like Treponema Pallidum can get under the skin and wreak such havoc.