President James Garfield dies - HISTORY
Year
1881

President James Garfield dies

On this day in 1881, President James A. Garfield, who had been in office just under four months, succumbs to wounds inflicted by an assassin 80 days earlier, on July 2.

Garfield’s assassin was an attorney and political office-seeker named Charles Guiteau. Guiteau 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.

On the morning of July 2, 1881, Garfield headed for the Baltimore and Potomac Railroad station on his way to a short vacation. As he walked through the station toward the waiting train, Guiteau stepped behind the president and fired two shots. The first bullet grazed Garfield’s arm; the second lodged below his pancreas. 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, tried to use an early version of a metal detector to find the second bullet, but failed.

Historical accounts vary as to the exact cause of Garfield’s death. Some believe that his physicians’ treatments—which included the administration of quinine, morphine, brandy and calomel and feeding him through the rectum–may have hastened his demise. Others insist Garfield died from an already advanced case of heart disease. By early September, Garfield, who was recuperating at a seaside retreat in New Jersey, appeared to be recovering. He died on September 19. Autopsy reports at the time said that pressure from his internal wound had created an aneurism, which was the likely cause of death.

Guiteau was deemed sane by a jury, convicted of murder and hanged on June 30, 1882. 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 in Washington, D.C.

ALSO ON THIS DAY

U.S. forces land in Haiti

On September 19, 1994, 20,000 U.S. troops land unopposed in Haiti to oversee the country’s transition to democracy.In 1991, Roman Catholic priest Jean-Bertrand Aristide, the first freely elected leader in Haitian history, was deposed in a bloody military coup. He escaped to ...read more

Unabomber manifesto published

On this day in 1995, a manifesto by the Unabomber, an anti-technology terrorist, is published by TheNew York Times and Washington Post in the hope that someone will recognize the person who, for 17 years, had been sending homemade bombs through the mail that had killed and maimed ...read more

Peron deposed in Argentina

After a decade of rule, Argentine President Juan Domingo Peron is deposed in a military coup. Peron, a demagogue who came to power in 1946 with the backing of the working classes, became increasingly authoritarian as Argentina’s economy declined in the early 1950s. His greatest ...read more

New Zealand first in women’s vote

With the signing of the Electoral Bill by Governor Lord Glasgow, New Zealand becomes the first country in the world to grant national voting rights to women. The bill was the outcome of years of suffragette meetings in towns and cities across the country, with women often ...read more

Germans bombard Leningrad

On this day in 1941, as part of their offensive campaign in the Soviet Union, German bombers blast through Leningrad’s antiaircraft defenses, and kill more than 1,000 RussiansHitler’s armies had been in Soviet territory since June. An attempt by the Germans to take Leningrad ...read more

Louganis wins gold in springboard

On September 19, 1988, just one day after sustaining a head injury in a frightening accident, American diver Greg Louganis wins gold in the springboard competition at the Summer Olympics, in Seoul, South Korea. It was his second consecutive Olympic gold in the event.Four years ...read more

Goodfellas opens

On this day in 1990, the Martin Scorsese-directed Mafia film Goodfellas, starring Ray Liotta, Robert De Niro, Lorraine Bracco and Joe Pesci, opens in theaters around the United States. The movie, which was based on the best-selling 1986 book Wiseguy,by the New York crime reporter ...read more

Earthquake shakes Mexico City

On this day in 1985, a powerful earthquake strikes Mexico City and leaves 10,000 people dead, 30,000 injured and thousands more homeless.At 7:18 in the morning, the residents of Mexico City were jolted awake by an 8.1-magnitude earthquake, one of the strongest to ever hit the ...read more

Newspaper publishes Unabomber manifesto

The Washington Post publishes a 35,000-word manifesto written by the Unabomber, who since the late 1970s had eluded authorities while carrying out a series of bombings across the United States that killed 3 people and injured another 23. After reading the manifesto, David ...read more

Khrushchev barred from visiting Disneyland

In one of the more surreal moments in the history of the Cold War, Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev explodes with anger when he learns that he cannot visit Disneyland. The incident marked the climax of Khrushchev’s day in Los Angeles, one that was marked by both frivolity and ...read more