Sudden Death of a President | The Secret Service
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Alexander Graham Bell's induction balance

When James A. Garfield was attacked on July 2, 1881, the nation was shocked, enraged, and captivated. President for just four months, Garfield was shot by Charles Guiteau as he was about to board a train at the Baltimore & Potomac Railroad Station in Washington, D.C. Severely wounded, Garfield lingered until September 19.

An unsuccessful lawyer, evangelist, and insurance salesman, Guiteau believed Garfield owed him a patronage position in the diplomatic corps, and that the president's political decisions threatened to destroy the Republican Party. Guiteau was convicted of murder and hanged on June 30, 1882. In 1883 Congress passed the Pendleton Act; it sought to reform civil service and limit the number of patronage seekers like Charles Guiteau.



Print of the assassination attempt against Garfield
"An accurate rendering" of the moment when Charles Guiteau shot President James Garfield as Garfield and Secretary of State James G. Blaine entered the Baltimore & Potomac Railroad Station. This appeared in Frank Leslie's Illustrated Newspaper, July 16, 1881.

Courtesy of Library of Congress

Alexander Graham Bell using his "induction balance" in an unsuccessful attempt to find the bullet that would eventually kill President Garfield, from Harper's Weekly, August 13, 1881. As the doctors struggled to understand the extent of Garfield's wounds, Bell, inventor of the telephone, used this machine to try to locate the bullet. When found, the machine was to send a sound to the attached telephone receiver. Despite attempts on July 26 and August 1, 1881, Bell could not situate the bullet.

Courtesy of Library of Congress

  On September 6, 1881, President Garfield was transported by train from Washington to the beachfront home of Charles Francklyn in Long Branch, New Jersey. To ease the strain on the president, a special spur line was built directly to the house where he would reside. Spikes from that spur became valued souvenirs sold to a public desperate for any tangible remembrance of their fallen leader.

Railroad station tile on which James A. Garfield fell
When President James Garfield was assassinated on July 2, 1881, legend suggests that his body fell on this section of tile taken from the Baltimore & Potomac Railroad Station. Much like the assassination of Abraham Lincoln, the death of Garfield led many Americans to find, buy, or otherwise obtain some material reminder of the president. This object was donated to the Smithsonian Institution in 1909 by James Garfield, son of the president.



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