National Museum Of Health & Medicine:
Death of Pres. James Garfield
One-hundred and twenty-five years ago this summer, our nation’s 20th president, James A. Garfield, was assassinated in Washington, D.C..
To commemorate this anniversary, and for the first time in more than a decade, the National Museum of Health and Medicine is displaying “The Death of President James A. Garfield: An exhibition to commemorate the 125th anniversary of his assassination,” which features the vertebrae where President Garfield was shot and reproductions of photographs and artwork related to him and his injury.
These items are among several specimens, artifacts, artwork, and photographs in the museum’s collections that relate to the assassination and to the assassin, Charles Guiteau, although the focus of the exhibition is on the medical care and suffering of the President.
On July 2, 1881, just 100 days after his inauguration, Garfield entered the Baltimore and Potomac Railroad Station in Washington, D.C. to board a train bound for Williamstown, Mass., when Charles Guiteau fired two shots at the President. One bullet grazed the President’s right arm. The second bullet entered Garfield’s lower right back. Although mortally wounded, Garfield would linger for 80 days before succumbing to complications from the wound. Despite the best efforts of a team of notable physicians, President Garfield died on Sept. 19, 1881.
In respect of the 80 days that President Garfield suffered, the life of this exhibit will also be 80 days. It will close Sept. 19, 2006, exactly 125 years to the day of President Garfield’s death.
The centerpiece of the exhibit is the 12th thoracic and 1st and 2nd lumbar vertebrae of the president, which includes a red probe showing the path of the bullet. Also on display are reproductions of a drawing of Garfield’s wound and deathbed, photos of Dr. Daniel S. Lamb and Dr. Joseph J. Woodward, two doctors from the Army Medical Museum who took charge of the examination of the president, and a drawing by Alexander Graham Bell of his metal detector invention that was used unsuccessfully to locate the bullet in President Garfield’s body.
“Although our collections are rich in anatomical specimens, historical objects, and archival materials that document the complete story of President Garfield’s assassination and the trial and eventual execution of his assassin, Charles Guiteau, we chose to focus this exhibition on Garfield and his story of medical care and suffering. In keeping with this goal, the vertebrae of Garfield are the centerpiece of the exhibition,” said Lenore Barbian, Ph.D., the museum’s curator of anatomical collections.
The National Museum of Health and Medicine was established in 1862 when U.S. Army Brig. Gen. William Alexander Hammond, the U.S. Army Surgeon General, issued orders that directed all Union Army medical officers “to collect, and to forward to the office of the Surgeon General all specimens of morbid anatomy, surgical or medical, which may be regarded as valuable; together with projectiles and foreign bodies removed, and such other matters as may prove of interest in the study of military medicine or surgery.”
The museum’s more than 24 million specimens and artifacts are registered by the U.S. Department of the Interior as a National Historic Landmark and it is the only museum collection in Washington, D.C. with this status because of its “exceptional value in commemorating and illustrating the history of the United States.” For information call (202) 782 2200 or visit www.nmhm.washingtondc.museum. Admission and parking are free.#