James Garfield occupies an interesting spot in Ohio’s history as “the Mother of Presidents.” Assassination cut short Garfield’s term in office, but in his native Northeast Ohio, memorials and museums to him abound. In fact, it’s possible to see a replica of his birthplace, his home and his grave all in one day.
Garfield was born in what is now Moreland Hills, Ohio, and a replica of his log cabin birthplace sits on the village building grounds (available for tours on Saturdays from June through October). He attended the Western Reserve Eclectic University – now known as Hiram College – and served in the Civil War, rising to become the youngest Major General in American history. He resigned his commission after being elected to the U.S. House of Representatives in 1862.
In 1876, he bought a farm in Mentor, and started adding on to the house to accommodate his growing family. He expanded the house from nine rooms to 20, and added a free-standing building to serve as his library. Four years later, when he emerged as a presidential candidate from a contested convention, he campaigned from the front porch of the house, which he’d named Lawnfield. The house is now the James Garfield National Historic Site. You can stand on the front porch where he spoke in front of an estimated total of 17,000 people (many traveling by train and stopping at a temporary railroad station erected on the property), visit the foyer where he received a select few of them and see the free-standing library, which was turned into a telegraph and press office to accommodate reporters covering his campaign.
After his death in 1881, Garfield’s family returned to the home and his wife Lucretia made it a point to turn it into a memorial to her late husband, adding on a library to hold his accumulated personal papers and effects. Garfield’s papers are gone – donated to the Library of Congress – but the library remains, stocked with thousands of volumes, from novels he enjoyed reading to the Congressional Record spanning his 18 years in the House, as well as a desk from the Capitol similar to the one he used (It’s almost comical to imagine Garfield, a big man, sitting in it).
The library also includes an enormous fireproof safe where his papers were kept – and now includes a wreath sent to Garfield’s funeral by Queen Victoria, immaculately preserved in wax.
Garfield’s final resting place – along with Lucretia, their daughter and her husband – is at the base of a 180-foot monument at Lake View Cemetery. The cemetery is the repository for the earthly remains of many historically prominent people, including John D. Rockefeller, Eliot Ness, disc jockey Alan Freed and the Stokes brothers, Carl and Louis.
The monument was dedicated in 1890, and is open daily from April to November. There’s an observation deck from which you can see Lake Erie and downtown, and under an ornate dome and statue of the former president are the caskets of James and Lucretia – the only presidential casket on full display.