Friday, July 15, 2011

COLLECTION #11: Books About James Garfield

I'll bet you didn't expect to see books about James Garfield in my collections! Well, here they are. Only three. How random is this? But really, there's a reason. If you attended public schools in the US in the past 20 years, you might not even know who James Garfield was... he was the 20th President of the United States, serving just 200 days before he succumbed from being shot by an assassin 2 months prior, in 1881. From everything I've read about him, he was an excellent leader and President, and a good and honorable man too.

A few years ago, while researching my family history online, I came across a distant cousin that I met through our mutual research. She was the granddaughter of my grandfather's older sister. She told me a story, that I had never heard before. Our mutual great-grandfather, Walter W. Ward, had moved to Washington DC in 1880 with his young family, (including my grandfather, who at the time was 5 years old). The purpose of this move was to work in the White House as Chief Steward (head of the White House staff) for President Garfield when he took office. Well, that certainly took me by surprise. The family was at that time living in Nebraska. I mean, how do you go from farming in Nebraska, to packing up your family and moving to Washington DC and working for the President?

So, in my quest to verify this information (I did find the family in DC in the 1880 census, Walter's occupation listed as 'laborer'- but that was before Garfield took office. Probably even before the election. I also received a scan of a cabinet photo of Grandpa's sister Anna, taken in Washington DC) So, it was looking like they were in Washington. But was Walter indeed the head Steward? So I began to search for proof. I contacted the White House Curator, who told me that their records didn't go back that far. (Drat!) So I went to eBay, where I proceeded to buy books about James Garfield, written shortly after his death. Although I can't say I read every word of these books, I skimmed them pretty completely, and never came across Walter's name. I did read about other stewards, and a few other servants, who were mentioned by name. There is a another bit of history that does indicate that the story might be true- James Garfield was from the same general area in Ohio where Walter Ward lived most of his life, before moving to Nebraska. It certainly is possible that their families knew each other, or that Walter was referred to James Garfield by a mutual friend. So the mystery is unsolved, but I have these books!

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