Thursday, March 14, 2013

Lucretia, My Reflection

Prior to a week or so ago, I had never heard of Lucretia "Crete" Randolf Garfield. I mean why would I?  Her husband James Garfield, the 20th US President, was shot in 1881 four months into his first term and died two months later from the treatment of his wounds. The second shortest presidency ever. Another one for trivia night.
I was at the library recently and I picked up a book published in 2012 called "Destiny of the Republic" about James Garfield, a best seller that got rave reviews. I thought this was odd since it is about such an obscure forgotten President. I won't review the book here but let me say that the reviews are well deserved. It is written in a nice narrative style which makes it as engaging as a novel. It was here I met Lucretia.

Today, March 14th is the anniversary of the death of former First Lady Lucretia Garfield born in Garrettsville, Ohio in 1832. She died in 1918 at age 85. People like this always amaze me because of the changes they saw during their lives. When she was born the US was only about 60 years old and the horse was the only way to travel or get messages across long distances. By the time she died the US was well past its Centennial and she had seen the invention of the telephone and the first airplane.
Lucretia met her husband at school in Ohio and they married in 1856. James admits in his diary that he was attracted to her for her intellect rather than just her physical beauty. Together they had seven children. 

After Garfield's Presidential election she began to rehab the very run down White House when she contracted malaria from "bad air" (they hadn't made the connection to mosquitoes yet) and nearly died. Her doctors had her travel to the New Jersey coast to finish recuperating believing that the salt air would be better for her.
together again
Having mostly recovered, Crete was informed that her husband had been shot. She hopped the next train to be near him and await his fate. During the trip, the train she was on broke a piston and nearly derailed which likely would have killed everyone on board. Because of her frail health, James was concerned greatly about her even as he lay there with a bullet in his abdomen.
After James died, she and her family moved near Cleveland OH and lived off a trust fund set up for her. Crete lived a mostly private life from then on. That was fine with her, she preferred that sort of life vs. the protocols of political life.
Years later in 1918 while visiting in California she died from undisclosed causes at age 85 and is laid to rest in the Garfield Monument with her husband in Cleveland OH.

Oh, and what's up with the "Lucretia, My Reflection" title? Prior to this, the only Lucretia I ever knew was the 1988 Sister of Mercy song. It's not about her but it starts playing in my head every time I hear the name.

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