pika atop a lava flow
Last Week's Getaway:
Craters of the Moon National Monument and Preserve

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windmill surrounded by fall foliage
The windmill marks the property as a country estate. Mrs. Lucretia Garfield had it constructed as part of a landscape renovation in the early 1890s. (NPS photo)

ranger giving boy instructions
Ranger Allison Powell helps a young visitor discover history and fun at the park. (NPS photo)

Garfield's memorial library
Mrs. Garfield added the library to honor her husband's memory. It is considered the nation's first presidential library. (NPS photo)

NPS.gov homepage photo: James A. Garfield’s home where, in 1880, he campaigned from the front porch for the presidency. (NPS photo)

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James A. Garfield National Historic Site
Mentor, Ohio

Quick—how much do you know about President James A. Garfield? The most common answers: he had a beard, and he was assassinated. Beyond that, many people admittedly know little about our nation’s twentieth president.

When you visit James A. Garfield National Historic Site, you’ll learn more than you thought possible about the life, family, career, and legacy of James Abram Garfield. Did you know that he holds the distinction of having the second-shortest presidential administration in American history? At just one month, William Henry Harrison’s is the shortest. The American people elected Garfield, a Republican, by a razor-thin margin in November 1880, and he took office on March 4, 1881. Just four months later, on July 2, 1881, Garfield was shot by a deranged office seeker as he walked through a Washington, D.C. train station. Garfield lingered for over two months and died on September 19, 1881. He was the second American president to be assassinated – Lincoln before him; McKinley and Kennedy after.

But Garfield’s life was much more than just its tragic end. Come discover his career as a preacher and scholar, and learn about his service to the Union as a major general during the Civil War. Garfield had strong opinions about Reconstruction and civil rights for African Americans, and we explore these as well. His forward thinking fiscal policy is of particular interest now as our country faces economic challenges, and his role in the electoral crisis of 1876 connects to recent political history that you likely remember! His brief presidency, passion for civil service reform, and assassination give us a number of ways to understand the importance of this little-known president.

Enjoy a guided tour of the Garfield home, which contains the nation’s first presidential library, a biographical film, and museum exhibits for an entrance fee of $5 per person for anyone over 16 (ages 15 and under are free). Visit on June 5-6, 2010, and pay no entry fee! All national parks are waiving entrance fees this weekend to celebrate National Trails Day. Walk the grounds and see numerous outbuildings on the property originally purchased by the Garfields in 1876. (Yeah, that was a busy year!) Dozens of special events are held throughout the year.

We’re confident that you’ll leave amazed at how much there was to James A. Garfield and appreciative of his role in American history. He may have been passed over in your history textbooks, but the rangers at James A. Garfield National Historic Site are happy to tell you all you wanted to know—and more—about our twentieth president!

James A. Garfield National Historic Site is located in Mentor, Ohio, about 25 miles east of downtown Cleveland. Please call 440-255-8722 or visit www.nps.gov/jaga for more information.

By Todd Arrington, Chief of Interpretation and Education, James A. Garfield National Historic Site