James A. Garfield

How They Croaked Project

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Brief Bio

James Garfield was the Twentieth President of the United States.

He only served for four months.

Born: November 19, 1831

Orange, Ohio

Died: September 19, 1881

Elberon, New Jersey

He was only 49 years old when he died.

A Brief History

Abraham Lincoln was assassinated sixteen years prior to Garfield's election. Despite Lincoln's assassination, people did not feel it was necessary for the President to have any protection. Security was so lax that anyone, anyone at all, could walk into the White House whenever they wanted. And, if the President was not there, people did not have to worry about missing him; his daily schedule was printed in the newspapers for all to read.

Garfield's unlimited accessibility was a contributing factor to his shooting. Charles J. Guiteau, Garfield's assassin, read the paper and found out that Garfield was going to be at a train station. So, on July 2, 1881, Guiteau took his snub-nosed, .44-caliber British Bulldog Revolver, walked right behind Garfield, and shot him. One shot grazed Garfield's arm and the other shot went into his back. For Garfield, this moment was the beginning of the end...but not for the reasons you may think.

Timeline of his Injury

Day 1:

Doctor arrives and gives Garfield a shot of Brandy to lessen the pain. The then proceeds to examine the bulled hole by sticking his unwashed finger in the wound. (X-Rays will not exist for another 14 years.)

Shortly after, ten more doctors arrived, each sticking their unwashed fingers in Garfield's bullet wound-attempting to locate the wayward bullet.

Next, the "doctors" decided to take a bullet probe to the wound. They repeatedly jammed it into the bullet hole, hoping to locate and remove the bullet. After several failed attempts, they did not find the bullet, but they did create a completely new 12 inch-long path in Garfield's back-full of microscopic germs!

Finally, he was taken to the White House, given a glass of champagne, and a shot of morphine, to dull the pain. He was not expected to live the night.

Day 2:

Garfield's legs went numb, he vomited every thirty minutes, and the bed was soaked with blood; but, he was alive.

Day 44:

Doctors decided not to give him any more food to eat (he was constantly throwing it up). They decided to only give him enemas of eggs, beef extract, and whisky, rectally. The doctors were slowly, albeit inadvertently, starving him to death.

Day 74:

Garfield was asked to be taken to the New Jersey Shore. 3,200 feet of new track had to be built so that the train could travel right up to the door of the beach house.

Day 88:

On September 19, 1881, Garfield died. The infected would, blood poisoning, and a heart attack did him in. He had lost 100 pounds in only three months. The autopsy showed the the bullet was nowhere near any vital organs...Garfield would have lived if the "doctors" would have left him alone.

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Pistol, used by Guiteau, to Shoot Garfield

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Disease: How Garfield Croaked

Garfield suffered from the following ailments, due to his "treatment":

  • Excessive bleeding
  • Fever
  • Vomiting
  • Legs went numb
  • Infection (whole body)
  • Delirium
  • Infected parotid gland by his right ear (made his eye and cheek so swollen, the whole side of his face became paralyzed).
  • Blood poisoning
  • Seizures
  • Heart Attack
  • Death

Medicine: What they Used VS. What we Use

Garfield's doctors used the following "treatments"

  • Whiskey
  • Champagne
  • Morphine
  • Bullet Probe
  • Dirty Fingers
  • Hang him by the feet so the bullet would come out
  • Suck it out with a pump
  • Alexander Graham Bell-metal detector (good idea, but Garfield was laying on a bed with metal springs; the machine gave false readings as a result).
  • Rubber hose inserted into the would to drain the large amounts of pus, including fabric from his shirt and pieces of his rib
  • Enemas, given rectally, consisting of eggs, beef extract, and whiskey

Modern Day Treatments:

  • Antisepsis-Sterile hospital rooms, instruments, doctors, etc.
  • X-Rays
  • Blood Transfusions
  • Antibiotics
  • Surgery


1. Antisepsis: Prevent spread of infection by inhibiting or arresting the growth and multiplication of germs (infectious agents).

2. Enema: A procedure in which liquid or gas is injected into the rectum, typically to expel its contents, bur also to induce drugs or permit x-ray imaging.

3. Alexander Graham Bell: Alexander Graham Bell was an eminent Scottish-born scientist, inventor, and innovator who is credited for inventing the first practical telephone.

4. Blood poisoning: The presence of microorganisms or their toxins in the blood, causing disease; septicemia

5. Bullet Probe: Tool used to locate the presence of a bullet within the body

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