Adventures in Research: Garfield Edition

Posted by ractrose on 21 May 2018 in Nonfiction
Stylized frontispiece of Columbia mourning America's fallen presidents

Our Martyr Presidents, John Coulter, 1901





Adventures in Research: Garfield Edition


I’m currently writing All Bedlam Courses Past, the sequel to A Figure from the Common Lot. In Bedlam, the assassination of President James A. Garfield, (shot July 2, 1881, died September 19), bears on the characters’ lives…and the interest, for me as author, is in those aspects of American culture that produce a Charles Guiteau. Common knowledge and experience are also a language; language is the means to persuasion, and the culture, taken broadly, can serve as a magical hat for professional tricksters, out of which they may pull any rabbit.


A few clippings.



Immigration statistics, from July of 1881. Other than a (by today’s standards) surprising proportion of Canadians, upwards of 4000, most newcomers were European; Germans in overwhelmingly superior numbers, strong showings from Belgium and Australia, many English, many Irish, many from China (The Chinese Exclusion Act arrived 1882, under the Arthur presidency)…and a fair number of Norwegians, plenty of Swedes. The Russian numbers are low, but 1881 was a year in which the Tsarist regime pursued its slaughter of Jews (the 1890s produced larger waves of immigration from Russia).


Newspaper clipping of immigration statistics from 1881

Stephens City Star 27 August 1881






A series of gossipy items about celebrities, most still known today. In 1881, Civil War era figures were part of life; they would be the equivalent to 90s celebs for us in 2018.


Newspaper clipping of famous folk from 1881

Catoctin Clarion 7 July 1881



Some of the humor and edification of the era. Newspapers in the 19th century published comic poems regularly; the piece right treats the topic of such poetry itself. (With a nod to Byron’s “The Vision of Judgment”, a condemnation of King George III and satire of Robert Southey, excerpted below:


Verse 192

“He ceased, and drew forth an MS.; and no

Persuasion on the part of devils, saints,

Or angels, now could stop the torrent; no

He read the first three lines of the contents;

But at the fourth, the whole spiritual show

Had vanish’d with variety of scents,

Ambrosial and sulphureous, as they sprang

Like lightning, off from his “melodious twang.”)


Note: rhyming “torrent” with “fourth”, pretty good.


Left, a quote from abolitionist Owen Lovejoy, stand-up words worth reading.


Newspaper clipping of speech by abolitionist Owen Lovejoy

The National Republican 26 February 1881


Newspaper clipping of hints and tips from 1881

The Weekly Kansas Chief, September 22, 1881



Newspaper clipping for medicated glasses

The Magnolia Gazette 22 April 1881


Patent medicines, to cure vision troubles, indigestion, typhoid, malaria…and bad hair.



Newspaper clipping of advertisment for Tutt's Pills

The Weekly Kansas Chief 26 September 1881




Newspaper clipping strange creature used to sell shoes

Adventures in Research: Huckstering















(2018, Stephanie Foster)



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