On July 2, 1881, at around 9:30 am, James A. Garfield, the 20th President of the United States of America was shot on a train platform.

The assassin, Charles Guiteau was upset that he was passed over as the Ambassador of France. He was a failed newspaperman, plagiarizing author and a dubiously credentialed lawyer. He was also probably the only person not to get lucky in the Oneida “free love” Community in upstate New York, leaving the commune with the ignoble nickname of “Charles Gitout.” Guiteau bought the gun that killed Garfield specifically because he thought it would look good on display. It was, of course, lost after the shooting.

One bullet grazed the President’s arm and the other lodged in his back. Garfield, who was walking next to his old friend and Secretary of State James G. Blaine, crumpled almost immediately. Blaine exclaimed, using in my opinion preternatural poise, “My God. This man has been assassinated! What is the meaning of this!?”

President Garfield died some 60 days later. At his trial, Guiteau argued that he just shot him. Garfield’s doctors actually killed him and he was probably right. But that’s a different story.

What struck me most is Blaine’s exclamation. If my dear friend and political rival were shot in front of me, I doubt I’d be able to utter all those syllables. Instead, I’d probably shout something semi-coherent like “What the fuck.” Then again, I gather this is the sort of the starched-collar 19th century equivalent of shouting “What the fuck!” This gave me the image of a sneering youth in spats and a top hat, waiting for his hansome cab, typing “WITMOT” into his steam powered cell phone.

I’m a history buff and a film geek. I’m like examining the historical in movies and the cinematic in history. This blog will do both with a nod to President Garfield.

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