Thank You For Everything, Charles Guiteau

ETA: this is another pilfered entry from a previous, now defunct author blog I had last year. I meant to post it yesterday, on the actual anniversary of Garfield’s assassination, but I ended up going to the ER with my husband AGAIN for this hellacious illness we’re both suffering from. Anyway, please enjoy!

2002. Home from college for Spring Break, I was preparing for the 12 hour solo drive back to school in Virginia. I stood in front of the rack of Soundtrack CDs at Newbury Comics, looking for the Nathan Lane version of A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum, with no luck. I decided I’d spring for a different Sondheim musical, and as I began flipping through the “A” section, I came across the Original Cast Recording of Assassins.

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The original Off-Broadway cast from 1991. . .the ONLY legit cast of this show, as far as I’m concerned

I’d certainly heard of this show before, had even tried reading the libretto that I’d stumbled across in my tiny college’s even tinier library. Reading a musical’s script is always challenging, but this show was even moreso since I didn’t know who many of these people were, and had to keep flipping  to the front to see who’d shot which President and what time period they were from. History had never been high on my list of interests and this initial read-through did nothing to change that.

I bought the CD.

I listened to it a few times, including on the drive back to school, and it was. . .okay. But as musicals do, the songs started to worm their way into my head and, not only that, but so too did the stories that were being told. They sounded too crazy to have actually happened. I mean, you’re telling me some guy waited in line at a fair to shake the President’s hand, but instead he put a gun (carefully disguised as a bandaged hand) to McKinley’s stomach and shot him instead? And that some insane guy thought God told him to shoot President Garfield – so he did? These were definitely NOT things that had been covered in history class, but they were fascinating.

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Classic image of the McKinley assassination at the Pan-American Exposition in Buffalo, NY, from Leslie’s Weekly

So I started doing research – for fun –  and was amazed to find that these basic facts were true. And this led to further questions– about the time period, about the presidents, about the assassins’ lives. Suddenly there was SO MUCH to learn and the timing for this interest could not have been better. I wasn’t really sure what to do with my life after the only thing I’d ever planned on doing (Pre-Vet -> Veterinary School -> Horse Vet) fell through, so I bounced around between majors and schools and working at a drug store hoping I’d figure something out, when History swooped in and saved the day.

While working on my undergraduate History thesis, I became interested in working in archives or special collections, thinking it would be really cool to be the person who got to work with old artifacts day after day. This led me back to school for a Master’s in Library Science and eventually to a really interesting career as an academic librarian. I also met my husband in one of my first History classes at URI.  I used to tell freshmen during their library orientation tour not to be afraid of the microfilm machines – that could be where you meet your future spouse!

So what’s the point of this story? To some people July 4th is the big day at the beginning of the month, but for me July 2nd will always be more significant. If Guiteau hadn’t shot Garfield that day in 1881, he would not have ended up in Assassins, and since that was the incident that interested me the most, leading to my degree from URI, etc. etc. I have NO idea where I’d be or what I’d be doing today.

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Illustration of the Garfield assassination (another of our great Ohio presidents! haha), also from Leslie’s Weekly.

Oh, and does any of this make an appearance in my story? You bet it does! One of my MCs is introduced and there are some huge shifts in previously established relationships which I’d like to think pushes the story forward in unexpected ways.  You’ll have to wait about 15 years or so to find out more. 😉  Stay tuned!

For more info on Guiteau/the Garfield assassination, this page looks dated, but the info’s sound.

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