In late 1881, the country was reeling from the death of President James A. Garfield. On July 2, the president, accompanied by two of his sons and his Secretary of State, James G. Blaine, entered the Baltimore and Potomac Passenger Terminal in Washington to board a train for Massachusetts, where Garfield was scheduled to make a speech at Williams College. Entering the terminal’s waiting room, the entourage was approached by a man from the crowd who fired two shots at the president.
Charles Guiteau, a mentally ill man from Illinois was arrested on the scene. Believing that God had ordained the murder, Guiteau had been stalking the president convinced that he was owed an appointment in Garfield’s administration. Both shots Guiteau fired struck the president, though only one penetrated his body: entering his back and coming to rest near his spleen.
The president lingered for more than two months while the country prayed for him to recover. While under modern circumstances Garfield would have recovered quickly, medical science of the period did not recognize and properly treat the infections that wracked his body. Garfield died on September 19 from a ruptured splenic artery aneurism with septicemia and pneumonia as contributing factors. Guiteau was charged with murder, found guilty and executed in June 30, 1882.
A few weeks after the death of the president, a curious notice appeared in a Delaware newspaper which was picked up by The Evening Visitor in Raleigh, North Carolina. The notice described a heavenly vision that was seen by residents of the Delmarva Peninsula. The vision was first viewed by a young girl in the Talbot County, Maryland community of Royal Oak.
The Evening Visitor (Raleigh, North Carolina)
13 October 1881, Page 4
Garfield’s Heavenly Escort.
PENINSULAR PEOPLE SEE THE LATE
PRESIDENT SURROUNDED BY SOLDIERS
IN THE SKY.
Peninsular people have been seeing ghosts and supernatural objects with alarming frequency during the last three weeks. The first instance of things heavenly having been seen comes from Royal Oak, Maryland. A little girl, some three weeks ago, living in the village, saw after night-fall, before the moon was fairly up above the horizon, whole platoons of angels marching and counter-marching to and fro in the clouds, their white robes and helmets glistening with a weird light. At intervals the heavenly visitors would dance mournfully, as if to the sound of unseen music and certainly unheard music. She rushed in to her parents and declared that the heavens had been spread and betrayed to her vision sights somewhat premature, as regard time, and then sank down in affright. Her father, to satisfy his doubting mind, went out and was rewarded with a sight of the unearthly spectacle. The news of the mystery quickly spread from mouth to mouth, from house, to house, and in an incredibly short space of time the inhabitants were out en masse gazing in open mouthed astonishment while the white robed hosts seemingly offended at the immense amount of genuine astonishment and wonder they were unearthing, slowly faded from sight, leaving Royal Oak a firm believed, from the little girl who was first on the spot to the ‘Squire in his little office behind the church in ghosts and winged goblins. But the phenomena seem to have been especially manifest in Sussex, Delaware.
Monday night two weeks ago William West, a farmer living near Georgetown, the county seat, saw, at a time almost identical with the appearance of the vision of Royal Oak, bands of soldiers of great size, equipped in dazzling uniforms their musket steels quivering and shimmering in the pale weird light that seemed to be everywhere, marching with military precision up and down unseen avenues and presenting arms at the sound of unheard commands. The vision was of startling distinctness and lasted long enough to be seen by a number of West’s neighbors who, after the unearthly military had taken its departure and been swallowed up in thin air, retailed the strange story to their eager friends who had not been so fortunate as they. But strangest of all, a man named Coverdale, who was driving thought the country along a lonely road at the same time, being then several miles away from West’s house and in an entirely different direction, saw to his astonishment and alarm the same band of soldiers in their faultless uniforms. Many people living near Laurel, many miles away, situated in the lower end of the Peninsula, saw the same extraordinary phenomena at the same time. A few go as far as to say, in spite of the ridicule of their associates, that they distinctly saw in the midst of the soldiers, and conspicuous by reason of his size and commanding presence, the hero President himself, pale, but with his every feature distinctly and vividly portrayed. There is no doubt of the fact that there were many who thought they saw Garfield in the clouds. In Talbot county the illusion was seen by [a] number. A farmer living in Clata’s Point on going out into his yard after dark saw, as he related it afterwards to his neighbors, angels and soldiers marching side by side in the clouds, wheeling and going through every evolution with military precision and absolutely life-like and natural.—Wilmington (Del.) News.
- Assassination of James A. Garfield. Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia. Accessed 4 June 2018.
- “Garfield’s Heavenly Escort.” The Evening Visitor. 13 October 1881.