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Seventy-nine days stretched painstakingly as the nation held its breath, waiting to learn if President Garfield or his assassin would emerge victorious. On the eightieth day, President Garfield succumbed to his assassination, and the news spread faster than even that of the initial attack. Grief palpable, the days and months to come were spent securing Garfield’s legislative progress, navigating a nebulous process of presidential succession, and catalyzing a nationwide effort to memorialize a man whose legacy was as grand as the whole Republic.
In a week’s time, prominent civic and business leaders organized and prepared to begin deliberations on the erection of a memorial of the deceased President. This committee, later known as The National Garfield Memorial Association, penned a letter for inclusion in the Monday edition of the Associated Press on September 26, 1881.
It read in part:
To the People of the United States:
The movement to secure funds for the erection of a monument over the grave of James A. Garfield is being responded to from all sections of the country, East, West, South and North. In order to make it popular and successful it is desirable and will be necessary for the citizens of the different States and Territories immediately to organize.
Jeptha H. Wade, H.B. Payne, Joseph Perkins, and J.H. Rhodes signed this appeal with the express support of R.R. Herrick, mayor of Cleveland. As a thank you for donations that began to flood in, the committee created ‘receipts’ that featured a variety of portraits and standard denomination amounts, each signed for posterity. At a time when lavish funerals and architectural memorialization were a privilege known only to the wealthy, it was of the utmost importance that all citizens had the opportunity to take part in the memorial arrangements.
Today Lake View is the mindful custodian of a ledger book The National Garfield Memorial Association kept. Opening the well-preserved cover reveals carefully documented minutes detailing every discussion of the memorial’s design and a record of each contribution made toward the construction. Line by line, the story of America’s first “crowdfunding campaign” is woven together, columns labeled ‘$1,’ ‘$3,’ ‘$5,’ and ‘$10’ filled with checkmarks indicating which receipt to send and to whom. Many line items list unusual amounts like “$5.76” or “$30.34,” reinforcing the grassroots nature of this fundraising – people emptied their pockets and gave whatever they could spare, down to the single penny. President Garfield often said he lived by the motto, ‘my road must be through character to power,’ an ideal equally attributable to the fundraising efforts of the nation.
Delineated by state, territory, and foreign country, a record of contributions, dated April 1, 1889, to the Garfield Memorial Fund sorted the thousands of gifts, identifying Ohio, New York, the Montana Territory, and France as key supporters. Without question, Ohio’s citizens were most fervent in their support, donating more than $90,000—$75,000 raised from citizens of Cleveland alone—to the cause. In less than eight years, the committee raised $134,756 toward the monument’s budgeted final cost of $150,000 and would continue pooling resources for several more years to complete the construction. If the gravity of this effort is not quite clear, perhaps adjusting those numbers for inflation and reframing them in today’s dollars is helpful:
Memorial total construction cost: $4.4 million
Raised by Ohioans: $2.6 million, $2.2 million from Cleveland alone.
The tenacity of this early fundraising is instilled in each brick, paving stone, and piece of in-laid marble. Still, Lake View Cemetery works tirelessly to imbue the last remaining phase of the James A. Garfield Memorial restoration with this same distinction. More than 130 years after its dedication, the James A. Garfield Memorial needs terrace-level repairs that will cost Lake View $2.5 million. These culminating repairs will ensure that the lower-level tomb where President Garfield and his family rest eternally will be safe from water leakage, weather conditions, and the continued decline of age.
Join the thousands of Ohioans who have come before you with your contribution to the restoration of the James A. Garfield Memorial through Building on a Promise: The Campaign for Lake View Cemetery. Please contact Leah Whidden, Executive Director at 216.453.0958 or email@example.com to learn more.
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