Filed Under Architecture

James A. Garfield Memorial

James A. Garfield was born on November 19, 1831, in a log cabin in Orange Township. His father passed away when he was only 18 months old, leaving his mother to fend for herself and her family. Garfield started working at an early age to try to keep his family out of poverty. His first job--working on the Ohio Canal--was only the beginning. During his lifetime, the hardworking Garfield ably filled a number of positions and jobs. Among his many occupations, he served as a minister, lawyer, war hero and general in the volunteer Union Army, president of Hiram College, Republican state representative and senator, and finally the President of the United States of America.

Marking the pinnacle of Garfield's achievements in terms of position, his presidency lasted only 200 days. It is the second shortest presidency in U.S. history (only "beaten" by William Henry Harrison who died of pneumonia-related causes on his 32nd day in office). It spanned from March 4 to Sept. 19, 1881, when he died from a gunshot wound inflicted by his assassin Charles J. Guiteau.

A committee was formed for the memorial of Ohio's third President. J. H. Wade was its president, and many other notable citizens were involved as well, including Rutherford B. Hayes and John D. Rockefeller. They wanted to build a structure that would do justice to the nation's slain hero. An international competition was held for artists and architects to compete for the task and honor of designing the memorial. For that reason, a notice was sent throughout the U.S., England, Germany, Italy, and France. In the end, the job was awarded to George Keller of Hartford, Connecticut, as the committee favored his design. Construction of the 180-foot-tall memorial began in Cleveland's Lake View Cemetery on October 6, 1885, and the memorial, which sits astride the Cleveland–Cleveland Heights border, was dedicated on May 30, 1890.

The tomb of President Garfield is located inside the memorial. It is entered through the portico from a terrace. There are five bas-reliefs inside the memorial, with more than 108 life-size figures, showing Garfield in the role of schoolteacher, statesman, and president. Sculpture work inside of the tomb is by Casper Buberl. The statue of Garfield, prominently displaced in the center of the circular chapel, is the creation of Alexander Doyle. The marble used by Doyle was taken from the famous quarries near Carrara, Italy, which were first opened by Leonardo da Vinci.

An interesting detail was revealed in an interview with the architect George Keller. Keller told that the five bas-reliefs show some famous Americans. There are depictions of Chief Justice Waite, General Sherman, ex-President Rutherford B. Hayes, Chester Arthur, John A. Logan, Carl Schurz, James G. Blaine, and many others. The sculptor Buberl had also included depictions of himself, the architect, the sculptor's assistant, and even the foreman of the plaster casters of Perth Amboy Terra Cotta works. Furthermore, on the interior in the mosaic frieze, the artist Mr. Lonsdale had introduced a portrait of the architect's infant daughter. These little details were obviously introduced unobtrusively.

The memorial has required repeated preservation work in the past several decades. In 1984, the memorial was closed for major restorations including repairing the walls, floors and roof in addition to restoring the stained-glass windows. The cemetery received a $500,000 federal grant to help pay for the restoration work, which was completed in time for a rededication ceremony on Memorial Day in 1985. More recently, a multimillion-dollar restoration project aimed to mitigate more than century of wear and tear, including repointing the mortar and performing the first cleaning of the sandstone exterior. The scaffolding came down in 2020, 130 years after the monument's completion, revealing an edifice that again looks much as it did a decade after President Garfield's death.


Highest Point in the Cemetery Bob Hook, Garfield Monument Guide, tells of the specific location of the monument in the cemetery. The wishes of the President and his widow were considered while choosing the specific location for the project. Source: Cleveland Regional Oral History Collection
Features of the Garfield Monument Bob Hook describes interior and exterior features of the monument which houses the remains of President Garfield, his wife, daughter and son-in-law. Source: Cleveland Regional Oral History Collection
"Do What is Best." Bob Hook provides insights about the monument's development on the grounds of Lake View Cemetery. President Garfield communicated his wishes. Source: Cleveland Regional Oral History Collection


Front Elevation, 2014
Front Elevation, 2014 Built of locally quarried Berea sandstone, the imposing Garfield Memorial towers over a grassy knoll overlooking Lake Erie. It is the nation's third tallest presidential memorial. Only the Washington Monument and the George Washington Masonic National Memorial (in Alexandria, Virginia) are taller. Another taller structure, the Hoover Tower at Stanford University, is technically not a memorial, for it was dedicated 25 years before President Herbert Hoover's death. Creator: J. Mark Souther Date: November 11, 2014
Garfield's Many Professions
Garfield's Many Professions James A. Garfield held several jobs and positions during his lifetime. He was a minister, a congressman, a war hero and general in the volunteer Union Army, the president of Hiram College, a lawyer, a state representative, a senator, and finally the President of the United States of America. Source: National Archives and Records Administration. Still Picture Records Section, Special Media Archives Services Division (NWCS-S)
A Family Man
A Family Man President Garfield enjoyed a sizable family in life. As things went, the family would soon lose its patriarch to an assassin's bullet. The image of Abraham Lincoln on the wall thus creates a type of ominous portent, as Lincoln was the first US president to be assassinated. Garfield was the second. Source: Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division
The Assassination of Garfield
The Assassination of Garfield Garfield's presidency lasted only 200 days, from March 4, 1881, until his death on September 19, 1881. The President's death was the result of being shot at the Baltimore and Potomac Railway Station by assassin Charles J. Guiteau on July 2, 1881. Garfield was then on his way to vacation with his wife in Long Branch, New Jersey. Although surviving the initial attack, the president ultimately died from the wounds suffered that day. Source: Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division
Guarding the President's Body
Guarding the President's Body As in the case of Abraham Lincoln following his assassination, President Garfield's body was likewise protected from unwanted intrusions. This image shows a group of soldiers guarding Garfield's tomb in Lake View Cemetery shortly after his death in 1881. The Garfield Memorial was not completed until 1890. Source: Cleveland Memory Project, Cleveland State University Library Special Collections
The Garfield Memorial
The Garfield Memorial The main building of the Garfield Memorial is a 198 feet tall circular tower, 50 feet in diameter, made of rough faced stones. Near the cornice, 16 windows wrap all the way around the tower, reaching up to a cone-shaped roof that caps the structure. The Memorial also has 2 smaller cone-shaped towers that capping the portico. Source: New York Public Library. Digital Library. Robert N. Dennis collection of stereoscopic views.
Statue of Garfield
Statue of Garfield The sculpture of Garfield by Alexander Doyle was created in Italy with great detail. The upturned head is an accurate reflection of Garfield's mannerisms. It was a habit particularly used during debates in the House of Representatives. The crease located between the first and second buttonholes on the left lapel of the coat is likewise intentional. President Garfield used to wear his coat buttoned across his breast, especially when walking in the street. Wearing the coat in such a fashion produced a crease much like the one later immortalized in marble. Source: Wikimedia Commons
In Memory of the President
In Memory of the President This image shows US President Garfield's son James R Garfield standing in tribute to his father. The son delivered an address on the spot where his father was born in Orange Township, Ohio, on Nov. 19, 1831. The boulder bearing a bronze plaque indicates where the log cabin in which President Garfield was born once stood. Students of Hiram College, where Garfield was president from 1857 to 1863, also took part in the ceremony. Source: Cleveland Memory Project, Cleveland State University Library Special Collections


Garfield Rd, Lake View Cemetery


Ashley Hardison, “James A. Garfield Memorial,” Cleveland Historical, accessed April 13, 2024,