Friday, July 2, 2010

Ivory flatware

One hundred and twenty nine years ago today, on July 2nd 1881, Charles Julius Guiteau got his shoes shined in the now demolished Baltimore and Potomac Railroad’s “Pennsylvania” Station in Washington DC. The station sat at the corner of Sixth Street and Constitution Avenue, where the National Archives building now stands. Guiteau (nicknamed “Gitout” by some of his associates) paced around a bit in his freshly shined shoes and finally engaged a cab. He asked the cabbie to wait for a bit and then give him a ride to jail. He should have realized that when one assassinates a president they get a free ride to jail.

Guiteau shot President Garfield with his brand new British Bulldog pocket revolver (chambered in .442 Webley), twice at point blank range, put the pistol back into his pocket and calmly walked towards his waiting cab. Patrick Kearney, a policeman who happened to be in the area, offered Charles a free ride to jail, which he accepted. So excited was Patrick at this arrangement that he neglected to take the revolver (which still was loaded with three unfired cartridges) from Charles till several hours had passed.

Charles had hoped the revolver would be preserved for posterity in a museum. When he purchased it he wanted the ivory-handled version because he thought it would look best in the museum. Unfortunately he could not afford it as the .442 Webley chambered Bulldog cost considerably more than the $5 price tag of the low powered .44 Bulldog chambering (I know it is a bit confusing that there was a .44 Bulldog chambering of the British Bulldog revolver). Charles had only borrowed $15 for the gun, cartridges, shoe shine, and cab-ride to jail. The extra dollar for the ivory handles was more than he could afford, so he bought a pen-knife instead. Had he known about the free ride offer he may have gotten the ivory handles instead of the pen knife. It would not really matter in the end as the revolver “disappeared” from the Smithsonian museum before two decades had passed.

Charles was not a very capable assassin. Both of his bullets missed vital organs, and despite an initial prognosis that the president would not survive the night, Garfield survived his wounds. Doctors continued to probe his open wound with dirty fingers and unsterilized instruments until they were able to do with infection what Charles was unable to do with his revolver. Eighty days after the shooting, on September 19th, 1881, President Garfield would die. Had the president received care competent by the standards of the day, he would have, most likely, survived.

Charles would outlive the President by quite a few months; he would hang on June 30th 1882.

Charles was told by God to kill the president. He had been a member of the Oneida cult but he did not enjoy much success with the ladies of the group (despite communal marriage ideals) and left it to form his own cult (where he continued to be unimpressive to the oposite sex). By the time Charles left the cult Oneida had begun the process of transforming itself from a fringe polygamist religion to a world renowned silverware company. By the end of the century Oneida would be flooding the market with its “community plate” marked flatware. In 1935 they officially changed their name from Oneida community to Oneida Ltd.

John Humphrey Noyes founded the Oneida community in 1848 and shortly thereafter coined the term “Free Love”. The followers of Noyes believed that Jesus Christ had returned in 70AD. This was the same year that Emperor Titus destroyed Jerusalem and the temple therein. Titus reportedly refused the wreath of victory stating that there was :"no merit in vanquishing people forsaken by their own God”. Had Titus known that Jesus Christ was in the crowd he may have behaved differently.

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