Someone broke into President Garfield’s tomb and stole his commemorative spoons


A marble statue of America's 20th President, James A. Garfield, in the center of the James A. Garfield Monument at Lake View Cemetery in Cleveland. (Amy Sancetta/AP)

 

Even in death, President James A. Garfield can't seem to catch a break.

Last week, someone apparently broke into Garfield's tomb in the Cleveland suburbs and stole 13 commemorative spoons from a display case.

"We were like, 'Really? They took spoons?' " said Katherine Goss, president and chief executive of Lake View Cemetery, which houses the Garfield tomb.

The spoons, Goss said, "would be hard to sell in a historical auction because everyone would wonder where they came from."

The thieves left behind several other pieces of memorabilia and even some cash in a donation box, Goss said, leading her to guess that "someone had to prove that they had been inside the monument — so they had to take something."

The evidence left behind by the burglars, she said, included a broken stained-glass window, a T-shirt, two cigarette butts and, of course, an empty bottle of Fireball cinnamon whiskey.

The 13 silver spoons had practically no monetary value, according to Goss. They were "flimsy little things" from Garfield's inauguration and have his face engraved in the handles and what Goss believes might have been an image of his Ohio home on the teaspoon itself. Goss said the cemetery never took photos of the spoons.

Update: thanks to @markwallender we now have a photo of the stolen spoons:


(Courtesy Mark Allender/@markwallender)

Garfield, the 20th president, wound up serving only 200 days after he was shot by an assassin four months into his presidency and died 80 days later.

(And that isn't even the shortest presidential term, a dubious distinction that belongs to William Henry Harrison, who served for about a month before his death.)

This Nov. 18, 1931 file photo shows the tomb of James A. Garfield, 20th president of the United States, at Lakeview Cemetery in Cleveland. Northeast Ohio Media Group on Friday, May 9, 2014 reported that police said thieves broke into the monument and stole a set of commemorative spoons. A cemetery worker discovered the theft Wednesday, May 7, 2014. (AP Photo/File)
This Nov. 18, 1931, photo shows the tomb of James A. Garfield, 20th president, at Lakeview Cemetery in Cleveland Heights. (AP)

Garfield was the second of four U.S. presidents assassinated while in office. In 1881, The Post memorialized him on the front page this way: "JAMES ABRAM GARFIELD: The Second American President to Lay His Life Upon His Country's Altar."

Garfield has a truly remarkable tomb: a 180-foot-tall sandstone structure, in which his flag-draped casket sits directly beside the casket of his wife, Lucretia. Nearby are also the ashes of his daughter Mary (also known as Molly) and her husband, Joseph Stanley Brow.

Without commenting on Cleveland's attractiveness as a tourist destination in general, it's worth noting that the Lake View Cemetery is a popular landmark — the sixth-most popular attraction in Cleveland, according to Trip Advisor. And much of that has to do with the Garfield tomb, which has the country's only presidential casket on full display.

"President Garfield's Tomb — Fabulous!" said Trip Advisor user SusanzM:

The Lake View Cemetery is full of wonderful monuments and mausoleums (including lots of Egyptian Revival style). President Garfield’s 180-ft Romanesque, Gothic, and Byzantine style monument is magnificent! I can't believe I had never heard about it before. It was dedicated in 1890 and is like a mini-cathedral, with a golden mosaic dome inside. It also has beautiful colored marble, stained glass windows, and red granite columns. A statue of the President stands on the main floor. His casket (along with his wife’s casket, and their daughter’s and son-in-law’s urns) are on display in the crypt below. This is the only Presidential casket on full display. We climbed the stairs to the gallery area above the Memorial Hall and then climbed further to the outdoor balcony for a great view. The exterior of the building includes gargoyles and terra cotta panels with life-size scenes of Garfield’s life and death. We lucked out because the day we visited was the last day it is open for the season. The interior of the monument is only open April 1 – November 19. It's free.

Long gone, but not forgotten, Garfield also has a statue on Capitol Hill.

Police were able to collect fingerprints from the scene, but they don't have any suspects yet.

This post has been updated.

Abby Phillip is a general assignment national reporter for the Washington Post. She can be reached at abby.phillip@washpost.com. On Twitter: @abbydphillip
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