It was on this day in 1881 that President James A. Garfield died after being shot July 2nd by Charles Guiteau, whose post-mortem career we have documented in these pages. The deaths of rulers are often predicted or memorialized by Things in the Sky. Within a month of the President’s death, some Delmarva visionaries saw Garfield in Glory, escorted to his Heavenly reward by an honor guard of angels.
Garfield’s Heavenly Escort
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 slowly marching and countermarching 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 regards 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 believer, 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 seemed to have been especially manifest in Sussex county, Delaware.
Monday night two weeks ago, William West, a farmer living near Georgetown, the county seat, saw, at the time almost identical with the appearance of the vision at 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 friends, who had not been so fortunate as they. But, strangest of all, a man named Coverdale, who was driving through 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, 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 numbers. A farmer living near Clara’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.
New Hampshire Sentinel [Keene, NH] 20 October 1881: p. 1
This report claims a great many witnesses across several communities. If not the Heavenly Hosts, was this possibly the Northern Lights? Are there records of unusual aurora displays from 1881? The spectacle of angels dancing mournfully is a novel one, but certainly other visions of marching angels and soldiers have been recorded. And it seems almost inevitable that a month after his death, any unusual celestial appearance would be identified as the late President, “distinctly and vividly portrayed.”
The striking image at the head of this post is dated 1881 by the Library of Congress, but no other information is given as to exactly when and where it appeared. Despite its lack of uniforms and weapons, could it have inspired the angel sightings?
Other post-mortem visions of President Garfield, with or without an escort? chriswoodyard8 AT gmail.com
Chris Woodyard is the author of The Victorian Book of the Dead, The Ghost Wore Black, The Headless Horror, The Face in the Window, and the 7-volume Haunted Ohio series. She is also the chronicler of the adventures of that amiable murderess Mrs Daffodil in A Spot of Bother: Four Macabre Tales. The books are available in paperback and for Kindle. Indexes and fact sheets for all of these books may be found by searching hauntedohiobooks.com. Join her on FB at Haunted Ohio by Chris Woodyard or The Victorian Book of the Dead. And visit her newest blog, The Victorian Book of the Dead.