Now & Then -- Seattle's Memorial Service for Garfield -- September 26, 1881

  • By Paul Dorpat
  • Posted 1/01/1999
  • Essay 2568

This file contains Seattle historian and photographer Paul Dorpat's Now & Then photographs and reflections on the memorial service held in Seattle for U.S. President James A. Garfield (1831-1881), who was murdered by an assassin in Washington, D.C.

Seattle Mourns Garfield

U.S. President James A. Garfield was sworn into office on March 4, 1881. He had served for half a year when a deranged office seeker shot him. Garfield suffered in agony for 11 weeks and died on September 19, 1881. For his memorial service, Seattleites gathered in Occidental Square (now Pioneer Square) in front of the Occidental Hotel (now the site of the "Sinking Ship" parking garage) to be consoled by hymns and dirges supplied by the Episcopal choir and the "Pacific Cornets," and to be edified by speakers.

Garfield's portrait is surrounded by the red-white-blue-and-black bunting above the speaker's stand.

Orange Jacobs, the principal orator of the day and a friend of Garfield' s, described the assassinated president as "The sun-intellect of this nation, reflecting the light of his noble deeds ... tingeing the breaking clouds of dissension with the beauty and effulgence of hope and peace."

On September 27, 1881, the Intelligencer newspaper reported on the memorial service for the fallen president under the headline, "GOD REIGNS AND THE GOVERNMENT AT WASHINGTON STILL LIVES."

No doubt Garfield's memorial service was Seattle's biggest public event to date. But more important for the city's future was the arrival on that same Monday of Seattle's future city engineer, Reginald H. Thomson. Thomson would build the city's water and sewer systems and regrade its hills. He attended the Garfield memorial -- he's probably in this picture. He remembered the "profound attention that was paid to the addresses."


Paul Dorpat, Seattle: Now & Then, Vol. 2 (Seattle: Tartu Publications, 1988), 24-25.
Note: This essay was edited for in 1999.

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