When the Country's Founding Father is Your Founding Father
Far from being royalty, the descendants of American presidents are the athletic trainers, lawyers, salesmen and executives of everyday life
- By Megan Gambino
- Smithsonian.com, February 17, 2012
(Courtesy of James A. Garfield III)
James A. Garfield III, a 42-year-old athletic trainer at Notre Dame College in South Euclid, Ohio, never lived at Lawnfield, his great-great-great-grandfather President James A. Garfield’s home in Mentor, Ohio. The home was donated to the Western Reserve Historical Society in 1936 and declared a National Historic Site in 1980. But he has cut the front lawn.
For two summers in the mid-1990s, he and his brother, along with their grandfather, did landscaping work on the two-acre property. He also gave occasional house tours, which he could spice up with anecdotes his grandfather shared on the job. One of his favorite tales to tell was about how he and his brothers had once, as wily kids, painted a marble bust in the library blue. “They got the paint off of it, obviously, but you can still see a little bit of a blue hue to it if it is sitting in the right light,” says Garfield.
At his own home in Cleveland, Garfield has an 1881 lithograph of President Garfield, his namesake, in its original frame and glass hanging proudly in his living room. His parents, he explains, defied a verbal pact made by the older generation of Garfields to not name anybody else after the president. “My mother got a very stern letter from James A. Garfield II,” he says. But, bearing the name has encouraged Garfield to learn more about the 20th president, who was in office for a short stint in 1881 before being assassinated. “The depth of him is something that people don’t know. He was a preacher. He was a lawyer. He was a teacher,” says Garfield. “He was a triple threat.”
Garfield's studies and continued involvement with events at the James A. Garfield Historic Site allow him to answer most questions that his name elicits. “It surprises me actually how many people do put the connection together. He was only in office for seven months, so he didn’t have a lot of fame, as far as being a president goes,” says Garfield.