I left the crabs to their chances. As I brushed the sand off my feet, I wondered what else Long Branch might have in store for me. I had about twenty minutes left before the opening of Monmouth. And I like to be at places when they open to beat the throngs. I am sure this morning there would be a throng at Monmouth. Because doesn’t everyone chase presidents on beautiful New Jersey days?
My google map revealed a few things as I deleted “Seven Presidents Park.” I thought I saw “Seven Presidents Church.” Are you kidding? Off I went, down the road where I fenced in and permanently closed building hosted a front yard sign revealing the same seven presidents worshiped here.
One more climb into my car and one more chance for Google to give me something else. I type in monuments… I see the name James Garfield appear. I set the directions and pull out.
I circled Long Branch, looking for a sign noting a park or a statue or something to tell me where I might find a James Garfield monument. It is nearing 7:30AM so there are people milling about. I drive back and forth on what appears to be a main causeway. Then I find a small road near the beach. It is tight driving. I cannot believe there are no signs that point to a James Garfield SOMETHING, right? I roll down my window and ask a lady if she knows of a statue of James Garfield.
I glance down at Google. The little red pin is directly where I am, and there is nothing. Not even green space to note a park. I drive. I turn around. I drive again. The red pin moves slightly. I pull down a very tight road, now lost in a neighborhood where they call the cops on strange cars.
And then I see two small American flags beside a stone.
I stop the car in the middle of the street. A woman taking out the trash in a nightgown creases her eyes toward me. I circle the car to read the stone.
And I gasped.
The stone read, “James Garfield, 20th President of the United States, died on this site September 19, 1881.
I didn’t have time to lower my head. I snapped a few pictures and got back in my car. I drove off.
The day before, I was a mere stone’s throw from the site James Garfield was shot in Washington DC. There is a new sign on the location, a sign I have not seen yet. But those 100 steps the morning before would have put me very late for my day of activities. What a connection it would have been, to stand one day on the site he was shot and the next the site he died, not planning on either.
Sometimes Chasing Presidents can be long and tedious, as a few weeks back I drove eight hours to and from West Branch, Iowa to visit the grave, birthplace and presidential library of Herbert Hoover. Such is the passion of Chasing Presidents that I don’t really think about it. But I don’t know if, in thirty four years of chasing, that I have ever gasped upon seeing something.
James Garfield was a good man, and would have been a good president. His death, thanks to author Candice Millard, has resurfaced as not a murder by an assassin’s bullet but an unintentional murder at the hands of a Doctor.
As Monmouth Battlefield opened and I walked to the visitor’s center trying to beat the other three people in the parking lot, I couldn’t stop thinking about James Garfield.
I believe someone once said, “No one goes to New Jersey on purpose.” I wasn’t in Long Branch on purpose, either, but boy did something find me. Something always intangible on this adventure I have come to call Chasing Presidents.