Ohio Icon: The James A. Garfield Memorial

A statue of James A. Garfield

Photo by Damaine Vonada

Location: On the east side of Cleveland in Lake View Cemetery.

Provenance: Founded in 1869, Lake View Cemetery was among the nation’s first garden-style cemeteries, and President James A. Garfield, who was born and raised near Cleveland, had expressed his desire to make its scenic grounds his final resting place. Shortly after his inauguration, Garfield was shot by a disappointed office-seeker and lingered for two months before dying on Sept. 19, 1881.

Garfield’s body initially was placed in a vault in Lake View Cemetery, and it was permanently moved to the newly completed Garfield Memorial on Memorial Day 1890.

Significance: The Garfield Memorial not only is the first mausoleum built for a U.S. president, but also is a Cleveland landmark that attracts some 40,000 visitors every year. “The Memorial is 180 feet high and sits on the cemetery’s highest point,” says Lake View president and CEO Katharine Goss. “From its balcony, you can see Cleveland’s skyline and Lake Erie.”

Reflecting the Gilded Age as well as grief for a fallen leader, the exceptionally ornate presidential monument cost $225,000, and individuals in the United States and foreign countries provided much of its funding. Architect George Keller’s towering structure combines Romanesque, Gothic, and Byzantine design elements, and its base features bas relief panels by sculptor Caspar Buberl that depict Garfield’s multi-faceted life as a teacher, Union general, congressman, and president.

Inside the Memorial are richly colored mosaics representing “War” and “Peace;” stained-glass windows symbolizing Ohio and the 13 original states; and a 12-foot-tall statue of Garfield. Steubenville native Alexander Doyle sculpted the statue in white Carrara marble obtained from the same Italian quarries Leonardo da Vinci used. The Memorial’s crypt contains the bronze caskets of Garfield and his wife Lucretia, as well as urns holding the ashes of their daughter Mary “Molly” Garfield Stanley-Brown and her husband, Joseph Stanley-Brown, who had been Garfield’s secretary.

Currently: Opening to visitors on April 1 every year, the Garfield Memorial is staffed by knowledgeable guides, who happily answer questions and point people to the graves of some other famous “residents” — including John D. Rockefeller and Eliot Ness.

It’s a little-known fact that: The Memorial’s exterior was built from Ohio’s Berea sandstone, which has become damaged and discolored by more than a century of weathering and pollution. Thus, the Lake View Cemetery Foundation recently launched the Garfield Campaign to raise capital needed for repairs.