Presidential Death Locations

On July 6, 2014 · 4 Comments

After examining birthplaces for the Presidents of the United States, I shifted gears and did the same for the places where they died. This proved to be a little more problematic because greater attention had been focused on their exact places of birth, undoubtedly because it’s a more cheerful subject. I began with the shared spreadsheet compiled in the prior article and added columns for all of the presidential death locations, including as many exact latitude/longitude coordinates as I could find and links to appropriate websites for more information.

View Presidential Birthplaces & Death Locations in a larger map

I then overlaid presidential death locations onto the earlier birthplaces map. Some sites might be worth visiting. They included palatial estates later converted to museums and often co-located with presidential libraries. Others, well, I’m not convinced I need to visit the hospital room where Richard Nixon died of a cerebral edema.

Died in Office

Garfield Memorial, Long Branch, New Jersey

I could imagine a subset of macabre presidential trivia aficionados focused on the eight Chief Executives who died in office. That would be a bit morbid for my tastes, and yet I’ve trudged over to Ford’s Theater and the Petersen House to see where Abraham Lincoln was shot and died. James Garfield, William McKinley and John Kennedy were also felled by assassins. The other four, William Henry Harrison, Zachary Taylor, Warren Harding and Franklin Roosevelt died of natural causes.

Garfield barely served as President, elected just a few months before he was shot by a delusional office-seeker in the waiting room of a Washington, DC train station in 1881. He may have been killed as much by the inept medical attention he received after his injury as by the bullet itself.

Had Garfield been left where he lay, he might well have survived; the bullet failed to hit his spine or penetrate any vital organs. Instead, he was given over to the care of doctors, who basically tortured him to death over the next 11 weeks. Two of them repeatedly probed his wound with their unsterilized fingers and instruments before having him carted back to the White House on a hay-and-horsehair mattress.

Doctors eventually brought the suffering Garfield to a summer cottage on the New Jersey shore in a last-ditch hope that fresh air and cooler temperatures might revive him. Nothing remains of the original cottage and only a granite marker records the place where Garfield spent his final few days.


Woodrow Wilson’s House by JB, on Flickr
via Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC 2.0) license

Presidents died in a more dispersed pattern than where they were born. Nonetheless two clusters demonstrated the opposite extreme and offered much tighter groupings than any of the birthplace clusters. Neither location surprised me, nor will they likely surprise the 12MC audience.

Many former presidents remained politically active as they grew older and retained their ties to Washington, DC. One might expect that some of them died there. I counted seven. Three died in office within the physical boundaries of District: Lincoln, W.H. Harrison and Taylor (the last two passed away in the White House). John Quincy Adams died in the Speaker’s Room of the US Capitol Building. Dwight Eisenhower died at the Walter Reed Army Medical Center. Woodrow Wilson and William Taft died at their post-administration mansions. Wilson’s home included 39,200 square feet of livable space. Taft’s home became the Syrian Embassy (until ordered closed in March 2014). Maybe I’ll undertake a Presidential Death Location tour for an upcoming 12MC Bicycle Ride.

If not politics, then financial power would seem to be attractive to people of this elevated stature. Four of the former presidents ended their days in Manhattan: James Monroe; Chester Arthur; Herbert Hoover and Richard Nixon.


Ulysees S. Grant Cottage
Ulysees S. Grant Cottage by Selbe & Lily, on Flickr
via Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0) license

I scratched my head in bewilderment at some of the places where presidents died. I never would have guessed that Garfield died at the Jersey Shore. Monroe in Manhattan seemed odd too. He’d spent the bulk of his retirement in Virginia and moved-in with his daughter Maria only after his wife passed away. Maria had married Samuel L. Gouverneur, a New York City attorney and politician.

The placement of Ulysses Grant’s death also seemed out of context, a cottage in the woods north of Saratoga Springs, New York. Grant spent the final six weeks of his life at the cottage rushing to complete his memoirs. He died of throat cancer three days after finishing his task. The book provided financial comfort for his family after his death and remains in print.

Sweet Retirement

Gerald Ford Home, Rancho Mirage, California

Some former presidents managed to escape office and retired to lifestyles with less pressure. Many of them resided on sprawling estates and lived well as they grew older and eventually passed away there: Thomas Jefferson at Monticello; Andrew Jackson at The Hermitage; Rutherford Hayes at Spiegel Grove; Theodore Roosevelt at Sagamore Hill; Lyndon Johnson at his Johnson Ranch. Even later presidents like Gerald Ford seemed to live in style, with Ford’s home situated conveniently along a golf course in Rancho Mirage, California.

There were other gems. I’ll leave the rest of the spreadsheet to the 12MC audience to explore.

On July 6, 2014 · 4 Comments

4 Responses to “Presidential Death Locations”

  1. Peter says:

    James Garfield’s doctors selected a seaside hotel in Elberon, New Jersey as the location for his (hopeful) recovery. It was a half-mile away from the nearest train line, however, and by that point Garfield was so weak that transferring him to a carriage seemed unwise. Town residents came to the rescue, turning out by the hundreds and building a spur line right to the hotel door in only 24 hours.

    About a decade later, the husband and wife actors Oliver Doud Byron and Kate Crehan, along with their teenage son Arthur Byron, retrieved the ties from the now-disused rail spur and used them to build a cottage on the grounds of their nearby house and called the cottage the Garfield Hut. It was their favorite spot for afternoon tea. Arthur, who became an actor himself, inherited the hut from his parents and continued using it for the rest of his life. Today the Garfield Hut sits on the grounds of the Church of the Presidents in Elberon.

  2. Philip Sites says:

    Outstanding map Tom! Just amazing to me how little of an “personal” impact our Presidents have had in the heartland. Though I have a feeling that if Teddy Roosevelt got to pick another place to perish, he may have chosen the Dakotas…

  3. Kevin Lawrence says:

    Not quite a presidential death location but the colony of Victoria (now part of Australia) changed the name of Cannibal Creek to Garfield in March 1887 to honour the late US President.

  4. David says:

    While we’re on the topic of things named after Garfield, his widow Lucretia Garfield moved to South Pasadena, California after his death, and the house where she spent her winters and ultimately died still stands today. (I believe Garfield Avenue, which starts in South Pasadena and is a major thoroughfare all the way south to Long Beach, is named after her.) Producer and recording artist Joe Henry lived in her house much more recently and had a home studio there. I passed by it a few times when I knew a band called Over the Rhine that I was a fan of was recording an album there in 2010. Unfortunately I did not get to hear the recording in progress.

    Anyway, bit of a music geek tangent there, but maybe someday you should map out the birth and death places of first ladies. Could be fun.

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