A Brief History
On April 4, 1841, a stunned nation learned that for the first time in American history a serving president died while in office!
William Henry Harrison from Ohio gave his inaugural address bareheaded despite poor weather. Perhaps because of this blunder, the new president contracted pneumonia and died 31 days later, becoming the first president to die in office and the president with the shortest time served.
A total of 8 US presidents have died in office over the 238 years of our nation’s history, and the weirdest part of that is that 4 of them were from Ohio! Few states have anywhere near 4 presidents either born in or hailing from that state, and then there is Ohio!
James A. Garfield was the next Ohioan with the bad karma to die in office, this time at the hands of an assassin (as had Lincoln, the second president to die in office). Garfield was shot in the back with a .44 caliber revolver by Charles Guiteau on July 2, 1881 and did not die until September 19, 1881. Attempts were made to find the bullet lodged in his body by an electrical device made by Alexander Graham Bell, but were unsuccessful. A note about his treatment is that his attending physician was Dr. Doctor Bliss, yep, his first name was Doctor! Garfield was an advocate of civil rights and a champion of African-American integration into American society, his early death certainly hurt that cause. Guiteau was executed for his crime.
William McKinley became the next Ohioan to die in office, this time again at the hands of an assassin. Shot by Leon Czolgosz with a .32 caliber revolver in Buffalo, New York on September 6, 1901 having served just over 4 and a half years as president, McKinley died 8 days later. Czolgosz was executed, and this assassination led to the Secret Service being assigned responsibility for presidential protection.
The next and hopefully last president from Ohio to die in office was Warren Harding, accused of heading the most corrupt administration in US history. Harding died of an apparent stroke on August 2, 1923 while talking to his wife. Calvin Coolidge succeeded Harding and neatly blamed all emerging scandals on his predecessor. Fact: Harding lost the White House dinner china in a poker game! Even more bizarre fact: Harding was “accused” by opponents of having an African ancestor (great-great grandfather) at a time when the slightest trace of African heritage caused a person to be considered a Negro. Perhaps this allegation was due to Harding’s belief in civil rights reforms for African-Americans and support of an anti-lynching bill (that failed!). Harding also supported the first child welfare measures.
Franklin Roosevelt died in 1945 and the last (hopefully the last!) president to die in office was John Kennedy, shot in Dallas, Texas in 1963. Like Lincoln, Kennedy was not from Ohio! Somehow, William Taft, Benjamin Harrison, and Ulysses Grant, all from Ohio, managed to survive their presidencies. Hopefully any future candidates from the Buckeye State will disregard the ominous past and throw their hat into the ring anyway!
Question for students (and subscribers): What presidential trivia do you consider odd history? Please let us know in the comments section below this article.
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The best book on Ohio’s presidents is…
Weeks, Philip. Buckeye Presidents: Ohioans in the White House. The Kent State University Press, 2003.