Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Of Silverware Sex Cults, Ego and Assassination: Charles J. Guiteau

I have always been sort of fascinated by assassinations- which I think is maybe the result of having gone to John F. Kennedy Elementary School as a kid? I don't know. Maybe I'm just morbid. Anyway, my favorite (for lack of a better word, I suppose) assassin was Charles Julius Guiteau, the dude who shot Garfield. Whom, embarassingly enough, I had never actually heard of until I got a copy of the OBC Recording of Sondheim's Assassins. But it's been true love ever since, I guess. He's totally fascinating- I mean, seriously- if you thought John Hinckley was wacky... yikes. Anyway, I will tell you about him.

Guiteau and I actually have something in common: We were both rejected from weird sex cults in Western, NY. Mine was an Actor's Studio called "Magnum Opus" that I didn't actually know was a cult until it came out in the paper about a year after they'd disappeared. Seriously, they never even tried to brainwash me, and frankly- I was a little offended. His was The Oneida Community. The Oneida Community was really into two things- free love and makin' silverware. They were a millenialist community, and they believed that Jesus had already come back and that they were supposed to be making heaven on earth happen already. All the kids were raised communally, and you had to be pre-approved to even have them (a process called stirpiculture, which was sort of a pre-eugenics type of thing). Anyway, Guiteau was apparently so totally repulsive (because he acted as though he were superior to everyone else) that dude could not get any, even in a community where everyone was banging everybody else. The ladies nicknamed him "Charles Get-out", as in, get the fuck out of my bedroom, you creepy, creepy dude.

ASIDE: Yup, it's what you're thinking. After Noyes, the dude who started the cult died, The Oneida Community abandoned the whole religious thing and just concentrated on the flatware. That's where Oneida Flatware comes from.

OH! Also, weirdly enough, the community attracted not one, but two famous assassins. Leon Czolgolz was also a member, briefly.

SO ANYWAY. After he left the community for the final time, he decided to become a lawyer. Which you could do back then without actually ever going to law school (you just had to pass the bar). That didn't so much work out for him either. For a while he just racked up bills and pissed off creditors. At one point, he lived with his sister and randomly tried to kill her with an axe. He ran away to avoid being institutionalized at her request. Then he got married, but his wife divorced him when he got syphillis from a prostitute. Naturally, after that, he decided he'd go into politics!

POLITICS! Dude writes a speech in support of Grant. Grant didn't win the nomination, so he switched out Grant's name with Garfield's and went on about campaigning. He gave the speech on a few occasions and handed it out to some people here and there, and when Garfield won the election, he assumed it was due ENTIRELY to the totally awesome speech that he wrote.

This would sort of be like me, a relatively unknown person, having written a blog post on one of my crappy blogs that no one reads, in support of a Presidential Nominee, and then taking credit for that person winning. To put it in perspective.

Anyhow, back in the day it was sort of customary, after a President was elected, for people who had campaigned for him to line up ask for a job. Guiteau sends like, a bajillion letters demanding to be made Ambassador to Austria or France- my favorite of which was this totally wacky one about how he was engaged to a dead New York Republican Millionaire's daughter and how they would be SUCH a shining example of American awesomeness in Austria. Of course, all of his letters were ignored, and when he went up to the Secretary of State and introduced himself as the crazy letter writer, the dude freaked out and demanded that he never contact anyone at the White House again. You know, because dude was obviously totally fucking bonkers. But he was so convinced that it as his speech that had clinched the election for Garfield, that he was just really shocked and appalled at their lack of gratitude or whatever.

This is where it gets all complicated and shit. Which is why I've written like five drafts of this blog post at various times and then abandoned it. OK. So, instead of dealing with the rejection like an adult and figuring that maybe they have their reasons for not making him, a random crazy dude, Ambassador to Austria or France... Guiteau believes that this is obviously a sign from God that God wants him to kill Garfield. Makes sense, right? Totally reasonable. He decides that GOD wants a Stalwart in the office (How do I explain this quickly? Back then there were two different factions in the Republican Party, Half Breeds and Stalwarts, with differing opinions on Civil Service Reform and some other stuff. Garfield was a Half Breed and his VP, Chester A. Arthur was a Stalwart. And now I have Cher stuck in my head.).

Guiteau stalks Garfield for a while, in order to be able to kill him without possibly hurting anyone else. Which was, I suppose, about as thoughtful as an assassin can be. When he finally does succeed in shooting him, he loudly cheers "I am a Stalwart of the Stalwarts! Arthur is President now!" and was SO TOTALLY convinced that everyone was just going to lift him up on their shoulders and cheer for him and consider him a Great American Hero and whatnot. In fact, he was apparently way concerned about buying an attractive gun, as he imagined it would later be given a place of honor in a museum. Once again, dude is totally wrong about everything and he goes on trial.

(ASIDE: It took several months for Garfield to die, by the way, and the reason he died from the gunshot wound was probably because doctors didn't know about germs at the time and things weren't very sterile. Guiteau would argue at his trial that he only shot Garfield and the doctors were the ones who killed him, because God wanted him dead. Or something.)

The whole time he's in jail during the trial, he keeps talking about all these imaginary supporters who supposedly come by his cell every day to thank him for shooting Garfield, and sending letters to General Sherman asking him to send his army to come liberate him, and issuing letters to the public to thank them for giving Garfield's widow money and suggesting that they send him money as well. Crazypants. His brother-in-law, the husband of the sister that he randomly went after with an axe, defends him in court. However, Guiteau freaks the fuck out at any mention of insanity and tries to take over the whole defense plan. His defense plan apparently included epic poems and SINGING. It was a 6 month long circus, and actually the first major trial in which the insanity defense was used. Despite the fact that dude was obviously cuckoo for Cocoa Puffs, he is found guilty and sentenced to be hanged.

His last words before his hanging were actually a song he had written at 10am that morning (his request for a orchestra was denied). A song, he claimed, in the voice of a "small child babbling to his parents." It was pretty weird. It went like "I'm going to the lordy, I am so glad.I am going to the Lordy, I am so glad, I am going to the Lordy, Glory hallelujah! Glory hallelujah! I am going to the Lordy. I love the Lordy with all my soul, Glory hallelujah! And that is the reason I am going to the Lord, Glory hallelujah! Glory hallelujah! I am going to the Lord. I saved my party and my land, Glory hallelujah! and so on and so on.

And then he died. There's a lot more to his story than what I've written here- and even this shit is way too long. The thing I find so interesting about this dude was that he seriously had like, the most serious delusions of grandeur I've ever heard of. He thought he was awesome at everything. He thought he was just the greatest person ever and truly could not see why he wasn't given as much homage as he thought he was due. He thought he was a genius and a hero. But really, he was just a crazy dude with a weird beard. A piece of his brain is on display at the Mutter Museum, and you can talk about him at cocktail parties.