News & Politics

CSI in DC: Garfield’s Doctors Were the Crime

You have only until September 19 to see one of the stranger exhibits at the National Museum of Health and Medicine:

Three vertebrae removed from James Garfield, 20th president of the United States.

Garfield’s 12th thoracic and first and second lumbar are part of an exhibit honoring the 125th anniversary of his death 80 days after being shot in the DC train station.

Just as on CSI, a red plastic rod through the vertebrae shows the path of the assassin’s second bullet, which lodged in Garfield’s gut.

The exhibit’s focus is the harm done by the president’s physicians, says Jeffrey Reznick, NMHM’s senior curator: “Essentially, he was killed by 1880s medicine.”

NMHM also has in its collection a “majority” of the brain of Garfield’s assassin, Charles Guiteau, but Reznick thought it dishonorable to display Guiteau’s remains too.