My grandfather, a history buff, often talked about people of note who had lived in Oak Park. He told me that the man who killed President James Garfield had once lived in the village, but he didn’t know exactly where the assassin had lived. Recently, I decided to learn more about Charles Guiteau, and the following story is what I discovered:
From time to time during the 1870s, Charles Guiteau lived in Oak Park and practiced law in Chicago. He lived with his sister, Frances, and her husband, George Scoville, in the Scovilles’ home on Lake Street. George, a prominent attorney, was the brother of James Scoville, after whom the Scoville Institute – the public library’s private predecessor – was named.
What kind of man was Charles Guiteau?
Prior to his killing of Garfield, Guiteau lived the life of a con man and a less-than-honest lawyer. He stole from anyone he could, including his sister’s family.Guiteau was somewhat deranged and believed he would be the right man to be the U.S. consul to either Vienna or Paris. He wrote a volume of letters to Secretary of State James Blaine and to President Garfield. When he didn’t hear from them, he moved to Washington, D.C., and spent most of his time loitering around the White House buttonholing Blaine and Garfield whenever he saw them.
Garfield finally told Guiteau that he had given the consulships to other men. In order to get rid of Guiteau, Garfield ordered his staff to deny Guiteau further entry into the White House.
Guiteau blamed Garfield for his failure, so he decided that Garfield had to die. On July 2, 1881, at the Baltimore & Potomac Railroad station in D.C., he shot President Garfield twice in the back just before Garfield was to board a train to New Jersey.
Garfield lingered during the hot summer months, but he died of his wounds that September. Even though Guiteau was ably defended by George Scoville, he was found guilty of premeditated murder and hanged on June 22, 1882.
I wish to thank Audra Conard of the Oak Park and River Forest Historical Society for providing information on Guiteau’s connection to Oak Park.
John Stanger, a Dear Old Oak Parker, is a lifelong resident of the village. John is married, has three grown children, five grandchildren, and is an English professor at Elmhurst College. Living 2 miles from where he grew up, he hasn’t gotten far in 70 years.