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So What If Trump Vacations in New Jersey?

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tags: Watergate, Nixon, Trump



Brian Phillips Murphy is associate professor of history and director of the Honors College at Rutgers University-Newark. He's a former managing editor of PoliticsNJ.com and really likes New Jersey.

“Thank God, it is good to be here,” sighed President James A. Garfield in the summer of 1881 after arriving in the tony seaside resort town of Elberon on the New Jersey shore and gazing out at the nearby Atlantic Ocean. Weeks earlier, he had brought First Lady Lucretia Garfield to Elberon, on the outskirts of Long Branch in Monmouth County, as she recovered from malaria; doctors advised that the salty air would do her good. The town was one of the couple’s favorite vacation spots.

But now it was the president who was the patient. While awaiting a train to take him back to the Jersey shore from Washington, D.C., Garfield had been shot twice – once in the arm and once in the back – by a partisan bitterly disappointed that he had not been offered a patronage appointment as the American consul in Paris. The assassin, who couldn’t speak French, managed to fire a bullet through one of Garfield’s vertebra without striking his spinal cord or any major organs.

Today, Garfield would probably have recovered from these injuries. But in 1881 his team of doctors jammed unwashed fingers and probes into the bullet wound and put their patient on a liquid diet, delivered rectally. Immiserated by rapid weight loss and a festering infection about to turn septic, Garfield longed to return to New Jersey, where he hoped he might recover. Townspeople in Elberon built a short rail spur to a rented cottage where the president was rolled in aboard a special train car, and it was there that James Abram Garfield, the 20th president of the United States, died 12 days later. A sea breeze can only do so much.

Presidential vacations to New Jersey to escape the Washington swamp (the actual swamp, with mosquitos carrying yellow fever and malaria) in the summertime were not at all novel in Garfield’s day. Chief executives came to vacation in Elberon so often that the church on Ocean Avenue that hosted Garfield’s funeral is called the “Church of the Presidents” and is not far from Seven Presidents Park. Ulysses Grant, Garfield, Chester Arthur (Garfield’s successor), Benjamin Harrison, Rutherford Hayes, William McKinley and Woodrow Wilson all traveled here, mingling with celebrated actors and Gilded Age titans.

Further south in Cape May at the tip of South Jersey, the 201-year-old Congress Hall Hotel boasts a similar history. Franklin Pierce, James Buchanan, Grant, and Harrison all vacationed here. Harrison stayed for so long during a renovation of the White House that the first floor of the hotel became his Summer White House. John Philip Sousa and the Marine Corps Band played a week of concerts on the lawn in 1882, and in tribute Sousa wrote the “Congress Hall March.” Henry Clay, the great Kentucky senator, and Abraham Lincoln stayed elsewhere in town, where trains delivered 3,000 daily visitors to grand hotels with long colonnades, marbled verandas and sweeping lawns. An 1878 fire destroyed 10 of these buildings and much of the city – including Congress Hall – just in time for rebuilding to reflect the Victorian architecture you can find there today. Like Long Branch, Cape May was a rival destination to Newport, Rhode Island, and Saratoga Springs, New York, just as the concept of vacations and leisure time began to come into view for the upper and striving middle classes of American society in the 19th century, and before train lines were built to deliver travelers to Atlantic City and the Hamptons or people trekked out to see the Provincetown Players on Cape Cod in the early 20th century. ...


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