Assassination Vacation

Ken AshfordHistoryLeave a Comment

AssvacatCool.  Free computer access at the Hampton Inn.  Get rid of those double posts.

Contrary to my initial intention to listen to John Hodgman’s "The Area Of My Expertise", I ended up listening to the audiobook of Sarah Vowell’s "Assassination Vacation".  A very interesting book.  Vowell admits to a lifelong fascination with things related to presidential assassinations and, spurred on by attending a performance of Sondheim’s "Assassins", she decides to embark on a tour of all historical places and landmarks relating to presidential assassinations, dragging somewhat reluctant friends and family to graveyards and museums containing bloody clothes and pieces of presidents’ skulls.

Vowell’s enthusiasm for all things assassination-related is infectious, but she never loses her irreverant and witty style.  For example, she takes a trip to Oneida, New York.  Oneida, she explains, is now known for its dinnerware, but it was originally founded in the 1800’s as a sex cult, where members of a commune engaged in free love.  In fact, having a "special love" for just one person was discouraged in this community.  Charles Guiteau (enigmatic and certainly insane assassin of the very bland President Garfield) was an occasional member of this cult, and was, according to Vowell, probably "the one guy in a free love commune who could not get laid" — a fact which may have contributed in some small way to his lunacy and resultant rise to fame as a presidential assassin.

She also confesses a bit of a crush on John Wilkes Booth, and especially his more famous actor-brother, Edwin Booth who — in one of those strange coincidences of history — once saved a man who fell on the train tracks (that man was Robert Lincoln, son of the President slain by Edwin’s younger brother).

Vowell also draws frequent connections between past events and the present, noting similarities between McKinley’s preemptive war against Cuba and the Philippines and the current war in Iraq.  It’s too bad they don’t teach this stuff in history in public schools.  I think a lot of people would warm up to it more. 


Charles Guiteau shoots President James Garfield in the back on July 2, 1881 at the Sixth Street Station in D.C..  Garfield would die from his wounds on Spetember 19, 1881.