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What Once Was

Memories Fade: Washington’s most memorialized (and least known) President

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 By Matthew B. Gilmore*

The story might be ripped from today’s headlines: a presidential memorial, delayed for years, caught up in Congressional infighting; legislation pending to displace the memorial and replace it with another. A powerful lobby behind the memorial had chosen the site and chosen the design (criticized in the press), and the designer without competition. The site is very close to the Capitol, on Maryland Avenue.

Yet the year was 1887, not 2017, and the memorial was for President Garfield, not Eisenhower. Garfield’s death in 1881 was a national shock.

He was struck down less than six months into his term. He had been a compromise candidate for the presidency and had won the closest election in American history. His had been a difficult life, but his rise epitomized the Horatio Alger rags-to-riches story — a prototypical self-made man. This was reflected in a passage from one of his favorite poems, Alfred Lord Tennyson’s “In Memoriam”: “. . . Moving from high to higher, / Becomes on Fortune’s crowning slope / The pillar of people’s hope…” [1]

He was a pillar of hope, a refuge from caustic divisions in the Republican Party. A tragic figure of unrealized potential, his term was mired in controversy from the start and his personal life overwrought with the long illness and near-death of his wife, First Lady Lucretia Garfield.

Sep. 2017 view of the Garfield statue. photo--Matthew B. Gilmore.

Sep. 2017 view of the Garfield statue. photo–Matthew B. Gilmore.

 Death and Memorialization

Garfield was shot in the Baltimore and Potomac train station by Charles Guiteau on July 2, 1881; then returned to the White House for medical care. Guiteau was not a “disappointed office-seeker” but was rather a delusional character with dreams of glorious public service. The long, agonizing death of Garfield captivated public attention during the summer of 1881.

The end came on September on 19th in Elberon, New Jersey, after a wretched summer of suffering in the White House. He’d been moved, at his insistence, when it was clear he could never recover. His body was brought back to the capital for lying-in-state. Garfield was Capitol only the sixth man to lie in state in the rotunda. This, the second presidential assassination, was in some ways more shocking than the first – Guiteau, seemingly merely motivated by office-seeking but actually delusional, unlike Booth who was seeking revenge for the South’s loss in the Civil War.

President Garfield's coffin lying-in-state in the Capitol Rotunda, September, 1881. Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Div.

President Garfield’s coffin lying-in-state in the Capitol Rotunda, September, 1881. Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Div.

 Calls to create a memorial were immediate. The Army of the Cumberland Veterans, which had put up the statue of General Henry Thomas in then what was known as Iowa Circle (but later renamed Logan Circle following that organization’s erecting the imposing statue of General John A. Logan astride his horse) led the charge.

The filling of Washington’s circles and squares with statues of Civil War military heroes had begun only in 1874, with only five up to the time of Garfield’s death — Generals Rawlins, Scott, McPherson, Thomas, and Admiral Farragut;  Garfield had attended the grand ceremonial unveiling of the Farragut statue just five months earlier, in February.

The initial fundraising letter for Garfield’s memorial, dated January 15, 1882, suggested the statue would similarly be located in a public square in Washington and had a goal of “a sum not less than two hundred thousand dollars,” and an (very optimistically) expected completion within three years. Fundraising efforts for the statue had to compete with other projects, such as a memorial hospital (and a statue in Cleveland).

What form and where the memorial would be situated were open to question. In its June 24, 1883 edition, the Washington Post inveighed against the proposed design concept — a memorial arch surmounted by an equestrian statue; instead, proposing a Garfield fountain where then Louisiana (now Indiana) Avenue met 7th Street and Pennsylvania Avenue — where the Temperance Fountain now sits. The eventual site for the Garfield statue was chosen in 1884 to be at the foot of the west front Capitol grounds. The site itself had only recently been established.

The two traffic circles west of the Capitol, at Pennsylvania and Maryland Avenues respectively, had just been created with Frederick Law Olmsted’s re-design of the grounds, designing for which had been begun in 1874. The circle at Pennsylvania Avenue held the Naval Monument, erected in 1877, commemorating naval personnel lost in the Civil War.

The circle at Maryland Avenue was yet empty.

Maryland Avenue, SW, circa 1884. Stereoview, “Maryland Avenue from the [Capitol] Dome. Washington, D.C.R. Douglas” image—from author’s collection.

Maryland Avenue, SW, circa 1884. Stereoview, “Maryland Avenue from the [Capitol] Dome. Washington, D.C.R. Douglas” image—from author’s collection.

2017 view from Capitol grounds down Maryland Avenue, SW. photo--Matthew B. Gilmore.

2017 view from Capitol grounds down Maryland Avenue, SW. photo–Matthew B. Gilmore.

 On December 18, 1884 the Washington Star reported on Senate passage of a competing bill for an equestrian statue of Revolutionary War hero Lafayette to be sited at the Maryland Avenue circle, displacing Garfield.

The struggle to retain the site for Garfield was not resolved until March 6, 1887, a scant three months before the scheduled dedication of the statue. Col. John M. Wilson, in charge of the project, received and sent frantic letters to congressmen, to sculptor Ward, to Gen. Barrett of the Army of the Cumberland, trying to ensure an on-time completion and unveiling. (The numbered and filed letters remain in the National Archives.)

Invitation to unveiling of Garfield statue, May 11 & 12, 1887. image--Papers of Lucretia R. Garfield; Library of Congress, Manuscripts Div.

Invitation to unveiling of Garfield statue, May 11 & 12, 1887. image–Papers of Lucretia R. Garfield; Library of Congress, Manuscripts Div.

John Quincy Adams Ward sculpted the statue of Garfield and three additional figures representing aspects of Garfield’s life as student, warrior, and statesman, and Richard Morris Hunt designed the pedestal. Both men were renowned in their fields, Ward known as the “dean of American sculpture,” and the two would collaborate on 13 monuments over a span of 25 years.

Ward had a prominent place in Washington DC public art, having been commissioned by the Army of the Cumberland in 1874 to create an equestrian statue of Major General George Henry Thomas, erected to great acclaim in 1879 in  Thomas Circle. The Garfield statue doesn’t have as imposing a site but historian Lewis I. Sharp considers the Garfield monument to be “one of the outstanding achievements of the American Beaux-Arts movement.” [2]

Physical Legacies: Medical Memorial-Garfield Memorial Hospital

As soon as the memorial statue was proposed, a memorial hospital was suggested as an alternative. Garfield had not been taken to a hospital, treating Garfield at home was standard for the time. Washington then had no general hospital; rather, there were a half-dozen more specialized hospitals serving certain special needs or populations. The need was apparent, and seeing the precedent of Ford’s Theater which had been closed and turned into a medical museum following Lincoln’s assassination, a similar idea for the Baltimore and Potomac Station was proposed.

Within two months following a public meeting to garner support for the project, a bill to incorporate Garfield Memorial Hospital was introduced in Congress. However, the unhealthiness of the proposed location at the railroad station was soon realized.

Prominent colleagues of Garfield’s, including William Tecumseh Sherman and James T. Blaine, his Secretary of State, spearheaded the fundraising undertaking. Attempts were made between the various competing Garfield memorial efforts — statues in Washington and Cleveland and the hospital in Washington — to do some collaborative fundraising but scattered press reports (of each effort folding in favor of the other) show the underlying rivalries.

On May 6, 1882 a grand reception and tea party was held at the Capitol. Organized by was held by the Ladies’ Aid Society, refreshments were had in the Rotunda and dancing in Statuary Hall with music supplied by the Marine Band. Despite last-minute logistical issues, the event went off brilliantly, according to most accounts, with 6,000 people in attendance.

An amusing side note: One of the discontented press reports sniped at using the Supreme Court chamber as a cloakroom and Statuary Hall as a ballroom — with ladies of dubious reputation — and suggested a “majority of society people were not there” in attendance.

A newspaper solicitation in 1882 for property available to locate the hospital netted over 60 suggested properties available to for purchase — including Bellevue (now Dumbarton House), the Kidwell family property in Georgetown, and a raft of other sites throughout Washington city, Georgetown, and the suburban farmland to the north, east and south. The L.H. Schneider property on 10th Street, NW north of Florida Avenue was ultimately purchased for the location of the hospital, which on June 18, 1884 opened on the hilly overlook. [3].

Card announcing the Capitol Rotunda reception for contributions to Garfield Memorial Hospital. image--Garfield Memorial Hospital scrapbook; Library of Congress, Manuscripts Div.

Card announcing the Capitol Rotunda reception for contributions to Garfield Memorial Hospital. image–Garfield Memorial Hospital scrapbook; Library of Congress, Manuscripts Div.

Depiction of Garfield Memorial Hospital. image—as published in the hospital’s official 8th annual report of 1889.

Depiction of Garfield Memorial Hospital. image—as published in the hospital’s official 8th annual report of 1889.

 In addition to the memorial statue and the erstwhile hospital many other commemorations of Garfield exist or have existed in Washington.

Subdivisions and Streets

In the 1880s real estate development was leap-frogging out beyond the L’Enfant City of Washington boundaries into the surrounding District of Columbia’s suburban Washington County. That development was unregulated, giving those involved great latitude to lay out and name the new neighborhoods. George E. Emmons named his stretch of land in the hills across the Anacostia River in southeast as “Garfield” in 1882. Some streets were named after Republican military men –- Gen. D.B. Ainger, Col. W.F. Raynolds (a classmate of Gen. Grant at West Point). Several streets in various other subdivisions had streets named after Garfield. In 1895, further uphill, immediately south of Garfield, “Garfield Heights” was laid out. (In 1909 the neighborhood Garfield Elementary School was built.)

That randomness of subdivision development was squelched in the 1890s with the development of the Permanent System of Highways. As part of the implementation all the street names were regularized and future streets of the District were named — some small “Garfield Streets” were wiped out t (in Washington Heights and Widow’s Mite, though Ainger Place remains to this day), but Garfield was memorialized with a major street in the northwest, running across a broad swath of the District from Palisades through Wesley Heights to Woodley Park.

Church

Garfield was a member of the Disciples of Christ and attended the church on Vermont Avenue regularly. In 1884 that wood frame Vermont Avenue Christian Church, often referred to as Garfield Memorial Church, was replaced with a new brick structure. This building still exists, although occupied by a different denomination and now known as Mount Olivet Lutheran Church. Garfield Memorial Church evolved into the National City Christian Church nearby on Thomas Circle (and has a Garfield Memorial window).

Park

Garfield Park in southeast Washington at New Jersey Avenue and 1st Street, was one of the original reservations of land set aside as Reservation no. 17 in the L’Enfant and Ellicott plans for the city. It had remained unimproved for many years. In 1874 Frederick Law Olmsted saw the opportunity to connect it to the Capitol grounds with a park along the old site of James Creek canal, but those plans were never realized. Improvements to Reservation 17 began in 1882. At this time the name Garfield Park began to be applied to the reservation, evidently made official in 1883.

Home to Apartment House

Garfield built his home at the corner of 13th and I Streets, NW in 1869 and expanded in it 1877. The house was immediately across from Franklin Square and just down the block from Franklin School, which had been dedicated on October 2nd of that year at 13th and K Streets. The site was just a few blocks from the White House, on the edge of developed Washington. It was unusual in that era for a congressman to build a home in Washington; generally, only wealthy politicians had a Washington home. Garfield, however, with a wife and five young children decided to do so.

Contemporary illustration of the Garfield’s home as reproduced at page 281 in J.M. Bundy’s The life of James Abram Garfield.

Contemporary illustration of the Garfield’s home as reproduced at page 281 in J.M. Bundy’s The life of James Abram Garfield.

Lucretia Garfield sold the house in 1895 to Francis H. Duehay, a pioneer in the city’s growing apartment house development. He hired the noted architect of The Cairo, T. Franklin Schneider, to transform the former Garfield home into an apartment house, (inevitably) named “The Garfield.”

[Editor’s Note: The Cairo apartments was the subject our September 2007 then “Scenes from the Past” feature – replete with numerous vintage interior photos —  on pages 12 & 13 of that month’s issue.]

While large as a house, it was only a five-unit building when converted. Ultimately the neighborhood began a long decline; the building was renamed the Atlantic in the 1920s. The night manager was convicted of running a bawdy house during World War II. Its historic Garfield connections were forgotten and it was quietly demolished in 1963 (or thereabouts).

Baist Atlas image showing location of "The Garfield" and nearby Franklin School on 13th Street, NW. Library of Congress, Geography and Map Div..

Baist Atlas image showing location of “The Garfield” and nearby Franklin School on 13th Street, NW. Library of Congress, Geography and Map Div..

 Need a job done? — Get a Garfield

Garfield left a significant legacy to Washington in his three sons who provided significant public service in the 20th century. The Garfields had seven children, two of whom died young. The eldest son was Harry Augustus, nicknamed Hal. A lawyer, he taught politics at Princeton University where he made a fateful friendship with Princeton president Woodrow Wilson. Wilson, as President of the United States, called on Hal to lead the Fuel Administration during World War I. Fuel administrator was a powerful command and control position, managing distribution of and demand for scarce coal supplies. Harry resigned as fuel administrator in December 1919.

The next Garfield son, Hal’s brother James, a lawyer and also politician, served in several Republican administrations — first on the United States Civil Service Commission under President William McKinley, then in Theodore Roosevelt’s Department of Commerce and Labor, then as Secretary of the Interior until the end of Roosevelt’s term in 1909. James decided to leave at the end of Roosevelt’s term and rejoined a third brother, Abram, in Cleveland.

The youngest surviving son, Abram, helped directly shape Washington itself — quietly, behind the scenes. An architect in Cleveland, he too, had a Theodore Roosevelt connection. Abram was appointed in 1909 to the National Council of Fine Arts, President Theodore Roosevelt’s ill-starred precursor to the Commission of Fine Arts. The Council, created through presidential executive order at the urging of the American Institute of Architects, met only once (to review the siting of the Lincoln Memorial) before the order was rescinded by the new President, William Howard Taft. Garfield, writing to his mother, indicated all the participants recognized the fragility of the Council at the likelihood Taft would abolish it, at the instance of Congressional opposition. Abram later served on the successor body, the Commission of Fine Arts, from 1925 to 1930, including a stint as vice chair, leaving federal government service 50 years after his father’s death.

Feb. 14, 1909 letter (excerpt) from Abram Garfield to Lucretia R. Garfield February 14, 1909. In the letter Garfield tells of his recent trip to Washington as a member of Roosevelt's Natioanl Council of Fine Arts. He also makes note of his brother James leaving the Department of Interior. image--Lucretia R. Garfield Collection; Library of Congress, Manuscripts Div.

Feb. 14, 1909 letter (excerpt) from Abram Garfield to Lucretia R. Garfield February 14, 1909. In the letter Garfield tells of his recent trip to Washington as a member of Roosevelt’s Natioanl Council of Fine Arts. He also makes note of his brother James leaving the Department of Interior. image–Lucretia R. Garfield Collection; Library of Congress, Manuscripts Div.

Washington Connections and Political Legacy

Garfield’s political legacy would seem to be quite thin, having served effectively as President for only four months. He had been a highly respected military man and legislator — respected enough to win a presidential nomination he never sought and the presidential election. Through the distance of time all the circumstances are murky but some of his decisions (some relating to Washington) seem to have been worth questioning.

His dedication to friends could lead him astray, as when he took on the completion of a lobbying job for DeGolyer-McClelland at the urging of his friend Richard Parsons. The patented DeGolyer wooden paving was competing for contracting for the District’s Board of Public Works, led by Alexander Shepherd.

Garfield supported Shepherd’s bold program of improvements for the city: “Hoping that in this & in all your efforts to beautify our national city you may be abundantly successfull [sic].” (Garfield to Shepherd, June 18, 1872). However, Garfield was also chair of the appropriations committee which controlled the District’s budget. It did not look good that he earned $5,000 (the same as his annual Congressional salary) for small effort.

But in death, and through the circumstances of his death, Garfield’s legacy is significant. The Pendleton Civil Service Act was passed by Congress in 1883 and began to rid federal employment of the spoils system. President Rutherford Hayes, Garfield’s predecessor had been a reformer but had so alienated his fellow party members that he stood down for re-election in 1880. Garfield was to have taken up the reform banner but battled even stronger Congressional headwinds. President Chester Arthur was not a reformer but had been a loyal member of the New York machine run by Senator Roscoe Conkling. It may have been Garfield’s symbolic martyrdom on the altar of federal employee patronage that so changed the political climate to allow the Pendleton Act’s passage.

“Our martyr at Heaven’s gate” (circa 1881). photo-- Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Div..

“Our martyr at Heaven’s gate” (circa 1881). photo– Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Div..

In retrospect at the time, Garfield’s death was a tragedy of unfulfilled potential. The Washington Post’s tribute was glowing — citing his personal magnetism, sincerity, “quality of a great soul,” and filial attention to his mother.

Washington Post September 23, 1881.

Washington Post September 23, 1881.

Remembering

The Garfield family assiduously collected and preserved their family papers. “Lawnwood,” the family home in Mentor, Ohio, now a national historic site, housed most of them. Over decades the Library of Congress continued a long slog to acquire the papers and now houses papers from the President, First Lady, and several sons.

Charles Moore, formerly acting chief of the Library of Congress’ Manuscript Division wrote in 1940 to Abram Garfield, formerly a colleague of Moore’s as member of the Commission of Fine Arts, how pleased he was that the Garfield family worked out differences with the Library, and that all the Garfield papers would go to the Library. His and his family’s papers remain at the Library of Congress — including a lock of his hair.

The auditing claims for compensation for those who assisted treating the incapacitated president are at the National Archives still, as is the correspondence regarding the erection of the Garfield statue.

Ohio gave a statue of Garfield for Statuary Hall in the Capitol in 1886 and an oil portrait which is displayed in the House Appropriations Committee chairman’s office.

Several vertebrae from Garfield’s spine pierced by the bullet are on display at the new National Museum of Medical History. In 2006 the National Museum of Health and Medicine commemorated the 125th anniversary of the shooting with an exhibit on Garfield’s death — exhibited for only 80 days, the same period Garfield slowly died.

Vertebrae of President James A. Garfield exhibiting the location of the gunshot injury by the metal dowel marking the entry and exit of the bullet. photo illustration--Matthew Breitbart. The vertebrae formed the centerpiece of an exhibit at the National Museum of Health and Medicine, commemorating the 125th anniversary of Garfield's assassination. The exhibit also featured photographs and other images that tell the story of the shooting and its aftermath when Garfield lingered on his deathbed for 80 days.

Vertebrae of President James A. Garfield exhibiting the location of the gunshot injury by the metal dowel marking the entry and exit of the bullet. photo illustration–Matthew Breitbart. The vertebrae formed the centerpiece of an exhibit at the National Museum of Health and Medicine, commemorating the 125th anniversary of Garfield’s assassination. The exhibit also featured photographs and other images that tell the story of the shooting and its aftermath when Garfield lingered on his deathbed for 80 days.

The equipment Alexander Graham Bell used fruitlessly to find the bullet in Garfield is at the National Museum of American History.

Forgetting

Many commemorations of Garfield have vanished; most had been threatened at some time. The Baltimore and Potomac station was torn down in 1908; the National Gallery of Art today occupies the site. The memorial tablet (and floor-mounted star) in the station memorializing the shooting has been lost.  The Washington Star reported the removal on March 14, 1897 following a fire in the station.

Tablet and star on the floor (click to expand photo to see at very bottom, left) marking the spot in the Baltimore and Potomac train station where Charles Guiteau shot President Garfield. photo--Flickr / DCPL Commons.

Tablet and star on the floor (click to expand photo to see at very bottom, left) marking the spot in the Baltimore and Potomac train station where Charles Guiteau shot President Garfield. photo–Flickr / DCPL Commons.

 Garfield’s home was transformed in 1895 as the city developed and redeveloped, and was swept away in the 1960s.

Statues of Civil War generals and others had come under fire not long after being erected.

"No more of those hideous monuments! Let us have a memorial of General Grant that will be worth of a Great Nation." This cartoon, published in Puck magazine Puck sometime in the 1880s, shows the hostile reaction of some to the memorials of the day, including that of Garfield.

“No more of those hideous monuments! Let us have a memorial of General Grant that will be worth of a Great Nation.” This cartoon, published in Puck magazine Puck sometime in the 1880s, shows the hostile reaction of some to the memorials of the day, including that of Garfield.

Garfield’s statue was threatened with removal several times. In 1900, a mere 13 years after its erection, the McMillan Commission plans included a “Union Square” at the base of the west front of the Capitol which would have swept away the Naval and Garfield monuments. In 1959 Congress considered removing the Garfield statue again (but the issue dissipated).

In 1958 Garfield Memorial Hospital merged with the Emergency and Episcopal Hospitals into the Washington Hospital Center nearby, south of Soldier’s Home. A housing complex, Garfield Terrace, has taken its place. Designed by noted local modernist architect Nicholas Satterlee, it was built by the National Capital Housing Authority.

The Garfield neighborhood name is often ignored and the area is frequently called after the Woodland Terrace housing project.

Garfield Memorial Church had transformed into National City Christian Church, just steps from its old location.

Why is Garfield so unknown generally? Such a short time in office eliminated the chance for accomplishment and leaves the lost potential of his presidency. But a lost potential soon fades from memory as those who saw it slip away slip away themselves.

Footnotes

[1]  Allan Peskin, Garfield; p. 613 (Kent State University Press, 1978).

[2]  Lewis I. Sharp. John Quincy Adams Ward, dean of American sculpture. pp. 23, 71 (1985).

[3]  A splendid Garfield Memorial Hospital scrapbook held by the Library of Congress’ Manuscript Division brings together much information on the hospital’s earliest years.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Acknowledgements

Special thanks to the following: Tom Rall; Michele Krowl, Library of Congress; staff of the Library of Congress’ Manuscripts Division, Prints and Photographs Division, Geography and Map Division; Kathryn Fanning, Commission of Fine Arts; Brian Spatola and Timothy Clarke, National Museum of Health and Medicine.

References & Resources

Paper of the Office of Public Buildings and Public Parks of the National Capital. Letters Sent 1886-1889. Letters received, 1884-1887.Record Group 42, National Archives.

Garfield Memorial Hospital scrapbook. Manuscripts Division, Library of Congress.

Lucretia R. Garfield Papers. Manuscripts Division, Library of Congress. [contains Abram Garfield papers].

Alexander R. Shepherd Papers. Manuscripts Division, Library of Congress.

Eighth report of the Garfield Memorial Hospital, 1889.

Liber Governor Shepherd, folio 155 “Garfield” Office of the Surveyor of the District of Columbia.

District of Columbia Building permit application #578, June 29, 1877. National Archives.

District of Columbia Building permit application #1469, April 5, 1895. National Archives.

Sandra L. Quinn and Sanford Kanter. America’s royalty: all the presidents’ children. Westport CT: Greenwood Press.

Margaret Leech [Pulitzer] and Harry J. Brown. The Garfield Orbit. New York, Harper and Row, 1978.

Paul R. Baker. Richard Morris Hunt. Boston: MIT Press, 1986.

Allen Peskin. Garfield. Kent State University Press, 1978.

J.M. Bundy. The life of James Abram Garfield. New York, A.S. Barnes, 1881.

Lewis I. Sharp. John Quincy Adams Ward, dean of American sculpture. Newark DE, University of Delaware Press, 1985.

Joseph West Moore. Picturesque Washington, pen and pencil sketches. Providence, RI, JA and RA Reid Publishers, 1888.

Kenneth E. Foote. Shadowed ground: America’s landscape of violence and tragedy. Austin: University of Texas Press, 2003. [totally incorrect about Garfield]

[Frederick Law Olmsted]. Papers of Frederick Law Olmsted.  V.7 Parks, politics, and patronage, 1874-1882. Baltimore, Johns Hopkins University Press, 207.

https://circulatingnow.nlm.nih.gov/category/series/garfield-assassination/

http://library.duke.edu/digitalcollections/broadsides_bdsdc20249/

Matthew B. Gilmore and Michael R. Harrison. “A Catalog of Suburban Subdivisions of the District of Columbia, 1854-1902.” Washington History, Vol. 14, No. 2, Commemorating the Centennial of the McMillan Plan, Part II (Fall/Winter, 2002/2003), pp. 26-55

*Matthew B. Gilmore is the editor of the H-DC discussion list and blogs on Washington history and related subjects at matthewbgilmore.wordpress.com. Previously, he was a reference librarian at the Washingtoniana Division of the DC Public Library for a number of years and chaired the Annual Conference on DC Historical Studies for four years.

© 2017 InTowner Publishing Corp. & Matthew B. Gilmore. All rights reserved. Reproduction in whole or in part, including for commercial purposes, without permission is prohibited.