Wednesday, March 25, 2009

This is for you Charles Guiteau, via George Beard and Harvey Milk

It is as if my life happens inside a kaleidoscope, and what takes place depends on how that viewfinder is turned. For instance, last night I saw Milk at the Mission Theatre. Harvey Milk was a contagious character, he made me want to put up a fight, it made me want an "issue" of my own.
LaValle brought up George Miller Beard in yesterday's post, I had to look him up. He turns out to have a little Harvey Milk to his personality. He researched medical treatments, and was a founder of the National Association for the Protection of the Insane and the Prevention of Insanity. In fact, he made protecting the insane his "issue".
When Harvey Milk received the hate mail he put it on the fridge, he said if he buried it or burned it, it strengthened, but if he let it be out there-right in front of him- it lost power. He accepted hate and his mission to fight it. He accepted all the animosity it brought. So did George Miller Beard.
Beard was against the death penalty when nobody else was, he fought for leniency for Charles J. Guiteau, the assassin of President James Garfield on the grounds that the man was not guilty because of insanity.
This was one of the first high profile American murder trials where insanity was mentioned. Can you imagine fighting for the assassin of the president in 1881?! Guiteau killed Garfield in clear conscience, exulting afterward and raving about Arthur becoming president. Beard's fight didn't keep Guiteau from being hanged, but it was a fight he made, because he had to, because he was right, the man was insane.
Harvey Milk was assassinated too. Maybe Beard would have fought for his insane assassin, but he didn't have to. Milk's assassin walked away after five years behind bars, and committed suicide two years later. And maybe Guiteau, had he not been hanged, would have done the same. How do we know?
Where you stand on the death penalty is one thing, what you fight for, what your "issue" is, is another. What ties this whole diatribe to this site is this one piece I found when researching Guiteau:
He had to choose between a .442 Webley British Bulldog revolver with a wooden handle and one with an ivory handle. He wanted the one with the ivory handle because he wanted it to look good as a museum exhibit after the assassination, but he could not afford the extra dollar.
Think of that, here is a man so "mad" to be remembered. So empty, just dying to be more, he wanted to buy a gun that would be placed in a museum that people like you and me would care enough to view for ages and ages to come.
So here you go Guiteau, this post is for you. You may not have made it into a museum, but you made it to a museum oriented blog. Because I feel sorry for you, as Harvey Milk felt sorry for his own assassin, as Beard felt sorry for Ryder and his nervous condition.


Anonymous said...

Dan White insane, I think not.

Diane said...

Well yes, crazy like a fox. Remember, he assassinated Moscone first. If he'd just killed him, the jury would have convicted him. Killing Milk changed the dynamic.

Shawn said...

The Bulldog...