Marblehead Mass: give us Chet!

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Chester Arthur statue

In 1882, before the Secret Service tightly restricted access to the President, the folks of Marblehead, Mass. all but kidnapped Chester A. Arthur as he was passing through.

The Class of 1848 grad was briefly welcomed as he came ashore and got in a carriage for Salem, Mass., where he was to give a speech.

But Marbleheaders wanted more.

After Arthur sent his regrets to an invitation to speak at Marblehead on his way home, things got serious.

“As his carriage neared Marblehead he was accosted by Capt. Benjamin Pitman, who informed [Arthur] that he had been instructed to capture the president … in the name of the people of Marblehead,” according to History of Essex County, Massachusetts edited by D. Hamilton Hurd.

Arthur went along, not that he had a choice. He was escorted to town by the Marblehead Light Infantry. Church bells and fire alarms announced his arrival. The town’s hook and ladder truck was moved to block his escape.

Arthur made some brief remarks at town hall, where “the people cheered themselves hoarse in their delight and enthusiasm,” according to Hurd.

The story is related in an article in the summer issue of Marblehead Home and Style, whose author, Alan Burke, observes the irony that the president was so accessible. Arthur was elevated to president on the assassination of James Garfield in 1881, just 16 years after Lincoln’s assassination. The Secret Service would not take on the responsibility of presidential protection until after the assassination of William McKinley in 1901.


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