“In Memoriam” (1881)
(In Memoriam: Garfield’s Funeral March)
Washington’s best-known Mason in 1881 was President James A. Garfield, who was a member of Columbia Commandery No. 2, Knights Templar. Sousa was also to belong to this same organization five years later, but during Garfield’s presidency he was being worked in the lower degrees of Masonry.
Sousa was not well acquainted with the President, but he was greatly shaken at the news of his assassination. In the autobiography he tells of hearing paperboys shouting the news of Garfield’s death. It was unexpected, because the President had been recovering satisfactorily from the gunshot wound of two months earlier. Shocked, Sousa rose from his bed and went outside for a walk. With the event weighing heavily on his mind he walked all through the night and into the next morning. When he returned home he immediately committed the dirge “In Memoriam” to paper.
The dirge was played by the U. S. Marine Band as the President’s body was received in Washington and then again at its final resting place in Cleveland. It was afterward played infrequently by the Marine Band until half a century later, when it was played while John Philip Sousa’s body was being escorted to the grave in Congressional Cemetery.
Paul E. Bierley, The Works of John Philip Sousa (Westerville, Ohio: Integrity Press, 1984), 63. Used by permission.