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On October 29, 1901, President William McKinley’s assassin, Leon Czolgosz, is executed in the electric chair at Auburn Prison in New York. Czolgosz had shot McKinley on September 6, 1901; the president succumbed to his wounds eight days later.
McKinley was shaking hands in a long reception line at the Pan-American Exhibition in Buffalo, New York, when a 28-year-old anarchist named Leon Czolgosz approached him with a gun concealed in a handkerchief in his right hand. McKinley, perhaps assuming the handkerchief was an attempt by Czolgosz to hide a physical defect, kindly reached for the man’s left hand to shake. Czolgosz moved in close to the president and fired two shots into McKinley’s chest. The president reportedly rose slightly on his toes before collapsing forward, saying “be careful how you tell my wife.” Czolgosz was attempting to fire a third bullet into the stricken president when aides wrestled him to the ground.
McKinley suffered one superficial wound to the sternum and another bullet dangerously entered his abdomen. He was rushed into surgery and seemed to be on the mend by September 12. Later that day, however, the president’s condition worsened rapidly and, on September 14, McKinley died from gangrene that had remained undetected in the internal wound. According to witnesses, McKinley’s last words were those of the hymn “Nearer My God to Thee.” Vice President Theodore Roosevelt was sworn in as president immediately following McKinley’s death.
Czolgosz, a Polish immigrant, grew up in Detroit and had worked as a child laborer in a steel mill. As a young adult, he gravitated toward socialist and anarchist ideology. He claimed to have killed McKinley because the president was the head of what Czolgosz thought was a corrupt government. The unrepentant killer’s last words were “I killed the president because he was the enemy of the good people—the working people.” His electrocution was allegedly filmed by Thomas Edison.
READ MORE: How McKinley’s Assassination Spurred Secret Service Presidential Protection
An assassin's insanity
Some modern historians look more kindly on William McKinley than their predecessors. Per the UVA Miller Center, experts have come to see him as an important POTUS who advanced America's global standing through assertive foreign policy. The U.S. won the Spanish-American War in just three months, turning Cuba into a U.S. protectorate and making Puerto Rico, Guam, and the Phillipines into American territories. McKinley helped suppress the Boxer Rebellion in China among other power moves. But Leon Czolgosz saw McKinley through the eyes of a man who had lost his standing in America and had possibly lost his mind.
A former wire mill worker, Czolgosz got booted and blacklisted after going on strike to protest a wage cut in 1893, via the Encyclopedia Britannica. He regained his job under the alias Fred C. Nieman, whose surname rather pointedly resembles the German word for "Nobody" (Niemand). Literally living as a nobody, he grew fixated on wealth inequality and quit his job in 1898. By some accounts, Czolgosz suffered a nervous breakdown. He became involved with the anarchist movement and grew dangerously unhinged. He eventually concluded that he had a "duty" to to murder the president.
October 29th, 2009 Headsman
On this date in 1901, unemployed (and seemingly unbalanced) steelworker Leon Czolgosz rode the lightning at New York’s Auburn Prison for inducting the late U.S. President William McKinley into the club.
It hadn’t even been eight weeks since Czolgosz met McKinley gladhanding a receiving line at the Pan-American Exposition in Buffalo, and fatally (though it took the victim a week to succumb) shot the second-term Republican president.
Matters progressed from there as one might expect.
In a one-day trial that lasted 8 hours from jury selection to sentence, Czolgosz was condemned to die in New York’s electric chair. He went to his death unapologetic, but also alone most anarchists disavowed him for hurting the cause.**
Here’s the New York Times account of the assassin’s final moments.
As he was being seated [in the electric chair] he looked about at the assembled witnesses with quite a steady stare and said:
“I killed the President because he was an enemy of the good people — of the working people.”
His voice trembled slightly at first, but gained strength with each word, and he spoke perfect English.
“I am not sorry for my crime,” he said loudly, just as the guard pushed his head back on the rubber headrest and drew the strap across his forehead and chin. As the pressure on the straps tightened and bound the jaw slightly he mumbled: “I’m awfully sorry I could not see my father.”
It was just exactly 7:11 o’clock when he crossed the threshold [into the execution chamber], but a minute had elapsed and he just had finished the last statement when the strapping was completed, and the guards stepped back from the man. Warden Mead raised his hand, and at 7:12:30 Electrician Davis turned the switch that threw 1,700 volts of electricity into the living body.
The rush of the immense current threw the body so hard against the straps that they creaked perceptibly. The hands clinched suddenly, and the whole attitude was one of extreme tension. For forty-five seconds the full current was kept on, and then slowly the electrician threw the switch back, reducing the current volt by volt until it was cut off entirely.
They made good and sure by dissolving the body in sulfuric acid.
Thomas Edison made a video recreation of the scene — not to be confused with actual film of the execution, though some sites present it as such — shortly after. Whether its creation was influenced by Edison’s now-doomed project of discrediting Alternating Current, a business rivalry that had helped introduce the electric chair in the first place, I have been unable to determine the Edison labs produced a number of silent films exploiting “a whole string of news events surrounding the Pan-American Exposition in Buffalo … both through a monumental display of lights (including test bulbs on the reproduction of the electric chair) and by a booming output of scenics, actualities, and even a historical topical.”
More lighthearted (and more audible) is “The Ballad of Leon Czolgosz,” from Stephen Sondheim’s offbeat Broadway hit Assassins, here presented with liberal use of the Edison labs’ Pan-Am Expo footage.
… it’s not the first pop culture ephemera generated by McKinley’s martyrdom folk ballad variations under different titles (“The White House Blues,” “McKinley,” “McKinley’s Rag,” or this version, “Zolgotz”) were in circulation in the early 20th century. Other variations and some background can be had here.
This third assassination of an American chief executive in the span of 36 years (with similar fates for James Garfield’s killer and the Lincoln conspirators) led the Secret Service, originally a Treasury Department anti-counterfeiting unit, to assume responsibility for bodily safeguarding the President in 1902.
* We’ve met a few of anarchism’s greatest hits in these pages … as well as their greatest martyrs.
** Anarchist titan Emma Goldman was blamed for inciting the murder and initially arrested she was also one of the few anarchists to defend Czolgosz: “He had committed the act for no personal reasons or gain. He did it for what is his ideal: the good of the people. That is why my sympathies are with him.”
The Assassination of William McKinley
While attending the Pan-American Exposition in Buffalo, New York, President William McKinley was shot twice by Leon Czolgosz, an anarchist. McKinley and his wife arrived at the exposition on September 5, 1901. He held several private receptions, a military review, and then delivered a speech. On the morning of September 6, the president visited Niagara Falls, and then returned to the exposition for a public reception.
Waiting in line was Leon Czolgosz, the native-born son of Polish immigrants. Czolgosz fancied himself an anarchist after hearing a speech by Emma Goldman in 1898. However, he was not a member of any known anarchist organization, and was even suspected by them as being a spy. Anarchism in the late Nineteenth Century was an extension of the Marxist critique of Capitalism, combined with a desire to do away with the state as a form of government. This leftist philosophy sought to defend the rights of the working class against the ruling class, but saw the overthrow of the ruling class as a precursor to dissolving the state.
Some revolutionaries used acts of terrorism (especially bombings) and assassination as a means of sparking revolution, and in the late Nineteenth Century, several heads of state had been assassinated by Anarchists. Czolgosz seems to have been inspired by the July 29, 1900 assassination of King Umberto I of Italy by an anarchist. Earlier assassinations included:
- 1881: the assassination of Russian Tsar Alexander II, by the group Narodnaya Volya
- 1894: the assassination of the French president Marie-Francois Sadi Carnot
- 1894: Bombing of Greenwich Observatory in London
Leon Czolgosz waited in the Presidential reception line inside the Temple of Music with a .32 caliber Iver-Johnson “Safety Automatic” revolver concealed in a handkerchief wrapped around his right hand, giving the impression of a bandaged wound. When the president extended his hand for the handshake, Czolgosz slapped it aside and shot the President twice. One bullet deflected off of the president’s ribs and did no major damage. The other bullet damaged McKinley’s stomach, kidney, and pancreas, and lodged somewhere in his back. Ironically, the doctors were forced to operate in a building on site without electricity, while much of the outdoor buildings and displays were covered with lights.
Although Thomas Edison’s new x-ray machine was on site, doctors were reluctant to use it, probably because they were unsure about possible side-effects. As McKinley seemed to improve, they decided to leave the bullet inside the president. McKinley continue to improve while remaining under close medical supervision in Buffalo. On the morning of September 12 he had improved enough to eat some toast with a cup of coffee, but by that afternoon his condition deteriorated. The president went into shock and died on September 14, eight days after the shooting. Vice President Theodore Roosevelt, on vacation in the Adirondacks, was hastened to Buffalo where he was sworn in as President. Leon Czolgosz was tried for murder, found guilty, and executed by electric chair on October 29, 1901.
President William McKinley's assassin is executed - 1901
O n October 29, 1901, President William McKinley’s assassin, Leon Czolgosz, is executed in the electric chair at Auburn Prison in New York. Czolgosz had shot McKinley on September 6, 1901 the president succumbed to his wounds eight days later.
McKinley was shaking hands in a reception line at the Pan-American Exhibition in Buffalo, New York, when a 28-year-old anarchist named Leon Czolgosz approached him with a gun concealed in a handkerchief in his right hand. McKinley, perhaps assuming the handkerchief was an attempt by Czolgosz to hide a physical defect, kindly reached for the man's left hand to shake. Czolgosz moved in close to the president and fired two shots into McKinley's chest. The president reportedly rose slightly on his toes before collapsing forward, saying "be careful how you tell my wife." Czolgosz was attempting to fire a third bullet into the stricken president when aides wrestled him to the ground.
McKinley suffered one superficial wound to the sternum and another bullet dangerously entered his abdomen. He was rushed into surgery and seemed to be on the mend by September 12th, but later that day, the president's condition worsened. On September 14th, McKinley died from gangrene that had remained undetected in the internal wound. According to witnesses, McKinley's last words were those of the hymn "Nearer My God to Thee." Vice President Theodore Roosevelt was sworn in as president immediately following McKinley's death. Czolgosz, a Polish immigrant, grew up in Detroit and had worked as a child laborer in a steel mill. As a young adult, he gravitated toward socialist and anarchist ideology. He claimed to have killed McKinley because the president was the head of what Czolgosz thought was a corrupt government. The unrepentant killer's last words were "I killed the president because he was the enemy of the good people, the working people."
Michael Thomas Barry is the author of Murder & Mayhem 52 Crimes that Shocked Early California 1849-1949. The book can be purchased from Amazon through the following link:
Born in Atlanta, Georgia in 1857 to enslaved parents, Parker worked a variety of jobs including as a newspaper salesman for the Southern Recorder and as a constable. He later moved to Chicago, Illinois, where he was employed as a waiter, before returning to Atlanta, where he appears in city directories as a mail carrier for the United States Postal Service.  This was followed by additional moves to Saratoga, New York, to New York, New York, and, finally, to Buffalo, New York where he took a job with a catering company at the Pan-American Exposition's Plaza Restaurant.  
Parker had been laid off from his job at the Plaza Restaurant prior to September 6, 1901, and used that day to visit the Exposition's Hall of Music, where President William McKinley was receiving members of the public. 
The recent assassinations of European leaders by anarchists, and often virulent denouncements of McKinley in the newspapers of William Randolph Hearst, combined to concern McKinley's private secretary George B. Cortelyou that there might be an attempt on the president's life. Cortelyou arranged for tight security after the president twice refused to cancel his appearance. A contingent of up to 75 City of Buffalo police and exposition security guards monitored the doors to the Hall of Music and patrolled the queue waiting to see the president. Persons who made it far enough to approach McKinley finally had to pass through a cordon of U.S. Army soldiers who had been instructed to quickly surround anyone who appeared suspicious. Since the Spanish–American War, the United States Secret Service had been protecting McKinley, and two special agents, backed by several Buffalo police detectives, stood near the president.  
There was, at the time, a general rule that anyone approaching the president must do so with their hands open and empty. However, the heat of the day meant this custom was not being enforced as many people were carrying handkerchiefs with which to wipe away perspiration.  A long line of exposition attendees queued to meet the president. The man in front of Parker in the queue, Leon Czolgosz, used the heat to conceal a pistol underneath a handkerchief. As Czolgosz approached McKinley, he fired the weapon twice, hitting the president at point blank range. After the second shot, according to a later account by United States Secret Service special agent Samuel Ireland, Parker punched Czolgosz in the neck then tackled him to the ground. Parker was quickly joined by one of the soldiers and a Buffalo policeman in restraining Czolgosz who was badly pummeled by more soldiers, police, and bystanders before McKinley could order the beating to stop. 
An unnamed witness cited in a Los Angeles Times story said that "with one quick shift of his clenched fist, he [Parker] knocked the pistol from the assassin's hand. With another, he spun the man around like a top and with a third, he broke Czolgosz's nose. A fourth split the assassin's lip and knocked out several teeth." 
In Parker's own account of the event, given in a newspaper interview a few days later, he said,
I heard the shots. I did what every citizen of this country should have done. I am told that I broke his nose—I wish it had been his neck. I am sorry I did not see him four seconds before. I don't say that I would have thrown myself before the bullets. But I do say that the life of the head of this country is worth more than that of an ordinary citizen and I should have caught the bullets in my body rather than the President should get them.
In a separate interview given to the New York Journal, Parker remarked "just think, Father Abe freed me, and now I saved his successor from death, provided that bullet he got into the president don't kill him." 
After the shooting, Parker was approached with several commercial offers, including from one company who wanted to sell his photograph. He refused, stating in a newspaper interview that "I do not think that the American people would like me to make capital out of the unfortunate circumstances. I am glad that I was able to be of service to the country."  Prior to McKinley's death, when his outlook for recovery appeared promising, the Savannah Tribune, an African-American newspaper, trumpeted of Parker "the life of our chief magistrate was saved by a Negro. No other class of citizens is more loyal to this country than the Negro." 
Despite initial optimism that McKinley would recover, the president died about a week later of complications arising from his wound. Czolgosz was quickly tried and convicted in the Erie County Superior Court and, exactly 45 days after McKinley's death, executed, his body afterwards being dissolved in acid.  Parker was not called to testify, though his attempt to save the president was later lauded in a speech given by Booker T. Washington.  Preacher Lena Doolin Mason wrote a poem praising Parker for his actions, "A Negro In It", casting him as the latest in a long line of African Americans who risked their lives in service to their country and admonishing white Americans to recognize that bravery with the cessation of lynchings. 
After the assassination, Parker left Buffalo, and after spending the Christmas holidays with his family in Atlanta,  traveled through the United States giving lectures to enthusiastic crowds at such places as Nashville, Tennessee,  Long Branch, New Jersey,  Brooklyn, New York,  and Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.  On the first anniversary of the assassination, Parker was the principal speaker at a memorial service at the People's AME Zion Church in Providence, Rhode Island.  Although there was talk of Parker being appointed as a messenger to the United States Senate,  nothing seems to have come of it, and he subsequently went to work as a traveling salesman for the New York City based Gazetteer and Guide, an African-American interest magazine written for Pullman Porters and railroad and hotel employees.  Details on his later activities are unknown. 
In early 1907, Parker was in Atlantic City, New Jersey where he had been "roaming about as a vagrant for some time." He was arrested by local police and confined as a "lunatic."  "Friends" appeared to help Parker, who was released to their custody. 
They made their way to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, where Parker was placed in a boardinghouse at 246 South 9th Street. On the night of Sunday, March 24, 1907, a policeman noticed Parker on a West Philadelphia street "acting queerly" and took him into custody. In the station house, Parker "raved all night." The following morning, a police surgeon examined Parker and determined that "his mind was subject to hallucinations and that it was dangerous for him to be at large" and Parker was therefore admitted to Philadelphia State Hospital at Byberry. 
Parker was only at the hospital for a short time he died at 2:10 pm on April 13, 1907, the cause being given as myocarditis with a contributory cause given as nephritis.  As his body was not claimed for burial, it was sent to the "Anatomical Board" where it eventually was dissected by students of the Jefferson Medical College. 
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Leon Czolgosz, (born 1873, Detroit, Michigan, U.S.—died October 29, 1901, Auburn, New York), American labourer and anarchist who fatally shot U.S. Pres. William McKinley on September 6, 1901 McKinley died eight days later. Czolgosz was found guilty and executed.
While various sources, including police documents, list his birthplace as Detroit, others claim that Czolgosz was born in Alpena, Michigan. His parents were immigrants, and the family moved often. In 1893 Leon was living in Cleveland, where he worked at a wire mill. That year wages were cut, resulting in a strike. Czolgosz was fired and blacklisted, though he managed to get his job back the following year using a different name, Fred Nieman or Fred C. Nieman (the Polish/German surname translates as “nobody”). The experience left him disaffected, and he increasingly focused on inequality between the wealthy and workers. In 1898 he quit his job—some sources claim he had a nervous breakdown—and settled on the family’s farm. Over the next several years Czolgosz spent much of his time reading radical works, and he reportedly developed a fascination with anarchist Gaetano Bresci, who fatally shot Umberto I of Italy over the king’s repressive policies.
In 1901 Czolgosz became more involved in the anarchist movement, meeting Emma Goldman and members of the Liberty Club. However, he used his assumed name, and when this was discovered, the organization warned its members about a possible government spy. In the summer of 1901 Czolgosz moved to Buffalo, New York, which was hosting the Pan-American Exposition. On September 6 McKinley was at the expo’s Temple of Music for a meet and greet. Czolgosz attended, and when it was his turn in the receiving line, he shot McKinley twice. The president died on September 14, 1901.
Czolgosz was immediately arrested, and soon thereafter he confessed to the crime: “I killed President McKinley because I done my duty. I didn’t believe one man should have so much service, and another man should have none.” He was initially thought to be part of a larger conspiracy, and several anarchists, including Goldman, were briefly arrested. However, it was eventually determined that Czolgosz acted alone. His trial began on September 23, 1901, during which the judge rejected his attempt to plead guilty. The proceedings lasted just eight hours, and the defense attorneys—whom Czolgosz refused to help—called no witnesses. After some 30 minutes of deliberation, the jury found Czolgosz guilty, and he was given a death sentence. He was later taken to Auburn State Prison in west-central New York, where he was killed by electrocution on October 29, 1901. Reportedly his last words were: “I killed the president because he was the enemy of the good people—the working people.” Before Czolgosz was buried in an unmarked grave at the prison, his body was covered with sulfuric acid, causing it to disintegrate.
Confession to the Assassination of President William McKinley
Until, give or take a few minutes, 4:00 o’clock in the afternoon on September 6, 1901, Leon Frank Czolgosz was nobody. Poor, unemployed, unskilled, maladroit, alone, and restless, he was as good as nameless. “Fred Nieman”, he called himself in German “Fred Nobody” is what it meant. It was as “Fred Nieman” that Czolgosz wrote, about five weeks before the afternoon of the 6 th , what would become a spectacularly rare letter. In it, he described his seemingly erratic peregrinations, and vaguely hinted that Mr. Nobody had it in mind, vaguely, to become if not “Someone”, at least, “something.” The street car fare was only a nickel to Buffalo, he reported and it was to Buffalo he would take himself, on the 31 st of August. In Buffalo, he would wait — until, give or take a few minutes, at 4:00 o’clock in the afternoon on September 6, 1901, he would become a presidential assassin.
Czolgosz’s confession letter is, then, the preamble, written weeks before, to this extraordinarily rare manuscript (both, in the Shapell Manuscript Collection): Leon Frank Czolgosz’s signed confession that, give or take a few minutes, at 4:00 o’clock in the afternoon on September 6, 1901, he shot the 25 th President, William McKinley.
Vice President Theodore Roosevelt, at the same time, was on an island in Lake Champlain, preparing to address the Vermont Fish and Game League, when he was pulled aside, abruptly, and told that the President had been shot. Whether McKinley would live or die was, at that moment, uncertain — and Roosevelt, even as he prepared leave the island — by rowboat, by yacht, by train — wired immediately for more information. He hastily scrawled on the back of a railroad timetable a 27-word message (also present in the Shapell Manuscript Collection):
Director of Hospital or House at which President lies Buffalo NY. / Wire me at once full particulars to Van Ness House Burlington Vermont. Theodore Roosevelt / Vice President
But even as Roosevelt sped toward McKinley’s bedside, “Fred Nobody” was confessing to having shot the President. With this document, written in the first person, and signed by Czolgosz twice, he explains here why he did what he did it, how he planned the doing of it, what he thought, when he first thought it.
He had read about McKinley’s planned trip to Niagara Falls and the Buffalo Exposition, he says, when he decided to make his fatal strike…
I saw in the papers what building the president was going to be in and I went there & waited for him to come in. I went right in when he came. I took the gun out and wrapped it in handkerchief at boarding house. I think I shot through handkerchief. I shot once and then again. I did not think one shot was enough. As soon as I fired second shot I was knocked down & tramped on, and gun taken away from me. The gun was fully loaded. All I have told you I have told of my own free will.
His crime, Leon Frank Czolgosz confesses, was premeditated – and brave:
I made my plans 3 or 4 days ago to shoot the President. When I shot him I intended to kill him and the reason for my intention in killing was because I did not believe in presidents over us. I was willing to sacrifice myself & the president for the benefit of the country. I felt I had more courage than the average man in killing president and was willing to put my own life at stake in order to do it.
Anarchist meetings, he explains, influenced his thinking:
I heard people talk about the duty they were under to educate the people against the present form of government and they should [do] all they could to change form of Government.
He expected to be arrested and didn’t want to get away – but, tellingly, crosses-out these final lines:
I was willing to take chance of being electrocuted or hung if I could kill the president. I am willing to take consequences.
The date is September 6 th , 1901, and Leon Czolgosz, feeling he had done his duty in shooting the President, hadn’t at last anything left to say. But the last word would not be his. McKinley, it appeared, would easily recover from the attempt on his life. Everyone was sanguine that his prognosis was excellent. Roosevelt, writing to his host of the abruptly aborted Vermont Fish and Game League speech just three days later, on the 9 th , about a coat gone missing in the hubbub – doesn’t even addresses the President’s condition until the second paragraph (a letter present, as well, in the Shapell Manuscript Collection):
Everything is going on most satisfactorily with the President. I feel assured not only that he will recover, but that his recovery will be so speedy that in a very short time he will be able to resume his duties.
Yet Roosevelt’s confidence, though reflecting that of the President’s doctors, was tragically misplaced. On September 12 th , McKinley’s condition changed for the worse, and two days later he died gangrene and infection caused by the gunshot wound. His harrowing death gave rise, however, to a brief life: Leon Frank Czolgosz was, finally, somebody.
Precisely because Czolgosz was such a nobody, who was “somebody” only long enough to pull a trigger, and stand trial, for 8 1/2 hours, a week after McKinley succumbed to his wounds because he was within a month, executed because, finally, sulfuric acid having been thrown on his body, and his letters and clothes burned — Czolgosz’ signature, itself, is almost unobtainable. His signed confession, then, is virtually unique.
Manuscript Document Signed (twice), being the final two pages of a signed confession to the McKinley assassination. 2 pages, quarto, no place [Buffalo, New York], September 6, 1901. Transcribed, witnessed and countersigned by Vincent T. Haggerty, M.J. O’Laughlin and John Martin.
September 6 th 1901
drew from bank. Bought my own clothes. I had about $200 when I was searched. I saw in the Newspapers that president was going to Falls. When I worked in Wire [sic] mill I made from $150 to 175 sometimes 200 a day. When I worked day work I got $150 a day.
I went to Falls about bet 9 or 10 clock [sic] This morning I walked around the Island. I left there and took trolley car about 12 oclock into the City and took another car to the fair. I saw in the papers what building the president was going to be in and I went there & waited for him to come in. I went right in when he came. I took the gun out and wrapped it in handkerchief at boarding house. I think I shot through handkerchief. I shot once and then again. I did not think one shot was enough. As soon as I fired second shot I was knocked down & tramped on. and gun taken away from me. The gun was fully loaded. All I have told you I have told of my own free will. Everything I have hear [sic] said is the truth.
I made my plans 3 or 4 days ago to shoot the President. When I shot him I intended to kill him and the reason for my intention in killing was because I did not believe in presidents over us. I was willing to sacrifice myself & the president for the benefit of the Country.
I felt I had more courage than the average man in killing president and was willing to put my own life at stake in order to do it.
In these meetings I attended I heard people talk about the duty they were under to educate the people against the present form of Government and they should [sic] all they could to change form of Government.
I meant to say I was on the ground about an hour before arrival of president but did not enter building where shooting took place until after President went it.
Everything you have read to me is absolutely true [sic]
September 6 th 1901.
I planned this all out for 2 or 3 days. I had an idea there would be a big crowd at the reception. I expected I would be arrested. I did not intend to get away. I was willing to take chance of being electrocuted or hung if I could kill the president. I am willing to take consequences. I realized what it meant.
The McKinley AssassinationPhotograph of McKinley believed to be taken at the Pan-American Exposition in Buffalo, one day before his assassination, courtesy of the McKinley Memorial Library via Ohio Memory.
Yesterday, September 6th, was a significant day in Ohio’s presidential history, as well as America’s–it marked the assassination of President William McKinley by anarchist Leon Czolgosz while at the Pan-American Exposition in Buffalo, New York. Just six months after his inauguration for a second term as president, McKinley was visiting the Exposition in September of 1901 when he was shot by Czolgosz during a public reception. Though he initially appeared to be recovering well, his health took a turn for the worse and he succumbed to his injuries in the early morning hours of September 14th. His death meant the third successful presidential assassination in our country’s history, and the second for a president from Ohio.
McKinley engraved funeral tribute, courtesy of McKinley Memorial Library via Ohio Memory.
McKinley was born in Niles, Ohio, in 1843. He enlisted in the army at the outbreak of the Civil War and, after being mustered out, studied law and opened a law office in Canton, Ohio. After serving in the U.S. Congress for 14 years and as Ohio’s governor from 1892 through 1896, he successfully ran a “front porch” campaign for the presidency in 1896. His first term was noted for a successful return to prosperity after the Panic of 1893 and for the United States’ victory in the Spanish-American War.
Touring the country following his reelection, McKinley made the trip to Buffalo where he intended to pass several days. His schedule included a speech to fair-goers at the Exposition on September 5th, a trip to Niagara Falls, and a brief reception for the public to be held at the fairgrounds’ Temple of Music.
Despite his secretary George Cortelyou’s anxieties, McKinley was unconcerned with his personal security. The reception passed without incident while he shook hands with a procession of citizens, including a young girl who asked McKinley for his signature red carnation that he wore in his lapel for luck. He complied. As the line dwindled, Czolgosz appeared with a revolver concealed in a bandage he wore around his right hand. McKinley was reaching to shake his left hand instead when Czolgosz fired twice, striking the president in the abdomen at very close range.
Mugshot of Leon F. Czolgosz after his arrest, September 6th, 1901. Courtesy of the McKinley Memorial Library via Ohio Memory.
The assassin, Leon Czolgosz, was immediately tackled and taken into custody. A 28-year-old from Cleveland, Czolgosz was the son of Polish immigrants and had lost his factory job during the Panic of 1893. In the decade since, he worked irregularly and became a follower of anarchism, particularly its violent forms. He was a great admirer of anarchist Emma Goldman, even visiting her home in Chicago to speak with her, and declared that despite her non-violent stance, she was a great influence on his beliefs. Believing that President McKinley represented unjust rule, Czolgosz devised a plan to assassinate him during the Exposition in Buffalo.
After McKinley’s apparent recovery and rapid decline and death, Czolgosz was quickly put on trial and sentenced to death. He was executed by electrocution on October 29th, just six weeks after McKinley died.
McKinley’s interment in a vault at Westlawn Cemetery in Canton, where it remained until being transferred to the McKinley Memorial. Courtesy of Stark County District Library via Ohio Memory.
In the wake of his assassination, memorials to the fallen president abounded, including a poem by Ohio poet Jessie Brown Pounds, funeral processions, and of course, the creation of the McKinley Memorial in Canton, completed in 1907. Two of his lasting contributions include far more vigilant security for U.S. presidents over the past century, and the selection of the red carnation as Ohio’s state flower in 1904. Visit Ohio Memory to learn more about McKinley’s life and legacy as we honor one of Ohio’s native sons who was “Not Lost, But Gone Before.”
Thanks to Lily Birkhimer, Digital Projects Coordinator at the Ohio History Connection, for this week’s post!
Assassinated World Leaders | Mahatma Gandhi
He was an Indian nationalist who was instrumental in India’s Independence from the British. Ghandhi was a successful writer, a lawyer and a symbol of civil rights activism and freedom. He was the president of the Indian National Congress — the party that declared India’s Independence in 1930.
Despite his peace-loving character Gandhi, age 78, was assassinated by Nathuram Godse on January 30, 1948. He was at a prayer ground in New Delhi when the assassin, pretending to greet Ghandi, hit him with bullets.