The Death of William McKinley
previously published on BuffaloSoapBox
Today marks the death of President William McKinley after being shot on September 6, 1901 while greeting fair-goers at the Pan-American Exposition. Many joke that this was the beginning of the end for Buffalo, since once you kill a President people tend to stop returning your calls. The financial failure of the Exposition however, and the death of the President has always cast a pall over remembrances of turn-of-the-century Buffalo.
Although the assassin, Leon Czolgosz, fired two shots at the President, one was deflected by a button. Nevertheless, the second bullet could not be located by the inexperienced doctors who poked and prodded the President’s wound in vain.
Remarkably, even after his death and autopsy, the second bullet was never found. It is believed that after passing through the President’s stomach, colon, and kidney, as well as damaging his adrenal glands and pancreas, that it became lodged somewhere in his back muscles.
After the unsuccessful surgery in the Pan-American Exposition’s primitive hospital, McKinley was moved to Exposition president John Milburn’s house on Delaware Avenue. There he remained while gangrene set in and slowly poisoned his blood.
There is a historical marker standing on Delaware Avenue at the site of the Milburn House, which was demolished in 1957 in favor of a parking lot for Canisius High School, as well as one on Fordham Drive at approximately the location where McKinley was shot within the Temple of Music. Intended as a temporary structure, as most of the buildings at the fair were, the Temple of Music was demolished in November, 1901.
As for the President’s assassin, Leon Czolgosz, he was severely beaten by the crowd inside the Temple of Music after shooting McKinley, and it was perhaps only the wounded President’s intervention that kept him from being killed himself. He was executed 45 days after McKinley’s death and sulfuric acid was poured into his coffin to destroy his remains.
Vice President Roosevelt was vacationing in the Adirondacks, climbing mountains and boxing grizzly bears at the time after initially being told the President was improving. When it was clear this was not the case, he raced to Buffalo, where he was greeted at the station with news of the President’s death. A few hours later, Roosevelt took the oath of office at the Ansley Wilcox House, one of the few landmarks in this story still standing.
Recently, two books were published on the subject of McKinley’s assassination, The President and the Assassin, and The Secret Plot to Kill William McKinley. The first, by Scott Miller, sets the assassination in the political context of the time, focusing heavily on the Spanish American War, anarchism and the role of business in politics. It follows the rise of McKinley as equally as it does Czolgosz, tracing his infatuation with anarchism and attempts to ingratiate himself with Emma Goldman, and presents an excellent, balanced and thorough examination of the events leading up this tragedy.
The Secret Plot to Kill William McKinley, written by local Buffalo author John Koerner, summarizes the actual assassination and does little to provide original information on any of the participants. Despite the title, no plot is ever proven or decently explored. The second half of the book relates anecdotal supernatural occurrences at sites loosely connected to the assassination. In most cases they are connected only in that they exist in Buffalo. The only interesting piece of information provided was that Dr. Roswell Park was performing surgery in Niagara Falls at the time of the shooting and was unable to return in time to perform surgery on McKinley.
A conspiracy? Probably not, but it’s interesting to consider what could have been had that not been the case.
Posted on September 14, 2012, in Buffalo, History, previously published on Buffalo SoapBox and tagged Ansley Wilcox, assassination, John Koerner, Milburn, Pan American Exposition, president, Roswell Park, Scott Miller, Temple of Music, Theodore Roosevelt, William McKinley. Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.