Thursday, September 6, 2012

President William McKinley is Shot - 1901

On this date in 1901, President William McKinley is shot at the Pan-American Exposition in Buffalo, New York.

McKinley was greeting the crowd in the Temple of Music when Leon Czolgosz, an anarchist, stepped forward and shot the president twice at point-blank range. McKinley lived for another week before finally succumbing to a gangrene infection on September 14. At the time of the shooting, President McKinley was very popular and America was in the midst of a period of peace and prosperity. Czolgosz, a laborer from Cleveland who fell under the sway of charismatic leaders of anarchy such as Emma Goldman and Alexander Berkman, became particularly obsessed with Gaetano Bresci, an anarchist who shot and killed King Humbert I of Italy on July 29, 1900. Czolgosz decided to kill McKinley to further the anarchist cause. While Presidents Lincoln and Garfield had been completely unprotected at the time of their assassinations, the newly formed Secret Service was now available to protect President McKinley. But when Czolgosz stepped up to shake McKinley's hand with a handkerchief covering the .32 revolver in his hand, the agents thought nothing of it. After the shots were fired, the agents grabbed Czolgosz and began pummeling him, but McKinley warned, "Be easy with him, boys," as he was helped to an ambulance. The president then told his secretary to be careful in telling the First Lady what happened. Working in a building with no electricity, surgeons operated on the president, who seemed to be recovering at first. Legend has it that his recovery diet was raw eggs and whiskey. Before lapsing into a coma and dying, McKinley's last words were: "It is God's way. His will, not ours, be done." McKinley's assassination led to reprisals against his critics across the country. Those who had spoken poorly of the president were tarred and feathered. Emma Goldman was even arrested for allegedly inspiring the murder. But Czolgosz took full and sole responsibility for the assassination and was sent to the electric chair less than two months later. On October 29, his last words were: "I am not sorry for my crime."

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