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Source: The Heroic Life of William McKinley, Our Third Martyr President
Source type: book
Document type: book chapter
Document title: “The Closing Scenes”
Author(s): anonymous [chapter and book]
Publisher: DeWolfe, Fiske and Co.
Place of publication: Boston, Massachusetts
Year of publication: 1902
Pagination: 35-44

“The Closing Scenes.” The Heroic Life of William McKinley, Our Third Martyr President. Boston: DeWolfe, Fiske, 1902: pp. 35-44.
full text of chapter; excerpt of book
Pan-American Exposition (President’s Day); McKinley assassination; William McKinley (death); McKinley funeral services; McKinley funeral train; William McKinley (death: public response); William McKinley (mourning); Edward G. Andrews (eulogies); William McKinley (death: international response).
Named persons
Edward G. Andrews; Grover Cleveland; George B. Cortelyou; Oliver Cromwell; Edward VII; Kate Louise Hamlin; Abraham Lincoln; Charles Edward Locke; C. E. Manchester; Ida McKinley; William McKinley; John G. Milburn [middle initial wrong below]; Presley M. Rixey; Theodore Roosevelt; George Washington; William I.
This chapter also includes photographs captioned as follows (all of which are viewable as separate documents):
From title page: Illustrated in Black and White and with Colored Plates.


The Closing Scenes

     THIS great Exposition, which was to unify the peoples of North and South America, facilitate trade and commerce, and extend the knowledge of their products and resources, was in every way fostered and encouraged by the President, and he at once appointed a “President’s Day,” which was fixed for September 5, 1901. The day opened bright and sunny. Buffalo made it a special and general holiday. All the houses and public buildings were profusely decked with flags and bunting; thousands poured into the city from every part to see the President, more even than to view the Exposition. “President’s Day” brought the largest concourse of the season. Immense crowds gathered in front of the Milburn house, where the President and Mrs. McKinley were staying. [35][36]
     Promptly at ten o’clock, the President and his wife emerged from the Milburn house accompanied by Mr. Milburn, President of the Exposition, and Mrs. Hamlin, of the board of women managers. They were driven to the Exposition grounds, escorted by mounted police and members of the Signal Corps. On the entrance of the President, a salute of twenty-one guns was fired, and the President was escorted to the stand erected in the esplanade, where an immense crowd which overflowed to the Court of Fountains greeted him with ringing cheers.
     Amidst the most profound quiet, Mr. Milburn introduced the President.
     The great concourse of people gave a mighty cheer as the President rose to speak and it continued some minutes before he was able to proceed.
     This grand and unique speech, outlining the policy and platform of his administration, is printed in full at the close of this sketch. It has been read the world over, and will continue to be read, not more for the tragic event which followed than from its great eloquence and statesmanlike provisions. It might almost seem to have been written with a prescience of the sad event which should so soon plunge the nation into such profound sorrow.
     The story of the dread tragedy has been told so often and so well that to complete this sketch needs but a brief narrative of the events of that fateful day, the firing of the fatal shot, the days of dread expectancy and waiting, of the calm, Christian fortitude of the martyr President; and when the end came, the burst of sorrowing sympathy from all over the country and from the lands beyond the seas.
     It was immediately after the organ recital in the Temple of Music, Friday, September 6th. The President stood on the dais on which the great organ was placed. At his right stood John C. Milburn, on his left stood Mr. Cortelyou. He was seemingly well guarded by Secret Service detectives. The President was in cheerful mood at the evidence everywhere of the people’s goodwill, smiling, bowing and with extended hand welcoming the people.
     Soon after four o’clock, one of the line worked his way within two feet of the dais. He was of medium size, dressed plainly in black. He approached as if in turn he would greet the President. The man’s right hand was wrapped in a handkerchief, as if an accident or hurt of some kind had affected it. As the [36][37] President put forth his hand in greeting, suddenly the sharp crack of a pistol rang out over the tumult of the passing crowd.
     For a brief moment the President stood still; a deathly pallor began to come over his features. For an instant surprise arrested the action of the crowd. Then came the reaction. Several men sprang toward the assassin; two of them were Secret Service detectives, who had been misled by the simple subterfuge of the handkerchief which had been used to conceal the murderous weapon. The assassin was quickly hurled to the floor, the revolver struck from his hand; it was with difficulty that the miscreant was saved from the surging, [37][38] frenzied crowd, while from the pallid lips of the stricken President came in faint tones the words “Don’t hurt him.”
     Meanwhile the President was helped to a seat; he made no outcry, but sank back, one hand holding his abdomen. To Mr. Cortelyou, who leant over him, he said, “Be careful about my wife. Do not tell her.” An ambulance arrived and the crowd parted, and the President was removed to the Exposition Hospital. The distinguished surgeon at the Hospital made the preliminary investigation, but he was quickly joined by the best medical talent of Buffalo. The doctors told the distinguished patient that “an immediate operation was necessary.” In a low tone he replied, “Gentlemen, I want you to do what you think is necessary.”
     When it was decided to move the President to the Milburn House the sad story was broken to Mrs. McKinley as gently as possible.
     While the wounded President was carefully borne through a lane of silent, sorrowing spectators, who stood with uncovered heads, from the Exposition grounds to the Milburn house, the cowardly assassin was taken by his captors to police headquarters. So rapidly was the journey made that before the crowds were aware the prisoner was safely behind the prison bars.
     But the crowd, infuriated at having been robbed of their prey, surged round the jail, crying, “Lynch him! Lynch him!” but a squad of reserves emerged from the jail and with solid front drove the mob of angry men back, and shortly dispersed them.
     The incidents of the last sad days are all but as yesterday—the alternations of hope and sad despair, the constant bulletins, the guarded and roped-in Milburn house, now become historic, the crowds of newspaper men in the hospital tents without, a nation waiting, expectant, hungry for news, but dreading to hear or to read when hourly the news came.
     All that the best medical skill could do was done, but the fiat had gone forth, and nothing now could stay the summons—the end was near. The members of the Cabinet, the Vice-President, and relatives of the President were hastening to his bedside. The President, fully conscious that the end was near, asked for his wife. When she entered the room she sank on her knees and bowed her face on the bed. Sobs shook her for a moment. The President [38][39] roused himself for a moment sufficiently to recognize her; then he whispered, “Good-bye, good-bye, all. It is God’s way. His will be done.” He feebly tried to clasp his wife’s hand, but lapsed into unconsciousness, and the doctors led Mrs. McKinley tenderly from the room.
     At two o’clock on the morning of the 14th Dr. Rixey observed a slight convulsive tremor. The President had entered the Valley, and the immediate relatives were soon gathered to take their last look upon the President in life. Silent and motionless the loving friends stood round the couch. At a quarter past two Dr. Rixey placed his ear to the heart of the dying President. Then he raised himself up and said, “The President is dead.” [39][40]
     No pomp or set ceremony marked the funeral service but simple and sincere, as befitting the simple, sincere life of the dead President.
     The funeral service was conducted by Dr. Locke, of the Methodist Church, an old friend of the family. The choir of the First Presbyterian Church sang the President’s favorite hymn, “Lead, Kindly Light,” and after the reading by Dr. Locke from I Cor. XV, “O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory?” the choir sang “Nearer, My God, to Thee.” The service closed with a simple benediction.
     Four sailors, two infantry sergeants and two artillery sergeants bore the coffin from the house. The President and the Cabinet followed. Mrs. McKinley and the members of the family remained.
     The subsequent procession moved through a vast concourse of weeping women and sorrowing, bowed-down men to the City Hall, where one hundred thousand men and women swept past the coffin lying in state, between half past twelve and half past ten o’clock.
     At early dawn of the 16th the body, escorted by the military, was taken to the funeral train, and accompanied by relatives, friends and officials, the train started for the capital.
     From Buffalo, over the Alleghanies [sic] down the broad Valley of the Susquehanna, to the marble city of the Capitol, through a living lane of half a million people who, with uncovered heads and tear-stained faces, lined the entire route, the swiftly passing funeral cortege wended its dreary way.
     Flags at half-mast lined the way, bells tolled or chimed the President’s favorite hymn. The stations were shrouded with the sombre trappings of woe.
     The silent mourners, who had lost a personal friend as well as a loved President, saw nothing but that black line of crape-draped cars, in which, behind the close-drawn curtains, was the grief-stricken widow, the relatives of the illustrious deceased President, and his Cabinet.
     But there was one glimpse of light in all that sombre train. The observation car was open to the light of day, and through its windows as the train passed swiftly along could be caught just a glimpse, on an elevated bier, of the coffin draped in the national colors, guarded by a solitary soldier and sailor, representing the army and the navy. [40][41]
     At the railroad depot, the casket was reverentially borne by four of the artillery and four sailors, through a double line composed of President Roosevelt and the Cabinet officers. The clear bugle note sounded out “Taps,” the only sound that broke the solemn silence.
     At the White House the casket was placed in the East Room, two marines, a soldier and sailor stood guard, one at each corner of the bier, while two members of the Loyal Legion and of the Grand Army sat on either side. These were relieved every second hour throughout the night.
     On the 17th the last funeral obsequies were begun. The body was borne in solemn state to the rotunda of the Capitol, where round the casket were gathered the most noted men of the Republic—President Roosevelt and his Cabinet—and just across the narrow aisle sat Grover Cleveland, the only living ex-President, and who now visited Washington for the first time since he had resigned his high office to William McKinley.
     After the simple and impressive services—impressive from their simplicity—Bishop Andrews of the Methodist Episcopal Church delivered the funeral eulogy, which concluded with this noble peroration:
     “Lost to us, but not to his God. Lost from earth, but entered Heaven. Lost from these labors and toils and perils, but entered into the everlasting peace and ever-advancing progress. Blessed be God who gives us this hope in this hour of calamity and enables us to triumph through Him who hath redeemed us.
     “If there is a personal immortality before him, let us also rejoice that there is an immortality and memory in the hearts of a large and ever-growing people who, through the ages to come, the generations that are yet to be, will look back upon this life, upon its nobility and purity and service to humanity, and thank God for it.
     “The years draw on when his name shall be counted among the illustrious of the earth. William of Orange is not dead. Cromwell is not dead. Washington lives in the hearts and lives of his countrymen. Lincoln, with his infinite sorrow, lives to teach us and lead us on. And McKinley shall summon all statesmen and all his countrymen to purer living, nobler aims, sweeter faith and immortal blessedness.” [41][42]
     Tuesday evening, the 17th, the body was removed to Canton, his old home, where it arrived shortly before noon. All along the route, the scene was most impressive. Hardy mountaineers, with their axes on their shoulders, came down the mountain-slopes; miners, with their lamps, from the tunnels; the workers from the steel mills along the Conemaugh River; men, women and children crowded to the line as the train passed, and with bared heads paid their last sad homage to the dead President.
     In Canton the train slackened speed and moved with the solemnity of the “Dead March in Saul.” Church bells tolled, the humblest cottage was draped in mourning, and nearly the whole of Canton with bowed heads and bursting hearts awaited that last homecoming.
     At the lying in state the line of people extended several blocks. Thursday came. All through the night and early morning loaded trains came in. At the noon hour the funeral procession reached the Methodist Church, in which the services were held. Mrs. McKinley desired to attend, to be with her beloved to the last, but had been prevailed on by her physicians to remain at home.
     The services were as simple as possible, just two male and two female voices, without even an organ accompaniment. Dr. Manchester, the pastor and friend of the late President, delivered a most touching and beautiful eulogy, a tribute to the personal worth and public services of the deceased.
     From the church, the remains, escorted by the troops between two lines of sorrowing neighbors, were carried to the West Lawn Cemetery, where, at last, after that long journey they were reverently laid to rest “in full and certain hope of a joyful resurrection.”
     The funeral day was observed through the whole of the United States and our distant possessions, all business was suspended and even the telegraph wires were hushed for five minutes at half past two, the time set for lowering the body into the vault. One hundred thousand telegraphers thus joined in the last funeral obsequies.
     And all over the world all peoples mourned the life so simple and yet so noble. The tragedy of the “taking off” of the President caused universal sympathy and especially in the British Empire. In London King Edward ordered [42][43] special Court mourning, notable services were held in St. Paul’s and Westminster, the exchanges were closed throughout the country, the flags were at half-mast. Memorial services held in cathedrals and churches everywhere told of the unfeigned sympathy of “our kin beyond the sea.”
     In Canada, where the Duke of Cornwall, the heir apparent, had just landed, and all the country had met to welcome him, they marked the day by entire cessation from all business and pleasure. For that day at least Canada and [43][44] the United States had joined hearts and hands in fraternal embrace and loving sympathy.
     The inscrutable Providence of that sad death none can explain; all that can be said is in the last words of the President, “IT IS GOD’S WAY; HIS WILL BE DONE.”



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