Publication information
view printer-friendly version
Source: Thirty Years in Washington
Source type: book
Document type: book chapter
Document title: “The Presidents, Their Wives, and Famous Ladies of the White House, Continued—President and Mrs. McKinley’s Reign—His Assassination” [chapter 52]
Author(s): anonymous
Editor(s): Logan, Mary S.
Publisher: A. D. Worthington and Co.
Place of publication: Hartford, Connecticut
Year of publication: 1901
Pagination: 721-41 (excerpt below includes only pages 735-41)

“The Presidents, Their Wives, and Famous Ladies of the White House, Continued—President and Mrs. McKinley’s Reign—His Assassination” [chapter 52]. Thirty Years in Washington. Ed. Mary S. Logan. Hartford: A. D. Worthington, 1901: pp. 721-41.
excerpt of chapter
McKinley assassination; William McKinley (death).
Named persons
George B. Cortelyou; Leon Czolgosz; James A. Garfield; Judas; Abraham Lincoln; Ida McKinley; William McKinley; John G. Milburn.
This chapter includes two photographs, captioned as follows: “The President’s Private Stairway in the White House” [p. 725]; “President and Mrs. McKinley’s Bedroom in the White House” [p. 733]. The latter photograph is further described as being “[f]rom a photograph taken the day after their departure from the White House for Buffalo, where the President was assassinated, September 6, 1901.”

From title page: Thirty Years in Washington: Or, Life and Scenes in Our National Capital; Portraying the Wonderful Operations in All the Great Departments, and Describing Every Important Function of Our National Government, Including Its Historical, Executive, Administrative, Departmental, Artistic, and Social Features; With Sketches of the Presidents and Their Wives, and of All the Famous Women Who Have Reigned in the White House from Washington’s to Roosevelt’s Administration.

From title page: Edited by Mrs. John A. Logan.

From title page: Superbly Illustrated with Fifty Full-Page Photogravure Plates from Photographs Made by Special Permission of the United States Government Expressly for this Work.


The Presidents, Their Wives, and Famous Ladies of the White House, Continued—
President and Mrs. McKinley’s Reign—His Assassination

     On the afternoon of September 6th, the President, while holding a public reception in the Temple of Music, on the Exposition grounds, was mortally wounded by an assassin. The presidential party had on that afternoon returned from [735][736] a visit to Niagara Falls, and the President had proceeded at once to the Exposition. The fatigue of the morning journey prevented Mrs. McKinley from accompanying him, and she returned to the home of Mr. John G. Milburn, President of the Pan-American Exposition, whose guests they were. Throngs of people crowded the grounds to see the President enter, and, if possible, to clasp his hand at the public reception.
     Shortly after 4 P. M. one of the throng that surged past the presidential party approached as if to greet the President. It was noticed that the man’s right hand was wrapped in a handkerchief, but no one suspected that the concealed hand held a revolver. Mr. McKinley smiled and extended his hand to the stranger in friendly greeting, when suddenly the sharp crack of a revolver rang out above the hum of voices and the shuffling of thousands of feet. There was an instant of almost complete silence. The President stood still, a look of perplexity and bewilderment on his face. His lips pressed each other in a rigid line. His shoulders straightened as those of a military commander. He threw his head back, and as he brought his right hand up to his chest he grew deathly pale. The wounded President reeled and staggered into the arms of his private Secretary, George B. Cortelyou, and was led to a chair, where he removed his hat and bowed his head in his hands. By this time the crowd, at first dazed and bewildered, realizing the awful import of the scene, surged forward with hoarse shouts and cries. Only the President remained calm, and begged those near him not to be alarmed.
     “But you are wounded,” cried the secretary; “let me examine.”
     “No, I think not,” answered the President. “I am not badly hurt, I assure you.”
     The President opened his waistcoat and thrust his hand [736][737] into the opening in his shirt bosom, and after moving his fingers there a moment, replied: “This pains me greatly.” He slowly drew forth his hand. The fingers were covered with blood. He gazed at his hand an instant, a most piteous expression stole over his face, and he stared blankly before him.
     His outer garments were now hastily loosened and the worst fears were confirmed. The assassin had fired two shots at close range. One bullet had struck the President on the breast bone, glancing and not penetrating; the second bullet had penetrated the abdomen and passed through the stomach. The President was at once placed on a stretcher and removed to the Emergency Hospital, on the Exposition grounds, the best surgeons available having been hastily summoned. He was placed upon an operating table, and a thorough examination was made. The surgeons informed him that an immediate operation was necessary. To this the President, who was in full possession of his faculties, replied with great calmness, “Gentlemen, do what in your judgment you think best.” He was immediately placed under the influence of ether, an incision was made in the abdomen, and the wounds in the stomach were closed. The bullet could not be found. After the operation, which lasted an hour and a half, the President, still under the influence of the anæsthetic, was removed in an ambulance to the house of Mr. Milburn.
     It would be impossible to describe adequately the exciting scene that followed the shooting. No sooner had the shots been fired than several men threw themselves forward as with one impulse upon the assassin. In an instant he was borne to the ground, his weapon was wrenched from his grasp, and strong arms pinioned him down. He was hurried into a little room, from which he was immediately removed to the police station house. His name was Leon F. Czolgosz, a young man of Polish extraction, whose home [737][738] was in Cleveland, where his father, mother, and brothers lived. He was an avowed Anarchist, and boasted that in shooting the President he had only done his duty.
     Czolgosz was born in Detroit and was twenty-eight years of age. He received some education in the common schools of that city. He read all the Socialistic literature that he could lay his hands on, and finally he became fairly well known in Chicago, Cleveland, and Detroit, not only as a Socialist, but as an Anarchist of the most venomous type.
     Learning that President McKinley was to visit the Pan-American Exposition, and was to remain for several days, he started for Buffalo on his murderous mission. He had followed the President for two days, knew when he would enter the Exposition grounds, and waited for his appearance. He was among the first of the great throng to enter the Temple of Music, and immediately took his position in line to shake hands with the President. When Mr. McKinley cordially extended his hand in greeting the assassin extended his left hand, aimed the revolver at the President’s breast with his right hand, and fired. The murder was planned with all the diabolical ingenuity of which anarchy and nihilism are capable, and the assassin carried out his plan as perfectly as did his prototype, Judas.
     Mrs. McKinley, who had been resting in her room at Mr. Milburn’s, did not know what had happened until three hours had elapsed. She had begun to be anxious, as the President was expected to return at about six o’clock. Mrs. McKinley did not suspect assassination, but she naturally feared that some accident had befallen her husband. Minute precautions had been taken to shield her from all knowledge of the tragic occurrence, but now the terrible tidings could be withheld no longer. She must be told, for the President was even then being borne to the house. It was feared the shock would prostrate her, but, greatly to the relief of those about her, she bore it with surprising courage, and when the [738][739] President was brought in she was able to be taken to his room.
     A few weeks before, Mr. McKinley had watched over her through a serious illness, and it was her turn now. She realized then, if never before, that the deepest anguish is the portion of the one who sits in sorrowful vigil. The President seemed troubled when she was not permitted to come into his room, and the physicians soon saw that it would be best for both that she should see him at least once a day.
     The public was kept informed of the President’s condition by daily bulletins issued by the attending physicians, and for several days after the tragedy his condition was so favorably reported that confident predictions were made of his recovery. Indeed, five days after the shooting the physicians declared that he was practically out of danger and would probably recover.
     Following closely upon that reassuring announcement came the startling statement, on the night of September 12, that the President was worse. He had complained of weariness, and had frequently exclaimed, “I am so tired.” Mr. McKinley’s relatives were notified, and they hastened to the house.
     The next morning at 6 o’clock, while the windows of his room were opened for a short time, the President turned his head and glanced out. The sky was overcast with clouds, and he remarked that it was not quite so bright as the day before. When the nurses were closing the windows to exclude the light, he gently protested, saying, “I want to see the trees. They are so beautiful.” He was fully conscious then, and seemed grateful for the chance to see the sky and trees.
     The President gradually failed during the day. That evening he asked to see Mrs. McKinley. She was led into the death chamber, and the strong face of the President lighted up as she bent over him. There Mrs. McKinley took [739][740] her last farewell of her dying husband, who for years had given her his tenderest care. She took his hands in both her own, gazed fondly, tearlessly, at the changing features, then smoothed back the hair from his brow, half arose, placed both arms around his neck, held them so for an instant, then arose and turned, and was led from the chamber as one in a dream. On returning to her room she gave way to bitter sobs and heartbreaking lamentations. Friends did their utmost to console her, but their efforts were unavailing. Her grief was absorbing and intense.
     The President’s condition grew steadily worse, and it was apparent that the end was near at hand. In his last period of consciousness he repeated the words of the beautiful hymn, “Nearer, my God, to Thee,” and his last audible, conscious words, as taken down by one of the attending physicians at the bedside, were: “Good-bye, all, good-bye. It is God’s way. His will be done.” Hovering on the border line between life and death, waiting only for the fulfillment of the time allotted him by his Maker, his mind wandered to his home and the days when he was a boy. With each brief period of returning consciousness his thoughts reverted to her for whose comfort he had always striven. All else was forgotten, and she alone filled his thoughts.
     Just as he had lived, with words of kindness and gentleness for all on his lips, without bitterness toward any human being in his heart, serenely, painlessly, President McKinley ended his earthly life at 2.15 A.M. on September 14, 1901. He passed away peacefully. It was as though he had fallen asleep. Only the sobs of the mourners broke the silence of the chamber of death. Mrs. McKinley bore her burden of grief with a Christian fortitude and calmness that surprised her friends.
     The remains of the martyr President were borne in impressive state from Buffalo to Washington and taken to the White House, from which he and his wife had gone forth [740][741] only a few weeks previous full of happy thoughts and anticipations. There, in the historic East Room, sombre with its drawn shades and dim burning lights, the heavy black casket resting in the center of the room, under the great crystal chandelier, the guard of honor watched over the dead body of the lamented President. Thenceforward the White House had a new sacredness in American eyes.
     That night Mrs. McKinley rested in her old room in the Executive Mansion from which she was so soon to depart to make place for a new mistress of the White House. On the next morning the dead body of the President was reverently taken to the rotunda of the Capitol, where the state funeral was held, and on Wednesday the remains were escorted to Canton, Ohio, where interment took place September 19, 1901. This was the twentieth anniversary of the death of President Garfield.
     Swift punishment awaited the assassin. He was promptly tried, and on September 26th, just twenty days after he fired the fatal shots, he was condemned to death and was executed in the state prison at Auburn, N. Y., October 29, 1901.
     As a wise, just, pure-hearted statesman, William McKinley achieved imperishable fame. In the Chief Magistrate the man was never lost. Modest, equable, benign, patient, and magnanimous, he won esteem and inspired love. Of all our Presidents, he was the most popular for his human qualities, and no man could better deserve the regard of his countrymen. Posterity will acclaim him one of the greatest Presidents of our Republic, and in the hearts of Americans McKinley will be enshrined with the lamented Lincoln.



top of page