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