Source: Collier’s Weekly
Source type: magazine
Document type: article
Document title: “The Story of an Eye-Witness to the Shooting of the President”
Author(s): Wells, John D.
Date of publication: 21 September 1901
Volume number: 27
Issue number: 25
|Wells, John D. “The Story of an Eye-Witness to the Shooting of the President.” Collier’s Weekly 21 Sept. 1901 v27n25: p. 23.|
|McKinley assassination (eyewitness accounts: John D. Wells); McKinley assassination (eyewitnesses); McKinley assassination.|
|George B. Cortelyou; T. Frederick Ellis; George F. Foster; Albert Gallaher; John J. Geary; Samuel R. Ireland; Ida McKinley; William McKinley; John G. Milburn; Francis P. O’Brien.|
|The article below is accompanied on the same page by a set of photographs of Emma Goldman. The photos are credited to the Philadelphia Detective Bureau and include the following caption: “Emma Goldman, the Anarchistic Orator and Writer, Who Was Placed under Arrest at Chicago for Alleged Complicity in the Plot to Assassinate President McKinley.”|
The Story of an Eye-Witness to the Shooting of the President
IN THE capacity of Exposition representative
of the Buffalo “Morning Review” I was called upon to cover the visit of President
McKinley to the Pan-American Exposition on that memorable Friday when the Chief
Executive of this great nation was stricken by an assassin.
Outside the Temple of Music was a dense crowd, fully fifteen thousand in number, all attracted there by the President’s reception.
Once the President’s party were well inside the building, the doors were closed to allow time to make complete preparations for the levee. The chairs had been peculiarly arranged, leaving a lane from the southeast entrance of the building to the southwest exit, through which the people were to pass. It was scarcely large enough for the passage of more than one file of people. Under the majestic dome of the building, and bordering the passageway, a small space had been cleared. Here the President stood. In line, along each side of the passageway, were the eighteen members of the artillery corps detachment. In company with three other newspaper men, I stood in the rear of the President and to the right of the floral decorations.
When everything had been arranged the signal was given and a guard opened the southeast door. Outside there was a detail of at least twenty Exposition policemen regulating the influx and maintaining the single column. It was exactly at four o’clock. Everybody seemed to be happy, and the President particularly so. He beamed on every one in line and had a kind word for all. Even at this time the assassin must have been within the Temple. I saw him myself but a minute later. Nothing about his person especially attracted me; I just glanced at him, that was all. He appeared to be a kindly disposed German boy, and had a decided Teutonic complexion that could not be mistaken.
The last persons to shake hands with the President
were a woman and a little girl, and a negro. I had just consulted my watch,
desiring to take the exact time on some little incident that had occurred, and
which I do not now recall, for I never recorded the notes. It was exactly 4.07
o’clock. Suddenly I saw a hand shoved toward the President—two of them in fact—as
if the person wished to grasp the President’s hand in both his own. In the palm
of one hand, the right one, was a handkerchief. Then there were two shots in
rapid succession, the interval being so short as to be scarcely measurable.
I stood stockstill. I saw Detective Foster strike upward the hand that would fire the third shot, and then saw a soldier (Private O’Brien of the Artillery Corps, it afterward developed) seize the man from behind and drag him down. Then I saw Gallaher and Ireland jump to the side of Foster, who was then on his knees with his fingers about the throat of the assassin. I took two or three steps toward the President. He had turned about a little and fell into the arms of Detective Geary. Mr. Milburn supported him from the other side. Just a few drops of blood spurted out and dropped on his white waistcoat. I remember this distinctly. The President was led to a chair a dozen steps away, and into this he sank, exhausted. His collar and necktie were quickly loosed and his shirt opened at the front. I was considerably excited, inasmuch as the shooting appealed to me, to use what may seem to be a heartless expression, in a business way. I was a newspaper man, and there for the sole purpose of covering the story. I might look at it from a sentimental viewpoint later. I did not know which to follow, the President or the assassin. Then I concluded to follow the President. I walked to his side, and, seeing the others using their hats in lieu of fans, did the same with mine. Secretary Cortelyou was bending over him, and distinctly I heard the President say: “Cortelyou, be careful. Tell Mrs. McKinley gently.”
At this juncture I rushed to where the assassin lay prostrate on the floor. A dozen or more men, detectives and guards, were standing over him, striking and kicking him.
I then hastened back to the side of the President’s chair. He had just raised his eyes, and observed the rough treatment being accorded his would-be assassin. Raising his right hand slightly he said:
“See that no one hurts him.”
Some person with more forethought than others had immediately ordered the doors closed to keep out the crowd. This was done, and the doors were bolted. Outside the immense concourse of people was ignorant of what had happened. There was a murmur of discontent at the closing of the doors. They little imagined that, within, the President was writhing in pan, the victim of an anarchist’s bullet. Not even when the ambulance dashed up to the southwest door of the Temple did they comprehend what had happened—it was so incredible. They thought some woman had fainted and the doors were closed pending her removal. The doctors rushed into the building, and Dr. Ellis felt the pulse. Upon the suggestion of Mr. Milburn, the coat was removed and the President laid on the litter. When the doctors and Mr. Milburn appeared at the door bearing the wounded President a heart-rending sigh went up—such as I have never heard nor ever expect to hear again. Even then the people could scarcely believe that the President had been shot. With the realization of the fact came tears and wailing.