Source: Harper’s Weekly
Source type: magazine
Document type: article
Document title: “How New York Received the News”
Author(s): Bangs, John Kendrick
Date of publication: 14 September 1901
Volume number: 45
Issue number: 2334
|Bangs, John Kendrick. “How New York Received the News.” Harper’s Weekly 14 Sept. 1901 v45n2334: pp. 910-11.|
|McKinley assassination (public response: New York, NY).|
|John G. Carlisle [in notes]; Richard Croker; Thomas F. Grady [in notes]; William McKinley.|
|The article (below) is accompanied by two photographs captioned as follows (respectively): “President McKinley at the Pan-American, September 5” (p. 910);“The Attempted Assassination of President McKinley—The Crowds in Newspaper Row” (p. 911). Page 911 also includes two illustrations captioned as follows: “‘I feel, as every American must feel, that this is a terrible outrage.’—John G. Carlisle” and “Thomas F. Grady at the Democratic Club.”|
How New York Received the News
THE American citizen is not phlegmatic by nature. He is supposed to be possessed
of much hard-headed common-sense, but as a matter of fact it is his self-control
in the hour of trial that is his strongest characteristic. He is as intrinsically
mercurial in his disposition as any Gaul that ever made a frenzied rush along
a Parisian boulevard, but when the truly stressful moment comes upon him he
is a rock of steadiness, the picture of dignified composure, of tried, unyielding
I do not find it hard to discover a simile which shall properly indicate how New York received the news of the shooting of President McKinley. It would hardly be proper to say that the city was stunned. It was not that. Its aspect to my eye was as if in place of a warm and joyous atmosphere which seemed to be giving an appearance of gayety and lightness of heart and freedom from care to a town shortly to emerge from the frivolity of summer into the serious duties of autumn and winter, a cold and more than chilling blast had swept over all, and in the twinkling of an eye frozen it to the marrow. New York was still under the calamity which had befallen the nation—actually silent in the presence of a grief too deep-seated to be expressed. Veins that had run rich with warm blood became torpid in an instant, but it was not the sluggishness of despair but the torpor of a wrath too great to become momentarily active, too just to permit its indulgence in acts of frenzy. Men and women whose voices rang loud with jollity in both social and commercial intercourse sobered into profound silence for a moment, and then emerged again into whisperings or hoarse utterances, not so much of agitation as of realization that a sore blow had been struck at themselves as individuals with which calmness alone could cope. There were no outbursts of rage; none of the madness in which a Parisian mob might have indulged in the face of a similar affliction. Even the din of the newsboys and the hoarse barkings of the men who in other times have made the city streets echo and re-echo with their shouts of “Extra!” were generally wanting, although here and there were evidences that they had not forgotten the vocal requirements of their calling. Beyond an occasional delivery-wagon plunging madly through the streets, bearing upon its sides a simple announcement of the crime upon painted canvas bulletins, there was nothing raucously in evidence to indicate the appalling nature of the news, but on the faces of all, men, women, and children alike, was to be read the salient fact that an awful deed had been done, and that a comprehension of its heinousness, its absolute and unjustifiable wickedness, had sunk deeply into the hearts of every one of them. I imagine that the calmness of the first moment was due to a feeling that the crime was too impossible to have been perpetrated. It was not believed because not believable. The calmness of the second moment came from the fact that the incredible news had broken the force of the confirmation. “How can it be true?” men asked themselves. “Why should it be?” they added. “We cannot and will not believe it,” they concluded, and they raised their eyes from the printed pages or the private telegrams that had announced the tragedy, and shook their heads very much as some powerful mastiff after a plunge into a cold stream might have shaken the dripping water from his ears and brow; they breathed heavily and then smiled at the absolute absurdity of the news. “Another canard,” was the thought in the minds of most. Then came the confirmation of the report. It was true. The President had been shot, and the walking crowds stood still; the chattering groups stopped their conversation; hands and arms raised in gesticulation remained as if they had been transfixed.
The chilling blast of a national calamity had frozen New York.
A half-hour after the first announcement of the shooting, word came over a private wire not far removed from a certain populous centre that the President had expired. It seemed only too likely that this dread news was true, but still men doubted. The rumor spread throughout the corridors of the caravansary, but the desire of most that it should not be true seemed to raise doubts as to the authority of the sources of information, and as time passed and no confirmation of a fatal termination of the shooting was received from outside and more reliable sources, men breathed more freely. It is hard to say, but it is none the less true, that to one mind, at least, came the impression that ulterior motives of stock-gambling profit lay behind the so-called private wire,  for the centre in question is not wholly free from the suspicion that it is a branch of the curb, the after-business-hour home of the speculator who carries on his questionable trade without the restraining influence of the regularly organized stock-handling body.
Nevertheless, the rumor flew from mouth to mouth, and some, believing, began to fix the blame, but with more determination than passion. The instrument was not considered. Indeed, a curious phase of the situation lay in the apparent indifference of the multitude to the personality of the wretch by whom the crime had been committed. Men did not ask by whom the President had been shot, nor was there at first any apparent desire to learn of the precise details of the tragedy. The fact that it had occurred was enough for the moment, and the assassin, his method, the time and place, were not deemed factors worthy of consideration. It was the causes of the tragedy, not the means, that were discussed. Calmness so characteristic of the demeanor of those who spoke was not so aptly applied to their judgments, and harsh conclusions were voiced by many who thought too quickly to be wholly just to those they condemned. Everywhere were manifestations of loyal affection for the President, and men but a few moments before strong partisans vied with each other in expressions of esteem for the victim and utter abhorrence of the deed.
In the public squares, only in those upon which the newspaper offices have their frontage were there signs of unusual excitement, and here the conditions were those of a settled gloom which found its expression in appropriate silence, save when some bit of encouraging news was placed upon the bulletins, when a spontaneous cheer of thanksgiving sprung from a thousand throats. In the downtown portion of the city the crowds were larger than uptown, and Madison Square, which from time immemorial has been the natural outlet of the political pleasantries and passions of the New York crowd, was singularly deserted as far as externals were concerned. The hotel corridors in this neighborhood, however, were uncomfortably filled by news-seekers, but here, too, the conditions already described prevailed. New York was frozen, and in the expansion of the melting period, deeply injured, was holding its anger in restraint. At the clubs, until night came, there were few indications that anything out of the ordinary had occurred to disturb the public mind, for the reason that in the earlier hours of the evening members were abroad upon the streets, before the newspaper bulletins, or at the hotels seeking the latest and most reliable news from Buffalo. But as the evening wore on, and darkness came over the city, the club parlors and cafés filled up, and until an early hour of the morning, when news of a reassuring nature began to come over the wires, none thought of leaving for home, and whether it was the ever-partisan Democratic Club, the sedate and dignified Century, or the Union League, the sense of a personal injury wrought by the crime was the prevailing note. Mr. Croker’s club was not a whit behind that to which Mr. McKinley’s personal and political friends belong in its expressions of sympathy for the fallen Executive, affection for his person, and hatred of the crime and its perpetrator. The one touch of affliction had welded the heterogeneous mass of New York’s citizenship into a compact body of suffering and sorrow. Not a word of past differences; no criticisms of policies, favorable or otherwise—no slightest indication of political or partisan bias was in evidence anywhere. The past was forgotten, the future left to itself. The emergent present filled the minds of all, and all inspiringly rose to the requirements of the hour.
In the business world the first effect of the news was not one of great disturbance, since it was not until the major part of the day’s commerce was over that the news was heralded abroad. The banks were already closed, and the shutters were up or down, as the case may be, in Wall Street. The little that was going on, however, ceased immediately, and merchants and their clerks and their salesmen devoted the remaining hours of the business day to a whispered discussion of the crime and its possible results. There was apparently no undue pressure upon the gilded halls where strong drink is dispensed, save in those which boast a ticker, and these, if one could judge from appearances, were crowded more for the possible revelations of the latter than by reason of their ordinary attractions.
It was at the theatres that the nervous note of the moment was struck. The attitude of those present was in not a few cases that of sheepish deprecation of their possible temerity. It was evident that many were disturbed in their minds on the question of the good taste of their seeking amusement under the shadow of a national misfortune, and ticket-purchasers at the hotels approached the vender furtively, as much as to say that they were not sure that they were doing the right thing. The managers were alive to their duty in the premises, and it was not until long after the appointed hour that any of them decided to open their houses at all. For as long a time as there seemed to be some probability that the President was either dead or dying they were unanimous in their resolve to let the curtain of darkness fall over all, but when a more encouraging sequence of despatches [sic] from the President’s bedside began to come in it was decided to let the work of entertainment proceed for the benefit of those who might stand in need of it. The attendance naturally was not large. There were not many in the city who were in the mood for mirth, or for the mimic play, with a larger tragedy being enacted upon the nation’s stage, and it is fair to assume that those who did go went more for the purpose of noting the demeanor of their fellows, and of receiving the latest bulletins, which were read from the stage, than for any real pleasure they might derive from the experience. Such plays as had in their lines jests or allusions of any kind bearing upon politics were carefully edited and the political matter wholly eliminated; and in the event of a finality, which many dreaded, but which did not appear to be pressingly imminent, the curtain was ever ready to be rung down on the instant. But one thought occupied the minds of players and spectators alike—that of the suffering head of the nation, and the sorrows of his afflicted wife; and the only zest at all in evidence at any of New York’s many Temples of Diversion was over the cheering news from Buffalo—first, that the President had rallied; second, that his noble wife had received the news of her misfortune with that fortitude which is woman’s greatest gift, and finally that the wounds inflicted by the assassin were not necessarily fatal. It was the comforting assurance of the bulletins read, not the efforts of the players, that sent many of New York’s citizens back to their homes with their hearts relieved from the cloud of gloom.
New York has the reputation of being reserved and cold. This is undeserved. The truth is that that which New York feels most deeply shows least upon the surface. The New-Yorker wears his grief within his breast, not upon his sleeve.