The President’s Last Days
NO trait of the personal character of President McKinley, aside
from his devotion to his wife, was displayed in his great ordeal
at Buffalo more conspicuously than that of his courage. At all times
he was calm. As he was sinking into unconsciousness on the operating-table
in the hospital on the Exposition grounds, his lips were seen to
move, and those who were standing near leaned over and heard him
“Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done.”
Then he sank into the dark valley
with only two exits—one the portal of death, and the other the entrance
from the world through which he had just come. For one hour and
fifteen minutes he had waited in great agony for the surgeons to
“It is hard to wait so long,” he said.
Then the surgeons arrived, and told him an immediate operation was
“We have lost one President, and we
don’t mean to lose you,” said Dr. Mann, the surgeon who operated
“All right, doctor, do whatever you
think is necessary,” replied the President.
For more than an hour the surgeons
worked with all their skill. To them for the time being the President
was simply William McKinley, a patient in distress. Doctors P. M.
Rixey, Herman Mynter, Eugene Wasdin, W. D. Mann, and E. W. Lee were
in attendance at first, and then Dr. Roswell Park, one of the most
noted surgeons in the country, arrived before the operation was
over. Later Dr. Charles McBurney, the well-known surgeon of New
York city, was summoned for consultation with the other physicians,
and his assurances, with those of the Buffalo physicians, that the
President would probably recover at once gave courage to the country.
Before the President had recovered
consciousness fully, he was removed to Mr. Milburn’s house, and
then Mrs. McKinley was told what had happened.
“His life may depend on your courage,”
said Dr. Rixey to her, “and you must be brave.” And she was brave.
Not once did she falter. Scarcely three months before the President
had watched most anxiously by her bedside in San Francisco, when
death seemed near, and now the position was reversed. She displayed
a heroism that equalled that of the President three months earlier.
As soon as the news of the attempted
assassination was flashed throughout the world, Buffalo practically
became the seat of the United States government. Vice-President
Theodore Roosevelt, grief-stricken and bowed with the terrible sense
of sudden responsibility, hurried to that city. All the members
of the President’s cabinet, with the exception of Secretaries Hay
and Long, who were in remote places, also went to Buffalo in great
haste. Secretary Root sped from New York on a special train at night.
The members of the McKinley family and other relatives also hastened
to the President. Scores of the most skilful reporters of the metropolitan
newspapers were despatched to the scene, and the wires—telegraph
and telephone—were clogged with messages. One leading New York newspaper
received for itself and sent out for its clients throughout the
country more than 200,000 words on the night of the day when the
President was shot. A force of fully fifty telegraph operators was
engaged in that one office in this work. The Buffalo telegraph offices
were overwhelmed. Messages of sympathy, foreign and domestic, were
received by the hundreds. They came from emperors and kings, statesmen,
leaders of the churches, societies and legislatures, political bodies,
and men and women high and low in station.
The anger of the people arose at once.
“Hunt down the anarchists,” was the cry. The police of every city
of importance began to seek for them. In half a dozen cities several
arrests were made. Czolgosz had said in his confession to the Buffalo
police that he had been inspired in his doctrines of anarchy by
the well-known woman anarchist Emma Goldman, whom he had heard lecture.
At once there began a search for the Goldman woman. She was traced
to this city and to that, and finally it became known that she was
in St. Louis on the day of the attempted assassination. Then it
was learned that she had left for Chicago, and four days after the
attempt to murder the President she was arrested in that city. She
disclaimed any doctrine that would lead to the killing of the President,
and proclaimed her devotion to the principles of anarchy in the
same breath. She was held by the Chicago police, as were nine other
anarchists, on the supposition that all might have been concerned
in a plot to take the President’s life.
And then there began the days of anxious
waiting. One of Czolgosz’s bullets had made a flesh wound in the
chest, and it was seen at once that there was no danger from this
source. The other bullet had made two perforations in the stomach—one
in the front and the other in the back. The abdomen had to be opened,
so as to sew up these wounds in the stomach, and it was the condition
of these surgical operations that was watched with the utmost anxiety.
The physicians began to issue their bulletins telling of the pulse,
respiration, and temperature. Even the most uneducated was able
to understand somewhat the import of the figures that were given.
As the temperature and pulse beats
began to go down, a feeling of relief and of hope took possession
of the hearts of the people. One by one the bulletins became more
favorable, and a spirit of confidence arose in the land. This soon
became a spirit of expectation that the President would recover.
The physicians adopted the policy of frankness in speaking of the
President’s condition, and it was not long before they announced
openly that, barring unforeseen accidents, the President would get
well. These opinions soon took the form of almost positive assertions
that he would recover. Finally, “He will get well” was the word
passed throughout the land; and then a feeling of rejoicing became
uppermost. Prayers for the President’s recovery had been said in
every church in the country, and when one of the physicians mentioned
this to the President, he said that he was sure that the prayers
of the good people had availed much.
From the first the President expressed
his own confidence that he would recover. When one of his physicians
told him that he was progressing even more favorably than was expected,
“Doctor, I told you I’d get well.”
His confidence never relaxed, and
his sense of humor soon manifested itself.
“It’s a little lonesome in here, Cortelyou,”
he said to his secretary, and then he asked for the newspapers,
and later wanted to know of his physicians if he could not have
a cigar. Later his sense of fun manifested itself when for the first
time liquid food was given to him. He said, with a twinkle in his
“It’s a long time between meals.”
On the fourth day after the attempted
assassination a feeling of uneasiness pervaded the country when
it became known that a slight operation had been necessary to remove
a gathering of serum near the surface of the outer wound in the
abdomen. In a few hours all danger from this source passed. On the
sixth day a feeling of apprehension arose when it became known that
the President’s stomach could not assimilate the first solid food
that had been introduced into it. A bulletin was issued that the
temperature had gone up, but later, when the temperature dropped,
the feeling of confidence that the President would recover ultimately
But late that night, or more strictly
speaking early in the morning of Sept. 13, a great change came.
The physicians issued a bulletin saying that the President’s condition
was such as to excite the “gravest apprehension.” His stomach was
not able to assimilate the solid food which it had been thought
wise and even necessary to give him. His heart-action became weak
and did not respond to stimulants. Powerful medicines were given
to clear the stomach and intestines of obstructions. It was seen
that a form of blood-poisoning was at work.
Then came another period of waiting,
but it was one of hours only. Just before 6
on September 13 the President lapsed into unconsciousness for two
hours. When he rallied for a time Mrs. McKinley took farewell of
him. “God’s will be done, not ours,” he said to her. Then he added,
“Good-by to all,” as a message to the people. He soon sank into
the stupor of death, but his vitality was such that hour after hour
passed. At 2.15 he drew his last breath, and his soul passed to
the great beyond.