Publication information

Harper’s Weekly
Source type: magazine
Document type: article
Document title: “The President’s Last Days”
Author(s): Matthews, Franklin
Date of publication: 21 September 1901
Volume number: 45
Issue number: 2335
Pagination: 943

Matthews, Franklin. “The President’s Last Days.” Harper’s Weekly 21 Sept. 1901 v45n2335: p. 943.
full text
William McKinley (surgery); McKinley assassination (public response); McKinley assassination (investigation of conspiracy); William McKinley (recovery); William McKinley (activity, conversations, etc. during recovery); William McKinley (medical condition); William McKinley (death).
Named persons
George B. Cortelyou; Leon Czolgosz; Emma Goldman; John Hay; Edward Wallace Lee; John D. Long; Matthew D. Mann [see note below]; Charles McBurney; Ida McKinley; William McKinley; John G. Milburn; Herman Mynter; Roswell Park; Presley M. Rixey; Theodore Roosevelt; Elihu Root; Eugene Wasdin.
The mention below of W. D. Mann is erroneous (no such person exists); however, it is not certain who the person is intended to refer to. Matthew D. Mann performed the surgery on McKinley, while Edward C. Mann, a medical student, provided surgical assistance. The initials “W. D.” also suggest the possibility of Willis D. Storer, a doctor present during the surgery.

This article is accompanied on the same page with a photograph of the Milburn residence.

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 say,
     “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 come.
     “It is hard to wait so long,” he said. Then the surgeons arrived, and told him an immediate operation was necessary.
     “We have lost one President, and we don’t mean to lose you,” said Dr. Mann, the surgeon who operated on him.
     “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, he said,
     “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 eye,
     “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 returned.
     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 P.M. 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.