Publication information
view printer-friendly version
Source: State Service
Source type: magazine
Document type: article
Document title: “Story of McKinley’s Assassination”
Author(s): Skinner, Charles R.
Date of publication: April 1919
Volume number: 3
Issue number: 4
Pagination: 20-24

Skinner, Charles R. “Story of McKinley’s Assassination.” State Service Apr. 1919 v3n4: pp. 20-24.
full text
William McKinley (personal history); William McKinley (personal character); George F. Arrel (public statements); McKinley assassination; Leon Czolgosz (incarceration: Auburn, NY); Leon Czolgosz (execution: invitations); Leon Czolgosz (execution: witnesses); Leon Czolgosz (execution: eyewitness accounts); Leon Czolgosz (execution); Leon Czolgosz (last words); John Hay (public statements); William McKinley (public statements).
Named persons
George F. Arrel; Harry H. Bender [identified as W. H. Pender below]; Samuel Caldwell; Ashley W. Cole; Cornelius V. Collins; Leon Czolgosz; Henry Oliver Ely; Charles E. Fitch; James A. Garfield; John Gerin; Charles J. Guiteau; John Hay; William A. Howe; Charles R. Huntley; O. L. Ingalls; John P. Jaeckel; Abraham Lincoln; Carlos F. MacDonald; William McKinley; J. Warren Mead; John G. Milburn; Amasa J. Parker, Jr.; James B. Parker; Andrew Van Vranken Raymond; Theodore Roosevelt; Elihu Root; Charles R. Skinner; John A. Sleicher; Grosvenor R. Trowbridge [initials reversed below]; Samuel M. Welch [in notes]; George Weston; William D. Wolff [identified as W. O. Wolf below].
From page 20: By Dr. Charles R. Skinner, Librarian of the legislative library.

This article includes two photographs, captioned as follows: President McKinley at the Stadium, Pan-American Exposition, the Day Before He Was Assassinated. General Samuel M. Welch, Buffalo, Accompanies Him (p. 21); Elihu Root (left) and John Hay (right) At the Time That President McKinley Lay Fatally Injured Nearby. Mr. Root Was Secretary of War and Mr. Hay Secretary of State, in the McKinley Cabinet (p. 23).


Story of McKinley’s Assassination


Told by a State official who served with him in congress and was at the Buffalo
exposition the day of the crime—Was a witness at the assassin’s execution

PRESIDENT William McKinley won his proud place in American history by virtue of his noble qualities of ability, loyalty and manhood. Every one whose privilege it was to know him, was irresistibly drawn toward him by his companionable qualities. They never left him. He was a true American who loved and served his country. Born in 1843, at the age of 18 he enlisted in the Civil war, leaving the army as a major. At 26 he was prosecuting attorney of Stark county, Ohio, in which he made his home at Canton. At 34 he became a representative in congress, in which he served nearly twelve years. At 48 he was elected governor of Ohio, serving four years. At 53 he was elected president of the United States, at 57 was re-elected, and at 58 was brutally assassinated. He was the third president of the United States to be murdered.
     It may interest the readers of STATE SERVICE to know that President McKinley was not a stranger to New York State, especially to the capital city. Directly after his return from the Civil war, he began the study of law at his home in Poland, Mahoning county, Ohio. In 1866, at the age of 23, he came to Albany, and entered the Albany law school, graduating in 1867. In the words of General Amasa J. Parker, who always held him in grateful remembrance, he was the law school’s “most distinguished graduate.” As a law student he exhibited those qualities of industry and application for study which marked his whole career.
     The law school, for many years, at its commencement exercises has made special reference to President McKinley, often including an address by some prominent speaker. On May 29, 1912, the address was given by George F. Arrel, a counsellor-at-law of Youngstown, Ohio, who was a classmate of the president, in the law school. In that address, he made the following reference to the president as a law student:

     At the opening of the term, by common consent, the hour to retire was fixed at ten o’clock, but before the close of the term it was no uncommon occurrence to see him hard at work after the clock in the church steeple had tolled the hour of midnight. He frequently took active part in the discussion of legal questions in moot court, conducted either by one of the teachers or by the students themselves. His personal presence then was, as always afterwards, attractive, and his voice quite musical. These important features of a successful public speaker became more fully developed later in life, and remained with him to the end. In his room and at the dining table in his boarding house at No. 36 Jay street his demeanor was faultless, and in all these closer relations of student life his companionship was most charming, and the whole is now a sacred memory.

     On Lincoln’s birthday, Feb. 12, 1895, the president addressed the Unconditional club of Albany. There are many who recall this incident with interest and pleasure. On May 29, 1901, the law school, at the semi-centennial exercises, anticipated the attendance of the president, but he was unable to attend. At this time, the school organized an alumni association and elected President McKinley the first honorary president. On the same occasion, President Raymond of Union university, with which the law school is connected, announced that “the board of trustees in commemoration of the fiftieth anniversary, and as a recognition of the fact that the president of the United States is a graduate of the school, has resolved to [20][21] confer the degree of LL.D. upon William McKinley, president of the United States.”
     It was my privilege to know him in the 47th and 48th congress, 1881-5, and my good fortune to be seated near him. He was always ready to advise a new member. In this respect he differed from other members. When one went to him for advice he would always say “Sit down, young man, and we’ll talk it over.” Then he would direct the inquirer to the right book or document in the library, and he always had a smile. I was a member of the committee on post offices and post roads, and he would often come to my seat and make inquiry about some bill, saying “I’m going to take your word for it.” When he was president, years afterward, I called upon him, and his first greeting was: “Well, Skinner, how’s the special delivery stamp?”
     I enjoyed a long talk with him at his Canton home during the campaign of 1896. I urged him to address the National Educational Association at Milwaukee, but I did not obtain his consent.
     His seat was contested in the 48th congress, and as that congress was democratic, the committee on contested elections, after many months and many hearings, awarded his seat to his competitor, in May, 1884. He was unseated by a very narrow majority, and many democrats are known to have confessed that they voted to unseat him under protest. He was recognized as such an able adviser, that he was not disturbed until the close of the long session in 1884.
     I happened to attend the Pan American exposition at Buffalo, on the day he was shot, September 6, 1901. A cloud of grief overspread the great multitude which gathered at Music Hall at a reception in his honor. On September 5th he had delivered a speech on reciprocity which proved to be his last. There was some comfort in the hope that was entertained that the wound of the assassin would not prove fatal. He was removed to the home of John G. Milburn on Delaware avenue, Buffalo. For a few days hope was strong, but it was blasted by his death September 14. It has never seemed to me that he was properly guarded on that fatal day. The president had such absolute confidence in the affections of the people that he disregarded many of the precautions for safety constantly urged by his intimate friends. He insisted upon taking long morning walks about Washington, unattended, and freely and frequently indulged in carriage rides. He removed some of the safeguards provided by his predecessors, notably a sentry box erected on the White House grounds.
     The miserable assassin, Czolgosz, was nearly put to death on the spot after his deed was done. He fired two shots at the president, and was prevented from firing [21][22] again by a colored man named Parker, who would have been glad to finish him then and there. Czolgosz was carried to the jail at once, promptly indicted for murder, and after a short trial was condemned to die in the electric chair. There is no doubt that he was an uneducated, misguided fanatic. He had listened to many socialistic speeches which aroused his murderous spirit. During his trial, he was examined by two eminent physicians as to his sanity. They reported him sane, but mean, and responsible for his act.
     After his conviction, he was taken at once to Auburn prison. He was afraid of being killed by a mob and reached the prison weak and trembling.
     If notoriety was his object, the assassin did not secure it. When he entered the prison, to all intents and purposes he entered his tomb. State Superintendent of Prisons Cornelius V. Collins kept the public absolutely away from him. Thousands of letters, books and express packages reached the prison for him, some of them containing flowers, (shame be it said) but he was never allowed to see any of them, or to know they had been received. He was denied even tobacco, which other prisoners received. Never for a moment was he out of human sight.
     Superintendent Collins had a long conversation with him, for the purpose of ascertaining if he had accomplices, but he went to his death insisting that he alone was responsible for his crime. Other prisoners would have torn him to pieces if they had been given the opportunity. As he was taken through the corridor by Superintendent Collins, inmates of the cells which he passed, shook their fists at him, and bitterly consigned him to eternal punishment. He was sentenced to die during the week beginning October 28. He was not notified of the day or hour until the very last. The public was not advised of the names of the witnesses until the day of the electrocution. These included several State officials, two physicians, officers of the prison, and selected citizens. I was at that time State Superintendent of Public Instruction. The statutes of 1888 and 1892 provided that it is the duty of the agent and warden of the prison to be present at the execution, and to invite the presence of a Justice of the Supreme Court, the district attorney and the sheriff of the county, two physicians and twelve reputable citizens. The law provides that the criminal may be attended by a clergyman, but Czolgosz made no request and was unattended.
     On the 22d of October, 1901, I received the following:

Office of J. Warren Mead, Agent and Warden of Auburn Prison:

     “In accordance with the statutes above quoted, you are hereby invited to be present as a witness at the execution by electricity, of Leon F. Czolgosz, alias Fred Nieman, which will occur at this prison, Tuesday morning, Oct. 29, 1901. The hour of 7 has been designated by me for such execution, and you will arrange to be at my office not later than 6:50 A. M.
     I would thank you to treat this communication as confidential, and advise me immediately upon its receipt of your acceptance or otherwise, that I may make my arrangements accordingly.
     Under no circumstances is this invitation transferable.

J. WARREN MEAD,          
Agent and Warden.”     

     It is fair to say here, that in a conversation with Superintendent Collins, I had said to him that I would attend the execution, if I received an invitation. In 1882 when living in Washington, I received an invitation to witness the execution of Guiteau July 2, 1882, the murderer of President Garfield. I should have accepted, but for the fatal illness of a daughter.
     I attended the Czolgosz execution, reaching Auburn on the evening of October 28, stopping at the Osborn House, and spending the evening with friends. A request to be called at 6 a. m. was heeded. The morning of [22][23] the 29th was just such a morning as the event typified—dark, cloudy and gloomy. I reached the prison at the appointed time. At the warden’s office were gathered the following witnesses besides Warden Mead and Sheriff Samuel Caldwell: John P. Jaeckel, Ashley W. Cole, W. H. Pender, George Weston, O. L. Ingalls, Henry Oliver Ely, Charles R. Huntley, Wm. A. Howe, R. G. Trowbridge, W. O. Wolf, M. D., John A. Sleicher, Carlos F. MacDonald, M. D., John Gerin, M. D.
     At the appointed moment the witnesses were escorted by Warden Mead, along the corridors to the death chamber, and given seats. The room was small and bare. The chair reserved for the criminal was surrounded by electric wires and appliances. It did not look very comfortable to an outsider. Very soon after we were seated, there was a movement in the corridor, a clicking of a latch, the door opened and Czolgosz entered the room between two officers. He was at once seated in the chair, the electric caps placed over his shaved crown and upon his knees, which were made bare through openings. The many straps were fastened very quickly.
     He began to talk as soon as he entered the room. Evidently he was anxious to talk. For once I was an embryo stenographer, and taking from my pocket an envelope, made note of what he said. Talking very rapidly he said:

     “The reason I killed the president was because he was an enemy of the good people—for the benefit of the working man. That’s all there is about it—I am awful sorry I couldn’t see my father. I am not sorry for my crime.”

     When he spoke the last words all thoughts of pity left us. Any one of the witnesses would have been willing to be the executioner.
     Warden Mead, standing by the fatal chair, lifted his right hand, there was the click of an electric switch, a slight shudder of the criminal’s shoulders, and all was over. One of the worst crimes in the history of the Republic was expiated, so far as a worthless life would do it. There was not the slightest terror in the sight, no more than to see a cat catch a rat. A black cap covered the criminal’s face. We all thought of the great crime against our country, and nothing of the poor form in the chair.
     The room was soon cleared, the victim was left alone with his Maker, until an autopsy could be made, and his body deposited in quick lime which constituted his tomb. The witnesses returned to the warden’s office and signed a certificate that the law in this case had been complied with. Doctors MacDonald and Gerin also made affidavit that they had performed an autopsy on the body, and that the law had been fully carried out.
     On March 4, 1902, the legislature held memorial exercises in the assembly chamber. Dr. Charles E. Fitch delivered the memorial address.
     On Feb. 27, 1902, memorial exercises were held at the capitol in Washington. [23][24] The great address was delivered by John Hay, who was secretary of state under Presidents McKinley and Roosevelt. In Mr. Hay’s tribute he said:

     Not one of our murdered presidents had an enemy in the world.  *  *  *  I spent a day with him shortly before he started on his fateful journey to Buffalo. Never had I seen him higher in hope and patriotic confidence.  *  *  *  He saw in the immense evolution of American trade the fulfillment of all his dreams, the reward of all his labors  *  *  *  He regarded reciprocity as the bulwark of protection.  *  *  *  In that mood of high hope, of generous expectations, he went to Buffalo, and there, on the threshold of eternity, he delivered that memorable speech, worthy, for its loftiness of tone, its blameless morality, its breadth of view to be regarded as his testament to the nation.

     I cannot resist the impulse to add the closing words of the president’s last address, at Buffalo, September 5, 1901:

     Who can tell the new thoughts that have been awakened, the ambitions fired and the high achievements that will be wrought by this exposition! Let us ever remember that our interest is in concord not conflict, and that our real eminence rests in the victories of peace, not those of war. We hope that all who are represented here may be moved to higher and nobler effort for their own and the world’s good, and that out of this city may come not only greater commerce and trade for us all, but, more essential than these, relations of mutual respect, confidence and friendship which will deepen and endure. Our earnest prayer is that God will graciously vouchsafe prosperity, happiness and peace to all our neighbors and like blessing to all the peoples and powers of earth.



top of page