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
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 S
S 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
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 
confer the degree of LL.D. upon William McKinley, president of the
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
 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
“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
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
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 
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. 
The great address was delivered by John Hay, who was secretary of
state under Presidents McKinley and Roosevelt. In Mr. Hay’s tribute
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
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.