Publication information
view printer-friendly version
Source: Buffalo Courier
Source type: newspaper
Document type: article
Document title: “Czolgosz May Never Live to Reach Electric Death Chair”
Author(s): Steep, Thomas W.
City of publication: Buffalo, New York
Date of publication: 28 October 1901
Volume number: 66
Issue number: 301
Pagination: 1-2

Steep, Thomas W. “Czolgosz May Never Live to Reach Electric Death Chair.” Buffalo Courier 28 Oct. 1901 v66n301: pp. 1-2.
full text
Leon Czolgosz (incarceration: Auburn, NY); J. Warren Mead; Leon Czolgosz (execution); Leon Czolgosz (execution: witnesses); Edwin F. Davis (public statements); Leon Czolgosz (disposal of remains); Leon Czolgosz (execution: preparations, plans, etc.); Leon Czolgosz (incarceration: Auburn, NY: visitations); John J. Hickey (public statements); Auburn State Prison; Auburn State Prison (employees); Leon Czolgosz (incarceration: Auburn, NY: public response); Waldeck Czolgosz; Czolgosz family (at Auburn, NY); Waldeck Czolgosz (public statements); Leon Czolgosz (execution: personal response).
Named persons
Thomas Bandowski; Samuel Caldwell; Howard M. Cameron; Cornelius V. Collins; Leon Czolgosz; Waldeck Czolgosz; Edwin F. Davis [first initial wrong once below]; Lawrence Donlan [first name wrong below]; Hyacinth Fudzinski; James A. Garfield; John Gerin; George Edward Graham; James Griffin [identified as Triffin below]; Christian Haas; John J. Hickey; John P. Jaeckel; John W. E. Kelly; Abraham Lincoln; Carlos F. MacDonald [misspelled once below]; John Martin (b); William McKinley; J. Warren Mead; Francis E. Murphy; George R. Peck; Thomas Penney; Charles F. Rattigan; Charles R. Skinner; Lispenard Stewart; Theophilus Szadzinski [misspelled below]; J. F. Tremain; Allen P. Tupper; George Underwood; Truman C. White.
The article (below) is accompanied on page 1 with a photograph captioned “Auburn Prison.” The descriptive text accompanying the photograph reads: “The Cross Shows the Location of the Death Chamber, Where Czolgosz Will Meet His Doom, Probably Tomorrow Morning.”

On page 2 the continuation of the article bears the headline “Czolgosz May Never Reach Death Chair.”

On page 1 the author is credited twice: as Thomas W. Steep and then, on the very next line, as Thomas M. Steap.


Czolgosz May Never Live to Reach Electric Death Chair


Assassin of President McKinley a Helpless, Wasting Wreck, a Prey to and
Dying from His Fears.
Never Before a Condemned Man in Such a State of Physical Collapse Since
Electrocution Was Introduced—Seems Certain He Will Have to Be Carried to Chair.
All Preparations for the Dread Event Have Been Made and Nothing
Remains But to Turn on the Current and End the Life of the Anarchist Assassin.

     Auburn, Oct. 27.—Since death by electrocution was introduced as capital punishment in the State of New York, no condemned prisoner has faced his fate with such physical collapse, such decrepitude and such emaciation as have visited Leon F. Czolgosz. His condition is such that he may have to be carried to the electric chair on Tuesday and it is not thought improbable that at the last moment Providence may deprive the State of its duty.


     Czolgosz is today a wreck, lying helpless, mongrel-like, in his cell. His food, pushed through the bars to him, is brought back scarcely touched. If the condemned man is not completely overcome his stocism [sic] will not hold out through the thirty-one hours from midnight tonight until 7 a. m. Tuesday and he may go to death in a fit of hysterics.
     Confinement in his cell and the approach of death have upset his indifference. He has been given no exercise. For thirty days he has seen no daylight and since he entered the prison one month ago today he has not spoken 500 words. His life has slowly crawled away from him as if to avoid the end, and though, as seen in Buffalo during the trial, he was a frail youth, he is now weazened and sallow, weighing less than 100 pounds.
     Warden Mead is so ill that he is unable to leave his bed, pneumonia is threatening him and Deputy Warden Allen P. Tupper will probably officiate at the electrocution.


     Some of those who are to witness the electrocution are already here. State Electrician E. F. Davis, who will make the final test to see that the electrical apparatus is in perfect condition, and whose duty it will be to press the button, arrived at the prison this afternoon. “The apparatus is in perfect condition,” he said. “Everything is ready.” Superintendent of Prisons Cornelius V. Collins will arrive from Albany early tomorrow. Sheriff Caldwell is expected from Buffalo. District Attorney Thomas Penney and Justice White of Buffalo have been invited, but are not expected.
     Efforts are being made by Czolgosz’s brother, Waldeck, to have the body cremated in Buffalo, but Warden Mead is not yet satisfied with the arrangements.
     Whether Czolgosz has been sleeping recently, it is difficult to tell. When Guard Murphy passed the cell at 3 o’clock this morning the prrisoner [sic] moved and looked out and asked, “What t[ime?] is it?” If the prisoner asked the question to calculate the remaining duration of his life, he did not speak of it. When the guard brought the breakfast another question came from the cell. “Its [sic] Sunday, isn’t it?” That was all. Czolgosz lapsed into silence. The breakfast was taken away untouched. All day the prisoner has been resting quietly either sitting up with his chin in his hands or lying on his bunk flat on his back. It is entirely possible that Czolgosz heard some of the noise of the preparations in the electrocution room. Undoubtedly he is aware that the electrocution chair is not fifty feet away from him.


     There has been much activity in the electrocution room today. All of the electrical wires have been strung and tested and the dynamos are awaiting simply the turn of the switch.
     The early readiness has given renewed impetus to the rumor that the execution may take place tomorrow. Assurances come from authority that the rumors are unfounded.
     Trying in the extreme have been the plans for putting a man to death. Yet, while the details of the preparation have been completed, the ethical suggestions of the moment are singularly easy of notation. To Czolgosz, himself, given that he expected execution, his death means punishment without the glory he sought. It was glamour of prospective notoriety that incited Czolgosz to the commission of his fiendish crime. When he stepped into the Temple of Music, glory, as he conceived it, was before him. The laudation of a clique of fanatics was his. Record in history was his.
     What future he saw before him as he wedged through the crowd and felt the trigger of his revolver only he himself knows. But today Czolgosz looks upon the past as a man does sadly upon a vanished illusion. Notoriety has been snatched from him. Even his own clan have refused to voice his name. Locked up in solitude, his actions, his sociological beliefs, his feelings have all gone unchronicled. Obscurity is his, remorse is his, the darkness of a cell is his, the horror of clanging chains, unheard save by himself, is his.


     To the ministers of God, Czolgosz’s death arouses the question of saving a human soul. Up to the present, however, the prisoner has disdained religious belief. Repentance he has shunned as if it were loathsome to him. His relatives, and Catholic priests have importuned him all in vain. Father Hyacinth Fudzinski of Buffalo again and again has knelt down in the cell with the prisoner and has prayed and implored Czolgosz to embrace God. But the prisoner has only sulked. It is characteristic of the assassin’s brutal obstincy [sic].
     To the people Czolgosz’s death means nothing more than the law’s retribution, administered justly, calmly, deliberately. Most gratifying of all is that the assassin’s name has been but little linked with the name of the illustrous [sic] man who fell a victim to his treachery. Without doubt Czolgosz’s fondest hope was that his name and his portrait should live in history. But instead of this and unlike the assassins of Lincoln and Garfield a few months will serve to sweep Czolgosz into oblivion and people will have forgotten how to spell his name.
     The work of putting a man to death will be simple in its execution—it will be merely the pressing of a button, but the details of preparation have been many. Warden Mead, a nervous, sometimes intolerant man, is in the position of an army general charged with the duty of ending the life of one in his command. It is no wonder that the warden is on the verge of collapse. Every detail has come under his eye. The grave digger has come for orders about the quicklime which shall consume Czolgosz’s body, the electricians have discussed their arrangements of the electrocution chair, the guards, the cell keepers, the post-mortem and autopsy physicians have all come for their instructions.
     If the church bells that rang out in Auburn today could have penetrated the walls of the prison they would have sounded a loud death knell in Czolgosz’s ears. But even the songs sung in the services conducted in the prison chapel by Father Kelly immediately after breakfast could not have reached the doomed man. Father J. J. Hickey of the Holy Family Church, is the Catholic chaplain of the prison, but thus far he has not seen Czolgosz.
     “The prisoner has not asked for me,” said Father Hickey, “and it is not our custom to go to the condemned cells without a request. Of course I would consider it my duty to see Czolgosz if he had not already seen a priest.”


     Czolgosz sits alone, defiant even to those who would console him with the thought that the electrocution chair would rob him only of his body.
     Auburn is not much concerned over the prospective execution. Few people have looked with any special interest on the prison. Today less than a score of the curious have stood before the gate and looked in at the omniously [sic] gray buildings. Through the great iron grate, which looks out in the downtown district, can be seen only a little indication of what is within. Through the iron bars, where Gate-Keeper Triffin stands with a two-pound key, are visible a small plot of grass, a bed of flowers, several “privileged” prisoners clad in gray stripes, Warden Mead’s office and a great blank wall. Auburn Prison sets [sic] in the heart of town with a silent bastile-like [sic] solemnity. Sentries passing to and from the top of the walls are the only indication from without that nearly 1,500 people are housed within.
     The guards who are detailed to watch the condemned prisoner day and night are J. G. Martin, Frank Murphy, Christian Haas and Florence Donlan.
     From one who was in the cell house recently the following description is obtained:
     “Czolgosz’s cell is on the ground floor. No windows are in the cell house and the only light comes from a row of incandescent lamps. The lamps being high up in the ceiling, it is almost dark in the cells themselves, so that if you look in at Czolgosz you see only dimly his hands and face. There is a sort of a phantomlike indistinctness which makes you shudder. There are four other condemned prisoners in the house, but the cells are so arranged that each prisoner is practically in solitary confinement. The stillness of the place is oppressive, it being impossible to hear anything distinctly except the ticking of a clock. Why this clock is there, I don’t know, unless it is to make the men realize that their lives are ebbing away.”
     Religious fanatics, social cranks and cranks without any excuse for living, have been pouring in letters of comfort and scorn upon Czolgosz. None of these missives ever reach the prisoner. It is perhaps unfair to women in general to say that members of their sex have written most of these letters. The letters are opened by the warden and destroyed.
     Men, however, have been busy writing letters of another character.
     No less than 2,000 requests for admission to the death chamber have been received. Some of the applicants hold political jobs and have brought political influence to bear. A number of physicians and scientists have applied, [1][2] [“]in the name of science,” but Warden Mead has not much sympathy for these. Only twenty-six will witness the execution. Dr. Carlos F. MacDonald, an insanity expert, will assist in the autopsy. It is hoped at the autopsy to develop some facts as to the condition of Czolgosz’s brain. Dr. John Gerin, the prison physician, will conduct the autopsy.


     Unless arrangements are effected, Warden Mead says that immediately after the autopsy the body of Czolgosz will be placed in a van and driven to the prison box at Ft. Hill Cemetery. The grave will have been dug there previously and fifteen bushels of quicklime will be placed over the remains. This will be sufficient to dissolve the flesh within twenty-four hours. The earth will be covered over the grave flat so that in the future there will be nothing to indicate that Leon F. Czolgosz ever lived.
     Late tonight Waldeck Czolgosz was hopeful that he would be able to have the body cremated at Buffalo, this being the nearest place where a crematory could be found. Waldeck has been in consultation with Undertaker Cameron here and an undertaking firm in Buffalo by the name of Brady.


     Waldeck and Thomas Bandowski, his brother-in-law, were found stopping with some Polish friends in a dirty delapidated [sic] frame house opposite the prison at No. 9 Wall Street. Waldeck talked with a worried uneasiness. Asked if he did not want to be in the execution room, he said, “No, I couldn’t see my brother die. I never could get it out of my mind. Already I have dreamed of seeing it.”
     As to the disposal of his brother’s body, Waldeck said, “We haven’t decided yet. He may be buried by us, he may be cremated or he may be left in charge of the State. It is awful to talk of burying a brother before he is dead. Leon doesn’t seem to feel it as much as we do. My father is anxious to have the body cremated and by tomorrow I hope to complete plans.”


     A partial list of those officially summoned to the execution is given for the first time as follows:
     State Superintendent of Public Instruction Charles R. Skinner.
     State Treasurer John P. Jaeckel, Auburn.
     Supt. C. V. Collins, Albany.
     President of the State Prison Commission Lispenard Stewart.
     Cayuga County Judge Underwood, Auburn.
     State Electrician C. F. Davis.
     District Attorney Thomas Penney, Buffalo.
     Justice White, Buffalo.
     Sheriff Caldwell, Buffalo.
     George R. Peck, Auburn.
     C. F. Rattigan, Auburn.
     Dr. Carlos F. McDonald.
     George E. Graham.
     J. F. Tremain.
     Prison Physician John Gerin.
     Father Szandinski, Rochester.
     Father Fudzinski, Buffalo.
     The priests have been asked to be on hand in case Czolgosz should at the last moment ask for spiritual advice.



top of page