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Source: Buffalo Courier
Source type: newspaper
Document type: article
Document title: “Czolgosz’s Last Hours and Death”
Author(s): Steep, Thomas W.
City of publication: Buffalo, New York
Date of publication: 29 October 1901
Volume number: 66
Issue number: 302
Pagination: 1-2

Steep, Thomas W. “Czolgosz’s Last Hours and Death.” Buffalo Courier 29 Oct. 1901 v66n302: pp. 1-2.
full text
Leon Czolgosz (execution); Leon Czolgosz (incarceration: Auburn, NY: visitations); Hyacinth Fudzinski; Waldeck Czolgosz; Czolgosz family (at Auburn, NY); Leon Czolgosz (incarceration: Auburn, NY); Leon Czolgosz (disposal of remains); Leon Czolgosz (execution: witnesses); Waldeck Czolgosz (public statements); Hyacinth Fudzinski (public statements); Thomas Bandowski; Carlos F. MacDonald (public statements); Leon Czolgosz; Leon Czolgosz (public statements); Auburn State Prison.
Named persons
Thomas Bandowski; Howard M. Cameron; Cornelius V. Collins; Leon Czolgosz; Paul Czolgosz; Waldeck Czolgosz [first name misspelled once below]; Edwin F. Davis [first initial wrong below]; Hyacinth Fudzinski; John Gerin; David Bennett Hill; John P. Jaeckel; Erastus C. Knight; Carlos F. MacDonald [misspelled four times below]; William McKinley; J. Warren Mead; Benjamin B. Odell, Jr.; John N. Ross [middle initial wrong below]; Charles R. Skinner.
The article below is accompanied on page 1 with separate photographs of Czolgosz and Warden Mead.


Czolgosz’s Last Hours and Death



     Auburn, Oct. 28.—Early in the morning the extent of the law’s retribution will have been exerted to avenge the murder of William McKinley.
     Leon F. Czolgosz, the assassin, will be blotted out of existence, his clothes will be burned, his body will be annihilated by quicklime and every vestige showing that he ever lived will be wiped off the face of the earth. Tonight the condemned man sits in his cell apparently to [sic] ignorant, too conscienceless, to [sic] soulless to suffer.


     Witnesses who are to be in the execution room when the current is turned on, have been notified to appear in the warden’s office not later than 7:10 tomorrow morning. Shortly before this time Czolgosz will be taken out of his cell and stationed at the door of the adjoining electrocution room. When the twenty-six witnesses are seated State Electrician C. F. Davis will take his position at the switchboard, the door between the condemned cell house and the electrocution room will be swung open, Warden J. Warren Mead will enter the death chamber with the prisoner, the clasps strapping the condemned man in the chair will be fixed over his extremities and head and the switch will be turned.
     Whether Czolgosz will create a scene in the face of death is, of course, conjectural. Father Fudzinski, of Buffalo, who saw the prisoner this evening, said he believes that Czolgosz will sleep before the execution until he is awakened by the death watch guards. This, the priest attributes to the condemned man’s depravity and singular lack of spiritual sense. Upon returning from a visit to the condemned cell late tonight, Waldeck Czolgosz said that his brother was in the same non-communicative mood. He said the prisoner was indifferent as to whether his father came to see him or not.


     Czolgosz will die without repenting. He told Father Fudzinski that he would not avow any religious faith. Father Fudzinski left the prisoner with the understanding that he would return again if called at any time during the night or morning, but Czolgosz made it emphatic that the services of the priest would not be necessary.
     In spite of these indications of indifference, it is known that the condemned man’s physical decline is such that he may have to be carried to the chair.


     Up to late tonight State Prison Superintendent Cornelius V. Collins and Warden Mead were still arguing with Waldeck Czolgosz over the disposal of the body. At the end of the conference, Waldeck agreed to sign a paper relinquishing all claims on the remains and thus abandoning his plan to have the body incinerated at Buffalo. Word was received that the Buffalo crematory would refuse to incinerate the body.
     Waldeck saw his brother twice today. In the afternoon at 4 o’clock he held a conversation lasting twenty minutes. In the evening he held another conference, promising on his departure, to return at 3 o’clock in the morning and remain up to within a short time before the execution.
     At 6 p. m. tonight a double death watch was placed over Czolgosz. One guard was stationed within the cell with the prisoner, and another immediately outside. This was done to prevent Czolgosz from attempting suicide, and also to be alert in case the condemned man breaks down, and at the last moment confesses to an anarchistic plot implicating others in his crime.
     Supt. Collins made another attempt to extort a confession from the prisoner earlier in the evening. He accompanied Waldeck to the cell.


     In the death chamber are no windows and Czolgosz, when he enters it, will be unable to see the breaking of the day which shall be his last. A short time before he will be served with breakfast, if he wishes it. The death chamber is a room twenty feet wide and three [sic] feet long, barren, except for twenty-six chairs arranged in rows of thirteen each on two sides, the electrocution chair itself and a box containing the motors. As soon as Dr. John Gerin, the prison physician, pronounces the life extinct the body will be removed to the post-mortem examination room, where the autopsy will begin at once. Dr. Carlos F. MacDonald will remove and take charge of the brain. The clothes and papers of the prisoner will be burned. After the autopsy has been performed the remains will be buried in quicklime, either in the grounds within the prison walls, or in the prison lot at Fort Hill Cemetery, one mile distant.
     The action of the quicklime is that of burning, and all but the bones will be consumed within twenty-four hours. In less than a week the bones will have become destroyed. The grave will be flattened over to obliterate the location. Much official red tape has been gone through in the selection of witnesses. It is said that fully to inform himself on the proper course to pursue, Gov. Odell has drawn on the experience of former Gov. David B. Hill. From Gov. Odell the selection was referred to Supt. Collins, and by him to Warden Mead.


     In consequence of this a high imperial hand has ruled over Auburn prison. Unwarranted secrecy has prevailed. Warden Mead has been irritable, discourteous and fearful lest he should impeach the authority of his superiors, and Supt. Collins, by instigating an atmosphere of mystery, has defeated his own plans to be inconspicuous.
     State Comptroller Erastus C. Knight, informed the prison officials that he would decline to act as the foreman of the witnesses and State Treasurer John P. Jaeckel of Auburn, has been selected for the place. Supt. Collins arrived this afternoon and immediately went into consultation with Warden Mead. Some of the witnesses were in consultation with Superintendent of Public Instruction Charles R. Skinner, Electrician Davis, Dr. Gerin, Dr. McDonald and the prison officials.


     In the decision of the state not to allow the body to go into the hands of the family, much notoriety is curtailer [sic], the dignity of the state is maintained and great odium is spared Buffalo, where it was the ostensible purpose of Waldeck Czolgosz to have his brother’s body cremated.
     It seems that Waldeck Czolgosz had gone so far as [sic] his plans as to have definitely arranged with Howard Cameron, an undertaker, to have the body sent to Buffalo. When the pressure of the state was brought to bear, Weldeck tried to recover $35 which he had paid the undertaker.
     John W. Ross, the Bertillion [sic] expert of the prison, is making an effort to secure the money.
     Waldeck Czolgosz received a telegram from Paul Czolgosz, his father, at Cleveland, in which the latter said he could not come.


     From Waldeck is learned what is known of Czolgosz’s last day. “I talked with my brother twenty minutes this afternoon and again this evening,” said Waldeck. “When I left tonight I said I would return to him about 3 o’clock in the morning and would stay with him up until the time of the execution. I asked Leon what he wanted done with his body and he said he didn’t care what became of him. When I entered the prison the guards stood close beside me. They made me speak to Leon in English. I shook hands with my brother through the bars and then sat down close to the cell. We didn’t talk very fast or say much to each other. I don’t think Leon will weaken. He never shows any sign of crying. I asked him is he was sorry and he didn’t answer. I asked him if he wanted to see a priest again and he said, ‘No, I never asked for any and I think they are humbugs.’ I asked Leon if he wanted to see father and he said he did, if he was in town, but didn’t want him sent for.


     “I think it is best that Leon’s body should be disposed of by the State. At first I thought I would insist on taking it, but I am satisfied from what Warden Mead told me, that there would be trouble if we attempted to take it to any other city.
     “I won’t see the execution. When they are ready for that I will go out.”
     From the standpoint of those who have tried to console him, Czolgosz’s actions have been disappointing. It was thought that on at least the last day the prisoner would show repentance. The Polish priests were confident of this, and Father Fudzinski, who has on two occasions traveled from Buffalo, had a long but fruitless talk with the condemned man. Father Fudzinski says Czolgosz’s failure to confess to him has been due to the influence of Waldeck, who, though a Catholic, is not an ardent one.


     “It seems hopeless,” said the priest, “I have tried in vain to bring Czolgosz to God. When I left I told him I would be ready to go to his side at any time during the day or night. But I do not think he will call me. He is the most heartless man I ever saw. He has not the grace to love God. I think he is so without conscience that he will actually sleep tonight. I think Czolgosz would have confessed if it were not for the presence of his brother.
     “Czolgosz is an extremely indifferent person. This, I learn, is due to his bad association. He never knew his mother and has always been in low company.”


     Thomas Bandowski, a brother-in-law of Czolgosz, is Waldeck’s constant companion, and it was through the advice of the former that Waldeck conceived the scheme to take the body away. Bandowski is without sentiment in the matter and this fact, coupled with Waldeck’s vacillation, is a good indication of the surroundings from which Leon sprang. The priest is displeased with Waldeck.
     “It is not Waldeck who is to be executed,” he said, “and this brother has no right to exert a bad influence.”
     Dr. McDonald of New York, a former president of the State Lunacy Commission and one of the alienists who examined the assassin at Buffalo and pronounced him sane, is to be the principal attending physician. Dr. McDonald will make a microscopical examination of Czolgosz’s brain.
     “I don’t expect to find anything startling,” said Dr. McDonald, “except that he has a small brain.”


     Listless, gaping crowds hung about the prison gate today to get a glimpse of the supposed activity within. State officials were ingoing and outgoing all day, and when Waldeck Czolgosz appeared the people followed him down the street.


     Leon Frederick Czolgosz, the creature who assassinated President McKinley, paid the penalty of his crime fifty-three days after firing the fatal shot in the Temple of Music at the Pan-American Exposition grounds. His post-criminal existence was a shorter period than that suffered by any other murdere [sic] upon whom the hand of the law in America has fallen. Without doubt he was the most remarkable criminal that this country has ever produced. In future years when sages sadden over the end of McKinley’s career and trace back the events precedent to his undeserved murder, their scholarly brains will no doubt be astounded over this most atrocious, motiveless crime.
     The electric current at Auburn today shocked out the life of a strange, irrational creature of a type with whom his jailers and executioners were totally unfamiliar. He was in full possession of his mental faculties, distorted, however, by an emotional and a receptive imagination. In life he was morbid, taciturn, selfish, gluttonous, shrewdly cunning, industrious, economical, studious and a total abstainer from all forms of intoxicating liquor. These characteristics, many of them inharmonious, were possessed by the deceased. He always appeared to have a clear comprehension of everything that was transpiring about him and upon one occasion only did his colossal nerve forsake him. That was on the morning of September 27th when he was dragged to his cell shrieking and moaning like a hysterical woman.
     During his last days at Auburn he acted much as he did while in jail in Buffalo. He reposed on the cot in his cell almost constantly, and gazed fixedly at the wall opposite him or at the guards who sat in the corridor within three feet of his cell door. He was ever ready to eat, and devoured the prison fare with the greediness of a savage. He slept long but not sound, and resented being disturbed.
     In his waking hours he demanded cigars, but he did not encourage conversation. When he was addressed by one of his guards he replied in monosyllables, and the longest conversation maintained with them was about the quality of the prison fare, which he did not think was good enough.
     On Sunday he broached the subject of the probable sensations of a man being put to death in the electric chair after he had sat on his cot for more than an hour smoking a cigar and gazing fixedly through the bars of his cell door.
     “How does it feel?” he asked suddenly, looking up at the guard.
     “How does what feel?” sniffed the guard.
     “That—in there,” said the assassin, jerking his thumb toward the wall, twenty feet beyond which was the entrance to the death chamber, where he is to pay the penalty of his crime.
     “Oh, you’ll know,” said the guard contemptuously, for nobody about the prison has the least spark of feeling for the assassin. “It’s soon over.”
     The assassin started to say something else, but changed his mind and retreated to the extreme end of the cell. He dropped his cigar to the floor, and the guard, peering in at him, saw that he was shaking in a palsy of fear, just as he did when the mob attacked him at the prison gate on the night he came.
     When Superintendent of Prisons Collins visited him a few days ago he shrank to the far end of his cot, and only came to the door when a threat was made by the guards that they would come in after him.
     Hundreds of letters were received at the prison addressed to him. He never saw any one of these. Packages containing Bibles and other books of a religious nature, and in some instances fruit and dainties, have found their way to the warden’s office with the assassin’s name written upon them. All these letters and packages alike have, by direction of Gov. Odell, been destroyed. The assassin did not even know of the receipt of a single one of them.
     His conduct in his cell during his last few days of life was most remarkable. When he came to the door in obedience to a command from the guard the assassin invariably clutched the cross bars on a level with his head. He rerely [sic] looked at the guards when they addressed him, but always vacantly at the floor. He hung heavily by his hands and stooped forward. He was not prepossessing to look upon, not so much so, even, as during his trial, when he was neatly clothed, his face smoothly shaven and his hair carefully parted.
     He appeared to be unlike any type of Anarchist criminal with which the public is familiar. When he stood erect he was seen to be about five feet eight inches in height and to weigh about 140 pounds. His figure might have been called athletic were it not for an unmistakable droop of the shoulders. He was garbed in a prison-made suit of gray flannel blouse and trousers.
     Through the opening of the blouse at the throat was seen a coarse gray woolen shirt. On his feet were gray woolen hose and a pair of gray felt slippers, the soles of which made no noise as he walked. His hunching attitude at the door of his cell gave him the appearance of being squat of figure. When he straightened up he was seen to be rather well formed. The least unattractive features of his personality were his eyes and the shape of his head. The most abnormal features were his ears and nose.
     His forehead was high, though narrow. The apex of his head was round and full and suggested strength. The head was broadest between the ears and fullest there also. Over his head was tumbled a mass of thick, heavy hair that appeared dark-brown in the gloom of the cell, but was seen to be of a rich bronze hue as he stood clinging to the bars of his cell door. It was parted from left to right, well down [1][2] on the left side, and brushed in a heavy wave or “reach” over to the right side. At the point on the forehead where the part started was an almost perfect triangle, the base of which was made by the one line in his face, a deep furrow at the hair line.
     His nose was long, straight and prominent. The top of it seemed to jut right out between his eyes and to provide a heavy arch for each of them. The nose descended straight to a blunt tip, from which the wide nostrils curved irregularly.
     The assassin’s eyes were keen and gray-blue. They seemed to look out from cavernous depths under heavy brows. There was nearly a quarter of an inch between the bulging bones that overhung his eyes and the eyes themselves. The eyes were steady in expression. They looked keenly at an object when he raised them, were turned furtively away as soon as the eyes of other persons sought his face.
     Since his imprisonment in the death-house he rarely looked squarely at any of the few persons who have addressed him. Sometimes when he was in the rear of his cell the guards detected the steady scrutiny of themselves by those keen gray eyes. It was not often, however, that he deigned even to look at them.
     The ears of the assassin were almost round. They were small and laid flat against his head, most of the time being partially covered by his thick hair. The lobes were thin almost to transparency and were connected at the lower end in a straight line with his jawbone.
     Through the thin dark hair that covered his upper lip and the lower part of his face could be seen a mouth that was singularly in contradiction with the rest of his features. The lips were curved and the lines at the corners trend upward, lending to the face a pleasant expression. The teeth were large, even, and in good condition.
     The complexion of the face was good. On the upper part of one cheek, where the fringe of hair ended, was a mole mark quite as large as a black head pin.
     The beard on the chin was not so heavy as to effectually conceal the weakness of that feature. From a rather uncertain curve of the cheek bones the chin descended to a point. It seemed to be tip-tilted, receding between the point and the lower lip.
     The neck was full, firm and white, and called for a 16-inch collar. The skin disclosed between the unbuttoned hems of his undershirt was white and smooth.
     His arms were long and end in a remarkable pair of hands. The hands were covered with thick, straw-colored hair.
     As the time for his execution approached the assassin seemed to be more terrorized even than he was when he first came, but he gave little actual evidence of fear. He was very dejected and sat for hours without saying a word. He seemed to fear most the noises made by the 1,200 prisoners at their work in the shops during the day. At night he was quiet enough, but during the day he manifested great uneasiness and trembled at every unusual sound.
     Every time the door leading to the death house opened he shrunk back to the farthest end of his cot and sat there trembling and frightened. The noise made by some workmen in the death chamber caused him to sob and to moan like some frightened animal. When the guard asked him, “What’s the matter with you?” he was unable to reply for a minute. The guard started to open the door, thinking he had fainted. Then the assassin stammered between chattering lips:
     “I thought they were coming! I thought they were coming!”
     He continued to shudder and tremble and cringed on the floor during the hour that the workmen were engaged in the death chamber.
     The part of the prison in which the assassin was confined is separated from the main building. It was at the further end of the courtyard and is a low, one-story brick structure with walls four feet thick and lighted by windows just below the roof.
     Within this building is another structure—one of steel—separated from the main wall by a corridor six feet wide. This corridor runs the entire length and width of the building. The inner structure provides room for the death cells. These cells are more spacious than those occupied by the other prisoners. Each is eight feet long and four feet wide. The walls of the cells were grayish white.
     There were only two articles of furniture in the room—a cot two and a half feet wide and six feet long and a toilet stand equipped with running water. The cot was of iron and the strings of thin sheet iron. Over this was laid a prison-made mattress and a pillow. As the temperature of the death house was maintained at a comfortable point, a blanket was not necessary.
     The only means of illumination in the cell was an electric light just above the cell door outside. When this was extinguished a light was left burning on the outer wall so that the guard could command a view of the interior of the cell.
     When the assassin emerged from his cell to pay the penalty of his crime he traversed a distance of twenty-five feet. He passed two of the cells on the same side of the building as the one he left, walked fifteen feet to the narrow corridor, five feet down that and through a great iron door that is only opened when the law demands the taking of a life.
     Through this door he passed. The door shut behind him instantly, so that no sound reached the ears of the other men in the condemned cells. Five feet from the door he saw the chair of death.
     His guards conducted him over the five feet of intervening space, seated him in the chair and strapped the electrodes to his head, arm and legs. The witnessed were seated on little stools around the narrow apartment.
     Standing within six feet of him, but concealed by a wooden partition, to his right and in the rear of the chair, was the executioner, his hand clutching a knob on the switch-board affixed to the partition, ready to turn on the current of electricity that put an end to the existence of the President’s slayer.
     The time consumed in an execution from the moment the condemned man leaves his cell in the death house until his life has paid the forfeit for his crime, is less than three minutes. The actual journey from cell to chair, if the condemned man makes no resistance, is usually accomplished in less than a minute.
     Once in the chair, short work was made by the trained assistants of the executioner in affixing the apparatus to his limbs and head and connecting the wires that descend from the roof to the conical metallic cap placed on the head of the prisoner with the arms and legs of the chair, which are sheathed with active electrical conductors.
     A hurried examination was made to see that everything was all right. Then the warden with a handkerchief in his hand signaled to the executioner, who was looking on.
     The current was applied and the body of the assassin for a second became rigid and then relaxed. Leon F. Czolgosz was dead.



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