Panic at Door of Death Hall
Hundreds Are Injured in Wild Rush to See Body of
TRAMPLED UNDER FOOT.
Women and Children Crushed Down in Struggle, Many Having Clothes
POLICE GUARD IS HELPLESS.
Washington, D. C., Sept. 17.—[Special.]—Hundreds
of persons were injured, many seriously, in a panic at the Capitol
building today, during the time that the body of President McKinley
was lying in state.
For an hour the great crowd, estimated
at 40,000 persons, was beyond control. It was a howling mob all
this time, those in the rear pushing forward, the sooner to get
to the rotunda in which the casket was on view, while those in front
were forced up the stairs, crushed against the building, or hurled
through the one door which offered entrance to the chamber of death.
Weaker Ones Trampled under Foot.
Women and children and even strong
men were trampled under foot by those around them and by the horses
of three mounted policemen, who were surrounded by the surging mass
The panic began immediately after
the doors of the rotunda were opened to admit the general public
to view the body of President McKinley.
Scores of women and children fainted,
a number of persons sustained broken ribs and broken limbs, and
at least one is suffering from internal injuries. There are many
in the hospitals and at their homes suffering from injuries and
from nervous shock, and it may be impossible ever to tell the extent
of the injury done.
The panic undoubtedly was due to inadequate
police protection and to the bad judgment of the three mounted officers,
who rode their horses through the enormous crowd of men, women,
Injured Taken into Hall of Death.
The corridors of the Capitol, the
committeerooms, and even the rotunda, in which was lying the body
of the dead President, were converted into emergency hospitals.
Many of the injured were conveyed to the regular hospitals, while
others were taken to their homes.
One old soldier, who was seriously
injured, pitifully begged to be taken to a place where he could
die in peace.
The scene was a wildly exciting one.
The panic lasted nearly an hour, and it was only due to the good
judgment of an artilleryman in the rotunda that this hall was not
filled with the sea of surging humanity.
It is estimated that there were 40,000
persons on the plaza at the east front of the Capitol when the panic
happened. Absolutely no precautions were taken to control the crowd,
excepting that 100 policemen were on guard. No ropes were stretched,
and as some of the mounted officers rode into the crowd it began
surging toward the Capitol.
Police Guard Is Inadequate.
The panic came so suddenly that the
few police officers and about 100 artillerymen on duty were inadequate
to handle the situation, and within a short time were almost overwhelmed
by the people.
A few moments before the public was
admitted to the rotunda a single rope was stretched across the big
staircase leading to the great hall, the ends were not attached
to anything, but were merely held by police officers, who stood
upon the bottom step. In the center of the staircase an opening
wide enough to admit two persons walking abreast was left. Immediately
behind the policemen who were holding the rope was another row of
police officers, extending across the staircase. Behind the officers
were three rows of artillerymen, all of whom were heavy men.
When the word was given to admit the
public there was a rush towards the rope, and many persons were
swept off their feet and trampled beneath the heels of others who
seemed frantic to gain admittance to the building.
Women and Children in Terror.
Instantly a surging sea of humanity
covered the entire plaza. Women, children, and old men were the
worst sufferers, and these were pushed and jostled about in a merciless
manner by younger and stronger men. Every one became terror-stricken,
and the shrieks of the frightened women and children were heard
for blocks. The weaker ones were unable to extricate themselves
from the dense mass, and many of them fainted.
There were repeated rushes for the
opening which had been left to admit the people, and the crowd became
so congested at this point that it required the united strength
of two or three men to extricate one person from the mob.
As soon as word could be sent to the
hospitals and the police station, patrol wagons and ambulances arrived,
and were driven through the outskirts of the crowd, and the fainting
women and injured men were placed in them and carried to the hospital
The panic lasted nearly an hour, and
it was becoming worse every moment.
Army officers and civilians, who were
in places of safety, attempted to wave back the people, but their
efforts were misunderstood by the terror-stricken ones and were
of no avail.
Officers Drop the Rope.
After the police officers and artillerymen
had succeeded in partly holding their positions and kept the crowd
in check to some extent, they finally realized that they were playing
against unequal odds, and in order to relieve the congestion, they
dropped the rope to admit the people to ascend the staircase, enter
the building, and leave it on the opposite side.
This did relieve the pressure for
a moment, but almost immediately after the frail obstacle had been
removed the crush became greater than ever and thousands of persons
were forced up the steep stairway, a distance of nearly 200 feet,
and against the walls of the Capitol building. Many were lifted
from their feet and carried up the entire flight of steps by the
pressure from those in the rear.
When those on the staircase reached
the top, they believed they would be safe. In this, however, they
were mistaken, for the only outlet was one door around which dozens
of persons were jammed together.
The crowd continued to surge up toward
the building, and some of those at the head of the staircase were
forced through the door and into the rotunda.
Thousands of panic-stricken persons
continued to be shoved up by the tens of thousands behind.
Many Stripped of Clothing.
Women in a fainting condition were
forced and pulled through the congested doorway by those who were
behind them and those in the building who attempted to rescue them.
When they reached the rotunda some of the women were actually without
an article of clothing above the waist, while others lost their
skirts, waists, hats, purses, watches, and jewelry. The hair of
nearly every woman was disheveled, and there were few who were not
in a fainting condition when they were dragged into the building.
Those who were unable to care for
themselves were placed upon couches and were attended by physicians
who had been summoned from the hospitals.
During all this excitement the small
squad of police officers were doing their best to quiet the people
and stop their pressing forward. The efforts of the officers and
soldiers on the stairway had little effect, however, and many persons
were clubbed by them. This added to the terror of the people, and
the presence of three horses directly at the foot of the staircase
made matters worse.
Horses Plunge through Crowd.
These animals were badly frightened,
and they pranced and plunged about in terror. With every movement
of one of these horses and with every movement of the crowd, the
shrieks of the women and children were heard.
Not only were the members of the weaker
sex overcome by the ordeal through which they passed but scores
of strong men were prostrated, and staggered into the building when
they could free themselves from the jam outside.
Mounted Men Charge into Mob.
When the panic had been in progress
thirty minutes, the policemen seemed to regain control of themselves.
A battalion of mounted officers was sent to the rear of the crowd
and charged it two or three times to relieve the pressure. This
gave some relief, but the panic continued for nearly another half
hour, and, seeing the wholesome effect the charge upon the crowd
had made, it was tried repeatedly, and finally the people regained
their feet, cooled down somewhat, and the panic ceased.
Cowardice Shown by Officer.
At least one police officer was guilty
of cowardice, and will, in all probability, be dismissed in disgrace
if his identity can be established. After struggling with the crowd
for a short time he deserted his post and started to escape the
panic by going through the building. An army officer commanded him
to return to his duty. The policeman replied, with an oath, that
he did not propose to risk his life by entering the crowd. He said
he would be perfectly willing to lose his position, but that he
would not perform his duty at the risk of his life. He was as good
as his word, and during the awful moments that followed sought a
place of safety.
An incident which illustrates the
desperate straits of the people was seen directly at the foot of
the staircase, when the officers on horseback were. The horses were
prancing about in such an excited manner that they were crushing
women and children.
Determined men seized the bridles
of the horses, and others crowded about them so closely as almost
to prevent any movement on the part of the animals.
Threats of Violence Made.
Threats were made to do violence
to the officers if they attempted to ride among the people. This
forced the policemen to dismount, and it had a quieting effect.
There is a strange and unaccountable
ignorance on the part of the officials at police headquarters tonight,
and when asked for information as to the number of persons injured
they profess to know nothing of the panic and say no report has
been made of it.