Source: Chicago Daily Tribune
Source type: newspaper
Document type: article
Document title: “Panic at Door of Death Hall”
City of publication: Chicago, Illinois
Date of publication: 18 September 1901
Volume number: 60
Issue number: 261
|“Panic at Door of Death Hall.” Chicago Daily Tribune 18 Sept. 1901 v60n261: part 1, p. 4.|
|Washington, DC (panic: U.S. Capitol: 17 Sept. 1901); William McKinley (lying in state: Washington, DC: public response); McKinley assassination (related tragedies).|
Panic at Door of Death Hall
Hundreds Are Injured in Wild Rush to See Body of the President.
TRAMPLED UNDER FOOT.
Women and Children Crushed Down in Struggle, Many Having Clothes Torn Off.
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 of humanity.
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, and children.
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 for treatment.
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
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.