Saw the Assassination [excerpt]
A. H. Willett, of Portland, Eye-Witness of Shooting.
A. H. Willett, the well-known
mining man of this city, whose home is in Irvington, was an eyewitness
of the assassination of President McKinley. Mr. Willett returned
to Portland yesterday, and to an Oregonian reporter he told the
story of the crime which has shocked the world, from the standpoint
of one who actually witnessed it.
“I was standing about 30 feet from
the President when he was shot,” said Mr. Willett. “I was not in
the line that was slowly marching past him and shaking hands, but
was standing off observing him, as one would naturally look at the
President of the United States at close range when opportunity offered.
“I saw a young and very ordinary-looking
man with his right hand apparently wrapped in a bandage, walk along
in the line, and reach out his left hand to shape [sic] hands with
the President. Suddenly two sharp reports from a pistol rang out,
and I saw the President reel, but not fall. Then, in a space of
time much shorter than it takes me to tell it, I saw that the bandage
on the man’s hand was afire. I saw a colored man who was following
him in line throw his arm around the assassin’s neck, and bend him
backward until I thought he would choke him to death. Instantly
I saw another man, who had been standing near the President, rush
forward and strike the assassin a blow in the face that knocked
him down, carrying the negro down with him. I found out afterward
that this was a secret service man.
“I distinctly heard President McKinley
say when he was shot, ‘How could you?’ The President was assisted
to a chair, and the ambulance was summoned, which took him away.
“In the meantime there was great excitement
amounting to a panic in the building. For a moment the people did
not realize that the President had been shot, but when a sense of
the awful deed came over them their fury knew no bounds. If Czolgosz
had not been hurried out of the building before the crowd fully
awakened to the awfulness of his crime, he would have been torn
“The sight of that shooting, the scene
which followed, and the awful excitement of that night will be engraved
on my memory to the last day of my life. I see now as vividly as
I did when I actually witnessed it, and I cannot yet shake off the
feeling that overcame me then. The scene in Buffalo that night,
while the people eag[e]rly waited for each word of news from the
President’s bedside, beggars description. Coupled with sorrow for
the deed, and sympathy for the President and his invalid wife, there
was a feeling of vindictiveness that was awful. It was well for
Czolgosz that he was protected that night. One incident that I particularly
remember, wa[s] where a man declared on the street that President
McKinley had gotten what he deserved. A Catholic priest, who stood
near, rushed up to the man, and hit him a stunning blow in the face
that knocked him 10 feet. Other incidents of the same nature occurred
during the night.
“I was in Philadelphia when the President
died. Great crowds stood in front of the newspaper offices, awaiting
the end, and when it came, the crowd received the news in sorrowful
silence. Then some one in the crowd started to sing, ‘Nearer, My
God, to Thee,’ and in a moment the words of the hymn were taken
up by the vast multitude and sung with a feeling that I shall never
forget. When the singing ceased a minister offered prayer. I read
in the papers that the crowds around the bulletin boards in Chicago
also sang that grand old hymn.
“The feeling in the East over the
President’s assassination is very intense, and it is evident to
my mind that vigorous measures will be taken everywhere by municipal
authorities to stamp out anarchy without waiting for action by Congress.
It will soon be so that a man will not dare avow himself a ‘red.’”