Publication information
view printer-friendly version
Source: Pittsburgh Commercial Gazette
Source type: newspaper
Document type: article
Document title: “Graphic Story by an Eyewitness”
Author(s): Silver, H. C.
City of publication: Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
Date of publication: 7 September 1901
Volume number: 116
Issue number: 36
Pagination: 1, 3

Silver, H. C. “Graphic Story by an Eyewitness.” Pittsburgh Commercial Gazette 7 Sept. 1901 v116n36: pp. 1, 3.
full text
McKinley assassination [in notes]; McKinley assassination (eyewitness accounts: H. C. Silver); McKinley assassination (eyewitnesses); McKinley assassination (public response).
Named persons
Manuel de Azpiroz [variant spelling below]; Johann Sebastian Bach; William I. Buchanan; George B. Cortelyou; Leon Czolgosz [in notes]; William A. Damer; George F. Foster; William J. Gomph; Samuel R. Ireland [identified once as Cland below]; Vertner Kenerson [misspelled below]; Ida McKinley; William McKinley; John G. Milburn; Presley M. Rixey; H. C. Silver [in notes]; Alfred F. Zittel [identified as Seitell below].
This item by H. C. Silver (below) comprises a large portion of an anonymously-authored newspaper article titled “President Is Shot Down by an Anarchist.” The entirety of the text preceding Silver’s contribution reads as follows (beginning with the article’s subheads):

Wounded Twice by Man Who Approached to Shake His Hand During Public
Reception at Buffalo.
Walls of Stomach Perforated—One Bullet Extracted, the Other Not Found—
Assassin in Custody—Mrs. McKinley Hears the News and Bears Up
Bravely—Victim Removed to Home of President John G. Milburn of Exposition.

     President William McKinley was shot twice during the progress of a public reception at the Temple of Music at the Pan-American exposition at Buffalo shortly after 4 o’clock yesterday afternoon.
     One bullet inflicted a slight but painful wound in the president’s breast, the other penetrating the abdomen, perforating both walls of the stomach.
     The assassin was immediately set upon by secret service officers and bystanders and borne to the floor. His victim sank backward into the arms of his secretary. He was taken to the Emergency hospital, where the bullet which had struck him in the breast was extracted. Later he was removed to the home of John G. Milburn, president of the exposition, and a search made for the other bullet, which, however, was not found.
     The president’s assailant gave his name as Frederick Nieman, and his residence variously as Detroit, Cleveland or Toledo. His other statements were contradictory and unsatisfactory.
     Later he admitted that his name was Leon Czolgosz and that his home is in Cleveland.
     The following account of the tragedy was telegraphed the Commercial Gazette by H. C. Silver, who was within ten feet of the president at the time[.]

Silver’s contribution is immediately followed, after a dividing line, by an untitled and uncredited twenty-paragraph Associated Press (AP) news story. It is unclear if this AP story is intended as the closing portion of “President Is Shot Down by an Anarchist” or as a separate news item.


Graphic Story by an Eyewitness


BUFFALO, N. Y., Sept. 6, 1901.     

     Five minutes before the tragedy the crowd was in the most cheerful humor in the Temple of Music. The police had experienced no trouble of any kind, and when the president’s carriage, containing besides the executive, President Milburn of the Pan-American exposition and Private Secretary Cortelyou, drove up to the side entrance to the temple it was met by a mighty salute of cheers and applause.
     The president was escorted to the door of the building. Immediately the carriage containing Secret Service Operators George Foster and S. R. Cland drove up, and these detectives, with several other secret service men, entered the building together. Inside they were met my [sic] Director General Buchanan, who had arrived but a moment before, and he directed them where to stand.
     In passing to the place the president took off his hat and smiled pleasantly to the little group of newspaper men and to the guards who had been stationed in the place. To one of the reporters he spoke, smilingly, saying:
     “It is much cooler in here, isn’t it?”

Where the President Stood.

     The interior of the building had been arranged for the purpose. From the main entrance, which opens to the southeast from the temple on to the wide esplanade, where the thousands had gathered, an aisle had been made through the rows of seats in the building to near the center. This aisle was about eight feet wide, and turned from the center to the southwest door of the temple, so that there was a passage dividing the south part of the structure into a right angle.
     It was so arranged that the people who would shake hands with the president would enter at the southeast door, meet the president in the center and then pass on out the southwest door. Where the aisle made the curve in the center of the building the corner had been decorated with tall palms and green plants, so the president stood under a bower. Both sides of the long aisle were covered with continuous strips of purple bunting, the color indicative of the significance of the occasion.
     From the southeast door and extending on up to and around the curve was a line of soldiers from the Seventy-third Sea Coast artillery on each side and these were interspersed with neatly uniformed guards from the exposition police, under the command of Capt. Damer.

Detectives Were on Their Guard.

     When the presidential party was within the building the soldiers were ordered to come “to attention” and all took their places. The president was escorted to the center of the palm bower, and Mr. Milburn took a position on his left, so as to introduce the people. Secretary Cortelyou stood by the president to the right. Secret Service Operator Foster, who has traveled everywhere with the president, took a position not more than two feet in front of Mr. Milburn, and Secret Service Operator Ireland stood by his left, so that he (Ireland) was the same distance in front of the president as was Foster in front of the exposition’s president.
     Through this narrow two-foot passage the people who would meet the president must pass, and when all was ready, with detectives scattered throughout the aisle, the president smiled to Mr. Buchanan, who was standing near the corporal in charge of the artillerymen, and said that he was ready to meet the people. He was very pleasant and as he waited for the doors to open he rubbed his hands together, adjusted his long Prince Albert coat and laughingly chatted with Mr. Milburn, while Secretary Cortelyou gave a few last instructions to the officers as to the manner in which the crowds were to be hurried on through, so that as many as possible could meet the president.

President Greeted the Children Warmly.

     Mr. Milburn ordered the door to open, and immediately a wavering line of people, who had been squeezed against the outside of the door for hours, began to wend its way up through the line of soldiers and police to the place where the president stood. An old man with very white hair was the first to reach the president, and on his shoulders he carried a little girl, who received a warm salutation.
     Organist W. J. Gomph started on the sonata in F by Bach, low at first and swelling gradually to more majestic proportions until the whole auditorium was filled with the melodious tones of the big pipe organ.
     The crowd had been pouring through hardly more than five minutes when the organist brought from his powerful instrument its most roaring notes, drowning even the shuffle of feet. Fully half of the people who passed the president were women and children. To every child the president bent over, shook hands warmly and said some kind words so as to make the young heart glad. As each person passed he was viewed critically by the secret service men. Their hands were watched, their faces and actions noted.

Appearance of the Anarchist Assassin.

     Far down the line a man of unusual aspect to some appeared, taking his turn in the line. He was short, heavy, dark, and under the heavy dark mustache was a pair of straight bloodless lips. Under the black brows gleamed a pair of glistening black eyes. He was picked at once as a suspicious person, and when he reached Foster the secret service man, the detective, held his hand on him until he had reached the president and had clasped his hand. Ireland was equally alert and the slightest move on the part of this man, who is now supposed to have been an accomplice, and for whom a search is being made, would have been checked by the officers.
     Immediately following this man was the assassin. He was a rather tall, boyish-looking fellow, apparently 25 years of age and of German-American extraction. His smooth, rather pointed, face would not indicate his purpose in slaying the nation’s executive. The secret service men noted that about his right hand was wrapped a handkerchief, and as he carried the hand uplifted, as though supported by a sling under his coat, the officers believed his hand was injured, and especially as he extended his left hand across the right so as to shake hands with the president. It was noticed that the Italian who was in front of the assassin held back, apparently to shield the young man, so that it was necessary to push him.

A Shot for a Handshake.

     The organist had now reached the climax to the wild strains of the sonata. A more inspiring scene could hardly be imagined. Innocently facing the assassin the president smiled that smile of dignity, benevolence and compassion as he extended his right hand to meet the left of the supposedly wounded fiend. As the youth extended his left hand, he, quick as a flash, as though trained by long practice, whipped out his right hand, the one which held the revolver, and before anyone knew what was transpiring two shots rang out, one following the other after the briefest portion of a second.
     For the first moment there was the hush of awful death—not a sound. The sonata died instantly, the people stopped and could not breathe. The next instant there was pandemonium. The executive of the largest and most powerful nation on the globe had been shot by bullets from the weapon of an assassin.
     The president drew his right hand quickly to his chest, raised his head, and his eyes looked upward and rolled. He swerved a moment, reeled and was caught in the arms of Secretary Cortelyou, to his right. Catching himself for the briefest second, President McKinley, whose face was now the whiteness of death, looked at the assassin as the officers and soldiers bore him to the floor, and said feebly, and with the most benevolent look it is possible to imagine: “My [sic] God forgive him.”

People Around Were Helpless.

     The president was carried first one way and then a step in another direction. The crowd was so dense and the pandemonium so intense that for a minute no one knew what to do. Finally someone said to carry him inside the purple edge of the aisle and seat him on one of the chairs. The bunting was in a solid piece—no one had time to produce a knife had they been able to think of such a thing. A couple of men tore the benches aside and trampled the bunting down, while Mr. Milburn and Secretary Cortelyou half-carried the president over the line and into the passageway leading to the stage, which had not been used.
     The president was able to walk a little, but was leaning heavily on his escorts. In passing over the bunting his foot caught and for a moment he stumbled. A reporter extricated the wounded man’s foot and the president was carried to a seat, where a half dozen men stood by and fanned him vigorously. Quick calls were sent for doctors and the ambulance.
     While seated for a moment Secretary Cortelyou leaned over the president and inquired:
     “Do you feel much pain?”
     With white and trembling lips the president slipped his hand into the opening of his shirt and said:
     “This wound pains greatly.”

Fingers Were Covered with Blood.

     As the president withdrew his hand the first and second fingers were covered with blood. He looked at them, his hand dropped to his side and he became faint. His head dropped heavily to his chest and those about him turned away.
     During this most pathetic scene tears were filling the eyes of those about him, who realized their utter powerlessness to help him. Minister Aspiroz of Mexico broke through the little crowd excitedly and awakened the faint into which the president had sunk by dramatically exclaiming in English:
     “Oh, my God, Mr. President, are you shot?”
     While the excited diplomat was being restrained from caressing the executive and falling at his feet the president replied, gasping between each word:
     The president’s head then fell backward, he partially fainting again. Mr. Milburn placed his hand back of the wounded man’s head and offered a support for it. This seemed to resuscitate the president and after that he sat stoically in the chair, his legs spread out on the floor and his lips clinched [sic] firmly, as though he would fight determinedly against death, should it appear. He was giving the fight of a soldier and more than one turned away tremblingly—all in the building trembled and shook, not from fear, but the tension—and remarked:
     “He is certainly a soldier.”
     While all this was transpiring the tragedy had not yet ended on the scene [1][3] of the shooting. The shots had hardly been fired when Foster and Ireland were on top of the assassin. Ireland had knocked the smoking weapon from the man’s hands and at the same time he and his companion officer, with a dozen exposition police and as many artillerymen, were upon the fiend. He was literally crushed to the floor. While the president was being led away the artillerymen and guards cleared the building in a few moments of those who had entered to meet the executive.
     Foster reached under the crowd and by his almost superhuman strength pulled the intended murderer from under the heap. The assassin was grabbed by a half dozen guards and by the secret service men who were near the scene at the time.
     Forcing the youth, for that is what he is, to the open, Foster clutched him by the throat with his left hand, and saying:
     “You murderer!”—and then he struck him a most vicious blow with his rock-hard fist squarely in the face.
     The blow was so powerful that the man was sent through the guards and went sprawling upon the floor. He had hardly touched the floor when he was again set upon, this time by the guards and soldiers. He was kicked rapidly until Capt. Damer rushed in and threw back the guards. Foster made another attempt to get at the assassin, but he was held back, although he protested that he had possession of his mind and that he knew what he was doing.
     The murderer was not given time to say a word, and it is doubtful if he would have had the power. He was as white as his illustrious victim, and was shaking from head to foot. He had not the power to beg.

The Cowering Criminal.

     He had not the power to beg to be saved from the lynchers. Weak with the excitement he was unable to stand on his feet, and he fell to the floor like the weak coward he had proven himself.
     A half dozen guards, as many soldiers and several secret service men grabbed him as they would an offensive corpse, several at his feet, more at his head, but none to support his body, and he was rapidly dragged over the floor, up a short flight of stairs and into a room back of another to one side of the stage. There he was locked in with the soldiers’ [sic] guards and detectives, most of whom drew their revolvers to withstand any attempt which might be made by a mob.
     This was a dramatic little scene, but very momentous. The assassin had been hurled into a far corner of the room, where he lay in an apparently lifeless heap, his clothes torn, his face bleeding and his breath coming short and irregular. He shook all over like a mass of gelatine. His eyes rolled now and then to the ceiling and his limbs twitched nervously.
     The men in the room spoke no word to each other, but gave each other glances which only meant to convey what they would like to do to the brute. Now and then a soldier or a guard would shoot a glance into the miserable heap in the corner and partly under his breath he would hurl through his teeth at him a vigorous epithet.

News Spread Rapidly.

     With the remarkable rapidity that the news of the direful calamity spread, so was the fact of the assassin’s assault disseminated through the 20,000 people who were in one great mob outside the building where cries of grief could be heard inside, and the president heard and seemed to understand, though he spoke no word. The people, even, who had heard the shots could not believe the report. All hoped that it was untrue, that someone else had been shot.
     So quick was the news spread that before the ambulance reached the building a squad of mounted police, a troop of heavily-armed infantrymen from the military camp and the marines were on the scene, keeping the crowd back as best they could. As soon as the electric ambulance from the Emergency hospital arrived with Doctors Seitell and Kinnerson, those two surgeons rushed in and were at the side of the president. His white vest was powder marked and bloody and had been opened, as was the shirt, and seeing the location of the wound and hearing that another bullet had entered the abdomen, they ordered in the ambulance stretcher, on which was placed a row of pillows. The stretcher was placed upon the floor and the wounded president was lifted by Mr. Milburn, Mr. Cortelyou and the experienced ambulance corps men and laid gently on the pillows.

President Showed Pluck.

     The president groaned slightly, as though in great pain, but recovered, pressed his lips together firmly and resigned himself to the care of the now grief-stricken men about him. At least 20 men carried the stretcher out, up the three or four steps to the southwest door, and as it opened, presenting to the crowd without the prostrate chieftain upon the stretcher, a groan of grief, so pathetic, so sympathetic, from the great heart of the American went up, as a token of the sorrow overshadowing a people.
     The people were unprepared, the awfulness of the crime was so far beyond their comprehension that the only expressions they could utter were gasps and sentences, the burden of which was their inability to believe the tragic event. Men uncovered their heads, their tongues swelled in their throats, they looked at each other in the most sympathetic way, and [sic] though each wished to claim the other for his common brother that they might have the strength to stand under the crushing blow.

When Strong Men Wept.

     Here in this vast sorrow-stricken assemblage, which reached from the great electric tower on the north to the triumphal arch on the south and even beyond, there was truly exemplified the bond of sympathy which links all mankind. No man was weak who wept; it was the time for weeping. There was not then the slightest cry of vengeance; that came as an afterthought. At this time, when the bullet-pierced body of the ruler was being carried out to them and through their midst the thought was one of genuine sympathy that came only from the heart. Women were no more affected than men. They clung close to each other. It was a moment when every one felt that he needed help. Help of any kind, only a word, a look, that was all.
     With that powerful military and police escort, all on the double quick, the president was hurried away to the Emergency hospital, where a room had been hurriedly prepared for him. Messages had been quickly sent to different parts of the city for the most eminent physicians and surgeons, and the first to call was Dr. Rixey, the family physician, who left the grounds with Mr. [sic] McKinley for the Milburn home. He was on a steam automobile with two trained nurses and they tore through the grounds at a terrific pace until the hospital was reached.



top of page