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
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
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
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
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
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
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 
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
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
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
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
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.