“I killed the president because he was the enemy of the good people”
William McKinley, the ’25th American president, was visiting the 1901 Pan-American Exposition in Buffalo, New York when he was shot by Leon Czolgosz, the son of Polish immigrant parents.
Unlike today’s modern world, McKinley was patiently shaking hands with visitors to the exhibition with little or no protection around him. The people were happy to be able to get so close to their president but one of them had murder in mind.
Czolgosz, an anarchist, his hand swathed in a fake bandage, waited for his turn to shake the presidential hand. When he reached the front of the line at 4.07pm he pulled out a .32 calibre Iver-Johnson and shot McKinley twice at point¬blank range. Czolgosz had bought the gun four days earlier for $4.50.
The first bullet hit a button and was deflected but the second hit McKinley in the stomach, colon and kidney, and finally lodged in the muscles of his back. Doctors could not find the second bullet and hunted around inside the president for it, probably causing untold damage.
One of the exhibits at the Pan-American exposition was a new X-ray machine but doctors were reluctant to use it to locate the bullet because they did not know if X-rays had any side effects. McKinley rallied and the medics believed that he would recover from his injuries.
On the morning of 12 September he ate some solid food but that afternoon he suffered a relapse. He died two days later at 2.15am on 14 September 1901 of gangrene of the pancreas, although it is believed his death was as much to do with sloppy surgery as his wound. His last words were, “It is God’s way. His will be done, not ours.”
Temple of Music, Pan-American Exposition, Buffalo, New York, USA
4.07pm Friday 6 September 1901
Czolgosz was convicted and sentenced to death on 23 September in a trial that lasted 8 hours and 26 minutes from jury selection to verdict.
Czolgosz was electrocuted by three jolts of 1700 volts each, on 29 October 1901, in Auburn prison, New York. His last words were, “I killed the president because he was the enemy of the good people — the good working people. I am not sorry for my crime.”
As the prison guards strapped him into the chair, however, he did say through clenched teeth, “I am sorry I could not see my father.” Sulphuric acid was poured over his corpse to speed up decomposition. On 14 September 1901 Theodore Roosevelt was sworn in as president, the youngest man ever to hold the office. Within 36 hours of taking office, Roosevelt ordered the secret service to protect the president.