Death in the White House - William McKinley

William McKinley
25th President 1897 - 1901

In September 1901, McKinley was enjoying the Pan American Exposition in Buffalo, New York. On September 5th he gave a public address. The morning of the 6th, his party including Mrs. McKinley took a side trip to Niagara Falls. He returned in the afternoon for a receiving line at the Temple of Music on the Exposition grounds. Doors for the receiving line opened about 4:00 p.m. Toward the back of the line was Leon Czolgosz, an unemployed mill worker and self-proclaimed anarchist. He believed that all rulers, governing officials, rich capitalists, and ordained clergy should be eliminated. Waiting behind Czolgosz was a recently laid off, tall black waiter named James Parker. He was a friendly man who tried to make conversation with the quiet Czolgosz. Czolgosz had wrapped his right hand in a white cloth to look bandaged and held his arm as if in a sling, thus concealing the gun. It was a hot day and many people carried handkerchiefs to wipe their foreheads and hands. As McKinley greeted Czolgosz, he fired two shots. One hit a jacket button and did not enter the body. The other entered and passed through the stomach and nicked the left kidney. McKinley fell backwards into the arms of a secret service agent.

Mr. Parker immediately hit Czolgosz several times in the neck and head as a secret service agent joined in the fight. Parker was deemed a hero, but later his role was down played in the trial. The Buffalo Commercial, dated Sept. 13, 1901, quotes Parker as having said,

"I happened to be in a position where I could aid in the capture of the man. I do not think that the American people would like me to make capital out of the unfortunate circumstances. I am no freak anyway. I do not want to be exhibited in all kinds of shows. I am glad that I was able to be of service to the country."

McKinley was rushed to the medical building on the grounds of the Exposition. Doctors operated to close the bullet holes in the stomach, look for the bullet, and close the surface of the wound. The bullet was not found. At first it seemed that McKinley would survive, but four days later they operated again to remove a piece of cloth that had been carried into the abdomen by the bullet. McKinley was now resting at the home of John Milburn. His temperature was coming down, but he then relapsed and during the early morning hours of September 14th he died. The cause of death was determined to be gangrene which had developed around the path of the bullet in the stomach and abdomen.

Funeral Procession
Sunday, September 15th, a private service was held in the Milburn home at 11:00 a.m. At noon the public service began in Buffalo and the body was removed to City Hall. On Monday, the funeral train took the body to Washington where it was taken to the Capitol. That night the body was moved to the East Room of the White House. On Tuesday evening the body was taken back to the train for the final journey home to Canton, Ohio, where on September 18th the body lay in state at the Canton Court House. Thursday, September 19, 1901, the slain President was buried at Westlawn Cemetery in Canton, Ohio.

"The True Story of the Assassination of President McKinley" describes the funeral at Canton:

"Imagine a hearse like a polished piece blocked from the night, small and oblong, but almost appalling with its simple dignity, drawn by horses just as black, carrying for its burden all that remains of the late President of the United States; preceded by its guard of honor, President Roosevelt, the cabinet, and the generals and admirals of the United States; followed by the last tottering veterans of the 23rd Ohio, the regiment in which William McKinley fought for the preservation of the Union, and then by regiment after regiment of volunteer infantry,... on each side of a mile long avenue, solid blocks of people reach back... then add the grey sky that frowns like a pall, and the magnificent picture of sad, sweet desolation is complete."

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