Assassination of President McKinley

President William McKinley was shot at a public reception during the Pan-American Exposition in the city of Buffalo on September 6th, 1901.

The city of Buffalo, on the Niagara River at the eastern end of Lake Erie, is famous for Niagara Falls and honeymoons. In 1901 the city staged a Pan-American Exposition, attended by President William McKinley. The president, genially obese, arrived on September 5th. The following afternoon, a line of citizens waited to shake his hand at a public reception in the Temple of Music. Standing patiently in the queue soon after 4pm was a 28-year-old man of medium height and unremarkable appearance named Leon Czogolz, whose right hand was heavily bandaged. One of a family of fourteen children in Cleveland, Ohio, he was a known anarchist and the bandage concealed a gun. As his turn came and the smiling president offered his hand, Czogolz drew the gun and fired. The bullet was deflected by a button on McKinley's waistcoat, but the anarchist immediately fired again. The second shot hit the president in the stomach and Czogolz cried out, ‘I done my duty.’ The President’s bodyguards grabbed him, seized the gun and punched him in the face. McKinley said faintly, ‘Be easy with him, boys.’

McKinley died in Buffalo on the 14th, perhaps killed as much by botched surgery as by the bullet, which the surgeons said they were unable to locate in the president’s abdomen because he was so fat. He was succeeded by his Vice-President, Theodore Roosevelt. Czogolz was found guilty of murder nine days later after a trial in which he refused to defend himself. The idea that he was part of an anarchist conspiracy was energetically canvassed in the press, but it soon became clear that he was a loner. Indeed, other anarchists had steered clear of him because they thought he was either a police spy or a lunatic.

Czogolz was executed in the electric chair in the prison at Auburn, New York State, on October 29th, 1901, calm to the last. He was quoted as saying, ‘I killed the president because he was the enemy of the good people – the good working people. I am not sorry for my crime.’ His family asked for the body for burial, but the request was denied and the corpse was buried in the prison along with six barrels of quicklime and a carboy of sulphuric acid. The assassination had, of course, achieved no worthwhile end whatever or bestowed the slightest benefit on good working people or any other people.