Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

The Assassination of President William McKinley

William McKinley

President William McKinley, portrait
President William
McKinley, portrait

President McKinley established so many "firsts" as a president, it's difficult to cover them all. He was the first president to ride in an automobile and the first to campaign for political office using a telephone. He once rode in an electric car, although he could not have known that the vehicle was taking him to his deathbed. McKinley is remembered as the first "modern" president, although in reality, he was probably more of a "bridge" between the old and the new.

McKinley was born on January 29, 1843 in Ohio, the "Land of Presidents." The State of Ohio produced six presidents during the 19th century; more than any other state. He graduated from Allegheny College in Pennsylvania in 1861. When the Civil War broke out in 1861, McKinley immediately signed up with the Ohio Volunteer Infantry. His unit saw a great deal of combat and McKinley fought in battles at Cedar Creek, Opequon and Fishers' Hill. McKinley also participated in the fearsome clash between Confederate and Union Armies at Antietam on September 17, 1862. On that date, just outside Sharpsburg, Maryland, the bloodiest battle of a brutal war raged for several days. When the carnage was over, 22,000 men lay dead or wounded in the fields next to Antietam Creek. McKinley would never forget that awful experience.

When he returned to Ohio after the war, he became a teacher and, eventually, a lawyer. He ran for Congress on the Republican ticket in 1877 and easily defeated his opponent. McKinley had an outgoing personality and loved to be with people. He liked nothing better than campaigning among crowds, shaking hands and kissing babies. McKinley was also a deeply religious man and attended church every Sunday without fail. In the House of Representatives in Washington D.C, he became a familiar sight and was elected to a total of seven terms as Congressman.

Mrs. McKinley, portrait
Mrs. McKinley
, portrait

He married Ida Saxton, a hometown girl that he fell in love with while at college. But his life was not without tragedy. McKinley and his wife had two children. Both infants died before the age of two, causing Ida to descend into a state of depression and confusion from which she could not escape for the rest of her life. McKinley tried to console her but was overcome with grief himself and became resigned to the tragedy until the end of his days. Because of it, McKinley developed a sense of fatalism, which was obvious to those around him in the White House, even though McKinley appeared buoyant and gregarious in public.

His defining role in history was presiding over the Spanish American War of 1898 during which America gained its most lopsided wartime victory. After the fighting was over, America controlled Puerto Rico, Guam and the 7,200 islands of the Philippines. But the profitable outcome of the war was not without criticism. Many people did not approve of America seizing territory far from its shores but McKinley, who agonized over the decision, finally approved the takeover. When the Pan American Exposition opened in 1901, McKinley, like any other American, wanted to see the wonders at the fair that he read about in the daily newspapers. On September 4, he arrived in Buffalo by special train from Canton, Ohio. He was picked up at the station by John Milburn, director of the Expo and taken to his house where he planned to stay for two days.

At the moment McKinley arrived at the station, a few miles away, in a cramped room above a saloon, a bitter and demented young man toyed with a six shot revolver. Czolgosz wrapped the .32 caliber Iver-Johnson pistol in a handkerchief and placed it in his pocket. Standing in front of the bathroom mirror, he quickly removed it and again returned the gun to his pocket. He practiced this motion over and over. He did not want to fail like he failed at everything else in his young life. He knew he may get only one chance, one moment to change history, one opportunity to make the name Leon Czolgosz fly high forever on the flag of anarchy.

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