American Boys' Life of William McKinley/Chapter 29
In the spring of 1901 the Pan-American Exhibition at Buffalo, New York, was opened with great enthusiasm and in the presence of a vast multitude of people. The grounds, lying on the outskirts of the city, were tastefully laid out and contained some of the finest buildings ever seen at any exposition. The electric display was largely in the line of a novelty, rendering the grounds at night almost as light as during the day.
At this exposition the United States government had a large exhibit, embracing different branches of the public service, including the army and navy, the post-office, mint, lighthouses, state and interior departments, and many others, all housed in a large building which speedily became one of the most popular places on the fair grounds. Other governments from Central and South America also had buildings and exhibits there, and Mexico, Canada, and the great Northwest Territory were not absent.
The Exposition speedily attracted visitors by the thousands, and it was peculiarly fitting that our worthy President should also visit the grounds and should there address the multitudes who would gather to hear him. It was a fair for all the Americas, North, Central, and South, and it was felt that nothing should be left undone to bring in closer communion and interest the various nations of the New World.
During the summer it was found that Mrs. McKinley had sufficiently recovered to undertake the journey, and all arrangements were made to entertain the President and his wife in Buffalo for a week or longer, during which they might not only visit the fair, but also make a trip to Niagara Falls, which is but a short distance away.
The coming of the President was hailed with delight by all the people of Buffalo, and every arrangement was made which might add to the comfort and pleasure of himself and his wife. The party became the guests of Mr. Milburn, the president of the Exposition, and several days were spent by President McKinley, both at the fair grounds and in a last visit to Niagara Falls. Both the President and his wife greatly enjoyed all they saw, although Mrs. McKinley was much fatigued by the travelling.
On September 5 the President delivered an address at the Exposition grounds which aroused great interest everywhere. Among the notable things said at that time were the following:—
"Expositions are the timekeepers of progress."
"Comparison of ideas is always educational."
"The period of exclusiveness is past. The expansion of our trade and commerce is the pressing problem."
"Let us ever remember that our interest is in concord, not conflict; and that our real eminence rests in the victories of peace, not those of war."
"Our earnest prayer is that God will graciously vouchsafe prosperity, happiness, and peace to all our neighbors, and like blessings to all the peoples and powers of earth."
Alas! although no one knew it, this was to be his last public address. It was full of hope and confidence, and gave a large promise for the future. It should be read in its entirety by everybody, for it shows the real man as few other public addresses have done.It was arranged that the President should hold a public reception on the following day on the fair grounds, and the Temple of Music was chosen for that purpose. This was a handsome structure, fronting upon an artificial lake, with fountains and beautiful statuary. The Temple was capable of holding several thousand people, and had at one end a platform for vocal and instrumental concerts, and at one side a large church organ, upon which recitals were
Temple of Music, Buffalo.
Long before the time appointed for the reception a great crowd gathered in the vicinity of the Temple of Music, all bright, cheerful, and expectant, never dreaming of the horrible tragedy so close at hand. Guards were upon all sides, but it was not thought necessary to caution them to extra watchfulness, for the President was so much beloved it was imagined he had not an enemy in all this broad land.
At last the President and his party arrived. Just before the Temple of Music was reached there was a delay, because the carriage could not get through the assembled multitude. During this delay one of the boys selling programmes on the grounds pushed his way to the President's turnout.
"Here's a present for you, Mr. President," he cried, and handed the chief magistrate three programmes.
"Thank you, my boy," returned President McKinley, and putting his hand into his pocket he drew out a dollar. "Here is something for you," he added.
"No, it's a present," said the lad, with a bright smile, and then the President smiled in return and thanked him again. Thus a boy gave him probably the last present he received and accepted.
The President was to receive near the centre of the large auditorium, the people coming in at one door and filing out at another. Soon the doors were opened, and the crowd began to enter and push forward, eagerly and yet good-naturedly.
For the time being nobody noticed a slightly built man, with a weak, characterless face, who had his hand tied up in a handkerchief. He joined the procession with the others, with a little girl and some ladies and gentlemen in front of him, and a negro and some white people behind.
Bowing and smiling pleasantly. President McKinley met every newcomer and shook the person cordially by the hand, as has been our democratic custom of Presidents for many years.
Presently the man who had his hand tied up in a handkerchief stood at the front, and now several noticed him, and the President put out his other hand as if to shake the newcomer's left. But instead of extending his left hand, the man raised the bound-up hand quickly and fired two shots from a pistol concealed beneath the cloth.
Instantly there was a great commotion, and this was increased as the President was seen to stagger back. He was supported to a chair, and it was discovered that he was wounded, although how badly no one at that moment could tell. A rush was made for the assassin, and between the guards and the people present he was quickly placed under arrest. Then he was carried from the building by a side entrance and hurried off before the crowd could injure him; for at that moment of extreme excitement if some present could have gotten at him, his life would not have been worth a moment's purchase.
On the Exposition grounds there was an excellent hospital, and as soon as it could be accomplished the stricken President was placed in an ambulance and taken to this. Here it was found that he had been struck twice,—once on the breastbone, a wound of small importance, and once in the abdomen. At once the most skilful doctors in the vicinity, were called in, and they did all they could for the sufferer, after which he was removed to Mr. Milburn's residence.
The news that an attempt had been made to assassinate our beloved President spread throughout the country like wildfire, and that evening and night great crowds collected in front of telegraph and newspaper offices, to read the latest bulletins. Everybody was shocked, and among these people were his keenest political rivals, for personally many were his friends. It was learned that the man who had done the foul deed was Leon Czolgosz, a Polish-American. The assassin was personally a stranger to the President. He said he was an anarchist, a member of a secret society that is against all law and order, a society which would tear down the very framework of all present government without having anything better or even as good to offer in return.
For a number of days it was hoped that the President would live, and all that medical skill could do was done for the distinguished patient. But gangrene had set in, and just one week after he had been so foully laid low he sank so rapidly that all hope was abandoned. His wife came in to bid him farewell, followed by other relatives, and members of his Cabinet, and his friend of many years, Senator Hanna. The President seemed to realize that his last hour on earth had come, and his thoughts turned to his Maker, and he whispered feebly, "Nearer, My God, to Thee," the words of his favorite hymn. Then after a long pause he continued: "Good-by all, good-by. It is God's way. His will be done, not ours." Shortly after this he relapsed into unconsciousness. He died on the following morning, September 14, at quarter past two o'clock.
- For President McKinley's last speech, in full, see Appendix A, p. 297.