When President McKinley Was Shot

Illustratration - Assassination of President McKinley Crimes and Criminals American History Disasters Famous Historical Events Assassinations American Presidents

This image depicts a photograph of the wash drawing by T. Dart Walker. 

The artist created this work in 1905. It depicts an assassin approaching President McKinley. The murder weapon is hidden inside the killer's handkerchief.

Variations of this drawing emphasize different parts of it. This image, from the Library of Congress, shows the work in its entirety.

As A. Wesley Johns notes in his book, The Man Who Shot McKinley, people close to the President were worried about his safety. George B. Courtelyou, McKinley’s secretary, was so concerned about the reception planned for the Temple of Music (where McKinley was actually shot) that he twice tried to cancel it.

Despite his Secretary's misgivings, the President himself reinstated the event.

On the day McKinley was shot—the 6th of September, 1901—the morning edition of the Buffalo Courier made an observation (at page 4) regarding the number of people who were assigned to protect the President:

The surrounding of President McKinley by a body-guard of detectives when he appears in public, is probably as distasteful to himself as it is to abstract American sentiment, but as long as the earth is infested by malevolent cranks and unreasoning Anarchists, the precaution is entirely proper.

Who were these “Anarchists?” And ... what was the tenor of the political climate which caused people to worry about the President’s safety? The University at Buffalo’s feature on the “Pan-American Exposition of 1901" describes some of the worrisome factors:

Anarchism. The growth of Anarchism and the recognition that this school of thought could be dangerous. While the Haymarket Square Riots [of 1886] were fresh on minds of many political leaders, the recent assassinations and threats on the lives of European leaders were especially disturbing. Empress Elizabeth of Austria was assassinated in 1898; Edward VII, then Prince of Wales, was fired upon in April 1900 and King Humbert [Umberto I, also called "The Good"] of Italy was assassinated in July of 1900. [McKinley's killer had an article, in his pocket, about the fatal shooting of the Italian King.]

Social class divisions. While the country was experiencing relative prosperity, there was a widening gap between the rich and the poor. The conspicuous consumption of wealthy industrialists contrasted greatly with the struggles of sweatshop workers and tenement dwellers. This provided fertile ground for labor disputes and the spreading of Anarchist ideologies.

Yellow journalism. As [A. Wesley] Johns points out, McKinley was "flayed relentlessly" by William Randolph Hearst, whose publications described him as a "puppet" of wealthy industrialists. An editorial printed in the April 10, 1901 Journal [published by Hearst but written by Arthur Brisbane] asserted that "If bad institutions and bad men can be got rid of only by killing, then the killing must be done." (Brisbane quoted by David Nasaw in "The Chief: The Life of Willian Randolph Hearst," at page 199 of the online edition.)

One thing to keep in mind, when thinking about McKinley’s assassination? His killer, Leon Czolgosz, was an anarchist.

Another thing to keep in mind, when thinking about the crowd’s reaction to the shooting? Their words, as reported by the Buffalo Express on September 7, 1901:

... "Lynch Him" cried a hundred voices and a start was made for one of the entrances to the Temple of Music. The soldiers and police sprang outside and beat back the crowd. ... In the midst of the confusion, Nieman [as Czolgosz called himself with a name meaning "Nobody"] still bleeding from his blows and pale and silent with his shirt torn was led out quickly by Capt. James F. Vallely, chief of the exposition detectives, Assistant-Commandant Robertson and detectives.

They thrust him into a closed carriage. The detectives leaped in with him and Capt. Vallely jumped in the driver's seat as they lashed the horses into a gallop. A roar of rage burst from the crowd.

"Murder! Assassin! Lynch him! Hang him!" yelled the thousands, and men, women and children tore at the guards, sprang at the horses and clutched the whirling wheels of the carriage. Nieman huddled back in the corner concealed by the bodies of two detectives.

Click on the image for a full-page view of Walker's work.

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Author: Carole D. Bos, J.D. 5155stories and lessons created

Original Release: Oct 07, 2013

Updated Last Revision: Aug 15, 2018

Media Credits

Image described above, online via the Library of Congress. A version of this work appeared on the September 21, 1901 cover of "Leslie's Weekly."




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"When President McKinley Was Shot" AwesomeStories.com. Oct 07, 2013. Aug 15, 2018.
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