The Assassin’s Body: Destroyed or Preserved? Silence in New York City and The McKinley Islands
The McKinley Islands? It could have been, had Congress passed a bill to rename The Philippine Islands after the assassination of the 25th President of the United States, William McKinley.
On September 6, 1901 President McKinley was holding a reception in the Temple of Music at the Pan-American Exposition held in Buffalo, New York. Leon Czolgosz, an anarchist, was in the greeting line and he approached McKinley with hand wrapped up to his right wrist in a handkerchief. As McKinley extended his hand to shake Czolgosz’s left hand, Czolgosz fired two shots at nearly point blank range, one that glanced off McKinley’s breastbone and never entered his body, the other penetrating his stomach.
After initial grave concerns by attending doctors and an operation to remove the bullet, McKinley began showing signs of recovery after a couple of days. McKinley was declared in steady press releases by his doctors to be constantly improving in condition, when he suddenly took a turn for the worse on September 13 and died from his wounds at the home of John G. Milburn, in Buffalo in the early morning hours of September 14, 1901.
Seven little known, interesting facts surrounding McKinley’s assassination
Four Presidents’ have been shot to death: Abraham Lincoln (1865), James A. Garfield (1881), William McKinley (1901), and John F. Kennedy (1963). Garfield was shot on Saturday, the other three were shot on a Friday.
2. The Mystery Bullet
An immediate operation was performed to remove the bullet that was lodged somewhere in McKinley’s body. Dr. Matthew D. Mann dealing with layers of the president’s fat could not find it, so he sewed the President back up. The bullet was believed by the surgeons to most probably have lodged in the muscles of the president’s back, a location too perilous to explore during the initial operation. That bullet, passing through vital organs caused an infection that resulted in his death. At the autopsy the surgeons probed for nearly an hour and a half trying to locate the bullet that had taken the life of the president.
It was never found. The doctors were so mystified at McKinley’s quick decline and death that some doctors were certain that the bullet had been dipped in poison. It was not. Unknown to medical professionals back then, doctors and scholars today believe the president died of pancreatic necrosis.
3. Watch What You Say About The President
In the days following the shooting, people speaking out against McKinley were threatened, fired from their jobs, and beaten. It was definitely not a time to be labeled an “anarchist.”
In Manhattan on September 7, a well dressed young man riled up a crowd on 125th Street and Seventh Avenue to come with him to Paterson, NJ to “exterminate the anarchists.” As the police looked on without interfering, over 100 people came with him as he boarded the elevated to go to Paterson “to kill 10,000 anarchists if President McKinley dies.”
Anarchists as a group were suspected in a vast conspiracy and rounded up for questioning. Antonio Maggio a coronet player and anarchist had made a prediction the previous year while living in Kansas City, MO, that the President would be killed by anarchists. Maggio was arrested in Silver City, NM on September 9 for his prediction. Cleared of wrong-doing, Maggio would go on to play a very important part in the development of American Rhythm and Blues and early Jazz. Maggio composed the first known song with “blues” in the title in 1908 when he wrote, “I Got the Blues.”
In the small town of Scottsville, NY on September 6, in front of the local hotel, someone cried out “McKinley’s been shot.” A stranger said, “That’s all right, he ought to have been long ago.” A crowd gathered around the stranger and chased him down an alley where he escaped. A posse was formed to find the man and kill him.
On September 8, in Chicopee, KA, anarchists held jubilation meetings to give thanks for the shooting of McKinley. Patriots invaded the meeting and several shots were fired at the anarchists.
In Pittsburgh, PA on September 10 an unknown foreigner was driven out of town and threatened with lynching if he returned for expressing gratification over the shooting of McKinley
On September 11 in Danbury, CT, suspected anarchist Albert Weber was dismissed from his job as a hatmaker at the factory of T.C. Millard and Co. when his co-workers refused to work with him. His workmates claimed Weber said, “I am only sorry that Czolgosz did not shoot higher.”
The press did not receive a free pass either. In New York City on September 12 anarchist and editor of Die Freiheit, was arrested for an editorial he wrote on September 7.
After the president died, a sailor J.W. Stoll was beaten by his shipmates when he heard of the president’s death and he said, “The _____ ought to have been killed.” The executive officer of the ship charged Stoll with treason and had him locked in the brig. Stoll later claimed he was referring to Czolgosz, not McKinley.
On September 15 in Saratoga, NY fire commissioners discharged fireman John Doulin for uttering remarks derogatory to President McKinley.
In Huntington, IN on September 15, Joseph A. Wildman a United Brethren minister was tarred and feathered by his congregation after calling McKinley a “political demagogue” from the pulpit.
On September 16, in Newark NJ, anarchist Victor Zagarsky was sentenced to 90 days in prison for toasting McKinley’s death and drinking to the health of Czolgosz.
William Davis a shoemaker from Troy, New York made sneering remarks about a magistrate wearing a McKinley mourning band in New York City on September 18. He was arrested by the magistrate and sentenced to two months at Blackwell’s Island.
4. Assassin Leon Czolgosz’s Trial Took Just Over 8 Hours
Over two days, September 23 and 24 the jury heard evidence including accounts of Czolgosz’s confession and statements of witnesses. Czolgosz admitted shooting the president and his lawyers presented his actions as those of an insane man. The jury rejected that argument. The trial consumed a little over eight hours. They returned a guilty verdict in just over 20 minutes of deliberation. On September 26, Czolgosz was sentenced to death. It was 20 days after McKinley was shot and only 12 days after he died. Czolgosz was executed by electrocution October 29, 1901, six weeks after McKinley’s death.
5. Destroy The Body
After meeting with his family prior to his execution Czolgosz was offered a priest to confer with. He had met with two priests earlier. He vehemently said, “No. Damn them. Don’t send them here again. I don’t want them. And don’t you have any praying over me when I’m dead. I don’t want it. I don’t want any of their damned religion.”
Czolgosz’s family originally wanted the body. The warden convinced his family that would be a bad idea, that relic hunters would disturb his grave or even worse there were entrepreneurs that would want to display the body for money. His family agreed that he would receive a decent burial and that the prison would take care of the funeral arrangements.
When Leon Czolgosz was buried in the Auburn prison cemetery where he was executed, the decision was made to have his body destroyed. The local crematorium refused to undertake the job.
After Czolgosz’s autopsy, he was placed in a plain pine box which was lowered into the ground which had been prepared with quicklime. The lid was removed and two barrels of quicklime were placed over the body. Then sulphuric acid was poured on top of that. Then another two layers of quicklime. When these two substances are combined a chemical reaction occurs which creates plaster of paris and water. It is entirely possible that the body of Czolgosz was preserved in perpetuity accidentally.
6. New York, The Silent City
At 3:30 p.m. on September 19, the day of McKinley’s funeral in Canton, OH, everything came to stop in New York City.
The city was veiled in black, as public and office buildings, homes and businesses were draped with funeral bunting in all neighborhoods. The chief thoroughfares were thronged with people and at the appointed hour everything came to a standstill.
For a few moments railroad and elevated trains, surface streetcars, water craft and even carriages stood still. Their occupants sat or stood in silence and removed their hats. Trains stopped whether they were at stations or not. Cabs pulled their horses over. Ferryboats. steamboats and tugs stopped in midstream and drifted. Office building elevators stopped running. Every pedestrian stopped where they were and stood in silence for the full five minutes.
Across the city church bells tolled to mark off the minutes. The West 30th Street police station closed its doors for five minutes, marking the first time the doors had been closed since 1869. The officers and reserves came out to the front of the building where Sergeant Todd read the Lord’s Prayer. Telegraph wires across the country halted all messages for five full minutes. In Union Square a band played “Nearer My God To Thee” followed by “Taps” as thousands listened with heads bared and bowed in absolute silence.
7. The McKinley Islands
A proposal was put forth to rename the Philippine archipelago after the late president. From The New York Tribune:
Washington. Sept. 29 —A suggestion, emanating from a high source, and which is meeting with widespread favor, is to change the name of the Philippine Islands to the McKinley Islands. The object is, of course, to perpetuate the name and glory of the martyred President and his administration. It is intended to bring the proposition before the next Congress, and it is not doubted that it will be accepted without question if presented in the proper manner.
The appropriateness of the suggestion is generally conceded, as. save for the foresight and persistence of President McKinley, the Philippines might to-day occupy a different and far less intimate relation to the United States than is now being shaped for them. It is pointed out that this proposed change would link his name with the government of the country for all time and also would be a constant and conspicuous reminder to future generations throughout the world that it was in his administration that the republic expanded its beneficent influence to the Orient and there established in enduring for its institutions and systems.
The proposition, though at present entirely tentative, contemplates a complete change of nomenclature in the whole archipelago. For example, the entire group is to be named the McKinley Islands, and the process of Americanization is to be carried out to the minutest detail by giving to the different islands the names of distinguished Americans of the past and present time. This part of the scheme embraces the idea of bestowing upon the different islands and provinces the names of the men most prominently identified with the acquisition and management of the islands. For instance, the members of the American Commission which negotiated the Paris Treaty would thus be honored, as well as the names of Admiral Dewey, General Law, Governor Taft, General Otis, Secretary Root and others. It is expected that within a few days the proposition will take a sufficiently definite shape to warrant its promoters permitting the use of their names in its advocacy.