The City of Light, Part IV

The wounded President McKinley was taken to Milburn House, where Ida was waiting. His cabinet was informed of the shooting, and they rushed to Buffalo to join the president. Initially, however, it looked as though a crisis had been averted. The doctors were optimistic and President McKinley appeared to be on the mend. The Cabinet dispersed and Vice President Roosevelt headed for a long-planned camping trip in the Adirondacks.

The doctors had overlooked the earliest signs that the president’s wounds had become infected and on the morning of September 13, a week after the shooting, William McKinley’s health began a rapid decline. The doctors were confronted with the ugly reality that the president was dying. Gangrene had set in, and it was rapidly poisoning him. No drugs yet existed that could control such an infection. His pulse grew fainter all day, until around 5 p.m., when the president suffered a heart attack.

That evening, McKinley realized what the doctors had known all day. “It is useless, gentlemen,” he whispered. “I think we ought to have prayer.”

He wanted to see Ida. The First Lady rushed to him and sobbed, “I want to go, too! I want to go, too!”

“We are all going,” he said soothingly. “God’s will be done– not ours.” He lost consciousness shortly afterwards and on Saturday at 2:14 a.m., William McKinley’s spirit departed.

Buffalo Courier front page of Sept 14 1901

As soon as the president was known to be dying, messengers had been sent out to locate the vice president. The adventurous Roosevelt was camping on Mount Marcy, far from easy reach of civilization. As soon as he was located, Roosevelt rushed back to the president’s bedside but he was too late to see McKinley. Instead, he was inaugurated as the twenty-sixth president of the United States in the city of Buffalo.

While America mourned the fallen McKinley, the people were hopeful about Theodore Roosevelt. He was still relatively unknown to most of the country, having been the vice president for less than 200 days, but he was a man of the age: optimistic, tough, and an avid outdoorsman. Had they heard of Roosevelt at all, it would have been about his speech to the crowd at the Minnesota State Fair, when he said: “Speak softly and carry a big stick, and you will go far.”

Nine days after President McKinley’s death, Leon Czolgosz went on trial for his murder. The trial was short, mostly because the defense had nothing to present. Czolgosz would not speak to his attorneys, though he communicated freely with everyone else. After 30 minutes of deliberation, the jury declared the president’s assassin Guilty. The judge sentenced him to death.

Exactly 45 days after President McKinley died, on October 29, 1901, Leon Czolgosz made his final statement. “I killed the president because he was the enemy of the good people— the good working people,” he said defiantly. “I am not sorry for my crime.” Moments later, an Edison camera recorded his execution, by electrocution.

A panoramic souvenir picture of the Pan-American Exposition

A month later, the Pan-Am Exposition closed. Eight million people had visited the magnificent City of Light within the city of Buffalo. Workers dismantled and packed up the exhibits, and the beautiful buildings were demolished.

Despite the end of the exposition, and the tragedy that hung over the place, no one could fail to be impressed with Buffalo’s beauty and ingenuity. The city had made its mark. Buffalo was a consequential place.

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