The McKinleys’ plan to spend two days in Buffalo did not meet with unanimous approval. Those close to the president seemed to sense something sinister. They tried to dissuade McKinley from making a stop in Buffalo but President McKinley would not hear of it. The wonders of the City of Light inflamed his imagination, and he could not resist seeing this manifestation of the American spirit. The president’s excitement to see the exposition may be why warnings passed unheeded. A week before the planned stop in Buffalo, a New York City police lieutenant contacted the White House, to warn that anarchists may be targeting the president, but his outreach was ignored.

William McKinley’s last speech on September 5, 1901. The president is at the center of the photograph, wearing a white shirt and vest. Photo courtesy Library of Congress

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The long-planned Pan-American Exposition opened in Buffalo, New York on May 1, 1901.
It promised to be the most brilliant display of progress and ingenuity ever conceived in the United States of America. Congress pledged $500,000 to ensure the success of the Exposition, and to highlight the commercial well-being and good understanding among the American Republics. The newly-elected Vice President Theodore Roosevelt was there to give a speech to kick off the opening ceremonies, and over 200,000 people witnessed it.

The official Pan-American Exposition logo, designed by Raphael Beck

The rationale for choosing Buffalo to host the Pan-Am Exposition was its large population and central location. With a population of over 350,000, Buffalo was the United States’ eighth largest metropolis, and over 40 million people could reach the city in a single day, if they traveled by railway. The city had reserved a large tract of land for the exposition, extending from Delaware Avenue to Elmwood Avenue and northward to Great Arrow Avenue.

For the city of Buffalo, it was an opportunity to be showcased as the manifestation of prosperity and progress. One of the wonders of the Exposition was the hydroelectric energy that allowed the architects of the exposition to use electric lights to illuminate the place. The American press called it The City of Light.

At its center, fair-goers could visit the 409’ Electric Tower, designed by John Galen Howard.i It represented the power of the elements, and the mysterious force of electricity. Perched atop the tower was the winged figure of the Goddess of Light by Herbert Adams.


The massive Electric Tower was 409 feet tall. Photo courtesy Library of Congress

Harnessing the power of electricity on such a grand scale excited the famed inventor Nikola Tesla, who cried: “Niagara Power will make Buffalo the greatest city in the world!” All in all, the Pan-American Exposition was on track to be an enormous success. And the crowning glory would be President William McKinley’s visit in early September.

William McKinley was inaugurated as America’s 25th president in 1897. He was extraordinarily devoted to his wife Ida. The couple had had two daughters, both of whom died before age 5. The First Lady never recovered from her shock and grief, and became a chronic invalid.
The McKinley White House was steeped in quiet sadness but the focus of the administration was prosperity. One of the hallmarks of McKinley’s first term was his focus on tariffs, to protect American workers.

The vice president, Garret Augustus Hobart, died in office in November of 1899. If a similar tragedy occurred today, a new vice president would be chosen very quickly. The president, however, left the office vacant for over a year, until his second term began.

McKinley was reelected easily in 1900. His second term began on March 4, 1901, with Theodore Roosevelt as the new vice president, ending the vacancy after 468 days. To celebrate, the president immediately embarked on a tour of western states, where he was greeted by cheering crowds. The tour would end in Buffalo, where the president and first lady were scheduled to spend two days at the Pan-American Exposition.

Go to Part II >

It’s the last day of Mugshot March! This calls for something spectacular, so this evening, I bring you the tale of Mrs. Margaret Rowan, founder of a cult, attempted murderer, and eventual prisoner at San Quentin penitentiary.

Wade and Rowan formerly belonged to the Seventh Day Adventist Church, but Mrs. Rowan soon created a problem. In 1925, she predicted the exact date on which the world would end. When that date passed, and people found the world was still intact, Rowan was excommunicated. Mrs. Rowan soon established herself in Los Angeles, with a couple of followers. The papers that refer to Mrs. Rowan as a cult leader are referencing the sect she established, not the Seventh Day Adventists.

The story begins in February 1927, when all Southern California police departments received a description of Mrs. Margaret Rowan, who they described as a prophetess or priestess. An automobile owned by Mrs. Rowan was found abandoned in a ditch off the highway near San Juan Capistrano, and Los Angeles authorities expressed the fear that she may be a fugitive, heading for the Mexican border. Mrs. Rowan was wanted in connection with an alleged murder plot, and a warrant had been sworn for her arrest.

 

Two of Rowan’s lieutenants and devoteés, Dr. J.H. Balzer and Miss Mary A. Wade, were accused of attempting to murder Dr. Burt E. Fullmer. Mrs. Rowan and Dr. Fullmer had a theological disagreement that turned deadly. Dr. Fullmer who had also broken off from the Seventh Day Adventists to start a reform-minded sect. Dr. Fullmer claimed the pair attempted to murder him after he had threatened to reveal some unsavory activities Mrs. Rowan had been conducting.

Around 10 p.m. one February evening, Dr. Fullmer received an anonymous phone call at his home in Los Angeles. A woman’s voice, which he later identified as that of Mrs. Rowan, said that a good friend of his needed to speak to him immediately. The caller implored Dr. Fullmer to come to a lonely auto camp in Van Nays. When he arrived at the cabin, a man and a woman leapt at him, beating his head with a piece of lead pipe and stabbed with a hypodermic needle.

Dr. Fullmer

Dr. Fullmer fought his way out of the cabin. Once outside, others at the camp saw what was happening and ran to Fullmer’s rescue. They forcibly detained Dr. Balzer and Miss Mary Wade, and the pair were arrested at the scene.

The initial police investigation turned up several ominous items in the cabin, such as a large piece of canvas, a rope, and a shovel. Dr. Balzer agreed to be interviewed and he told police, “We were driven to the limits of desperation by this man his persecution has been terrible we had no intention of harming him are only thought was to force him to retract the malicious untruths he has been circulating.”

 

The following day, police called on Dr. Fullmer. The injured man snorted in disgust when he was told Miss Wade and Dr. Balzer said they had not intended to hurt him. “They were planning to kill me,” he shouted. “What do you suppose they had that pick and canvas for, if it wasn’t to bury me?”

Witnesses at the scene corroborated Dr. Fullmer’s story. One man said he saw Balzer and Wade try to choke Dr. Fullmer, and then Miss Wade repeatedly jabbed at Dr. Fullmer’s arm with a hypodermic needle. With that, police had enough to charge Mrs. Rowan, Dr. Balzer, and Miss Wade with conspiracy to commit murder. Dr. Balzer and Miss Wade admitted to participating in the attack, but they claimed Mrs. Rowan was really at fault for convincing them to do it. Dr. Fullmer also told police that he believed Mrs. Margaret Rowan was involved.

But Mrs. Rowan was nowhere to be found. For nine days, police searched for her. And then, she limped into the police station on crutches and turned herself in. She explained to police that she’d had nothing to do with the attack of Dr. Fullmer. Far from it: in fact, Mrs. Rowan was the victim.

Ignoring the incredulity of the police officers, Mrs. Rowan told them that she, too, had received an urgent, mysterious summons to come to the auto camp. She stepped into the cabin, where she was jumped by a man and a woman. But somehow– she was a little vague on the details– she had gotten away from them and gotten into her car, and raced off into the night.

 

Mrs. Rowan drove for a long time, putting many miles between herself and her mysterious attackers. When she reached San Juan Capistrano on the Ocean Highway, her good luck ran out when her automobile stalled. Despite having fended off two attackers wielding deadly weapons, Mrs. Rowan sank into despair. She waded out into the ocean, she told the officers, and attempted suicide by drowning three times in a matter of minutes. Somehow she failed to end her life and strayed back to shore. “I slept in a field that night,” she said solemnly. “The next day, I begged for rides to Phoenix, Arizona. I borrowed the money to get back to San Bernardino.” Mrs. Rowan then called her son who lived nearby. He offered to take her to the police to turn herself in, and she accepted.

Police officers and reporters laughed merrily as they heard her story. No one believed a word of it, and despite their appreciation for her imaginative tale, Mrs. Rowan was placed under arrest and taken to county jail. She would be held there, with her followers, and bail was set for $2,500 each.

Mrs. Rowan, Dr. Balzer, and Miss Wade pleaded Not Guilty the following day, but they soon reconsidered. The trio had no realistic defense for their attempted murder of Dr. Fullmer. The following day, all three pleaded guilty to the lesser charge of assault, with intent to commit bodily harm.

Mrs. Rowan, Miss Wade, and Dr. Balzer were denied probation in July. Superior Judge Fletcher Bowron, citing the clear evidence of their intent to murder Fullmer that was found in the cabin refused to consider probation. Instead, Balzer and Wade were sentenced to serve from 1-10 years in San Quentin penitentiary, while Mrs. Rowan got 10.

 

 

I didn’t manage to find Dr. Balzer’s mugshot, but have a look at Miss Mary A. Wade and Mrs. Margaret Rowan. Do they look like a murderous cult member and prophetess to you?