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.

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The day after President McKinley spoke to a vast crowd at the Pan American Exposition, Leon Czolgosz hurried to the Temple of Music, with his .32 caliber revolver carefully hidden in his pocket beneath his handkerchief. He drew a breath of relief when he saw the long line of citizens waiting for the doors to open so they could have their turn to shake a U.S. President’s hand. His only concern was that something would have happened to detain McKinley and he would not have his chance. Czolgosz took his place at the end of the line.

McKinley only had ten minutes allotted for greeting the public, and the line moved forward swiftly. While they waited, they could listen to William Gomph, the exposition’s organist, playing Robert Schumann’s Träumerei from Kinderscenen on the Temple’s famed organ.

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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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