Time Machine: The McKinley assassination

I can still remember the day of the assassination of President John Kennedy. It’s one of those life moments that you can never forget … where you were … what you were doing … how everybody reacted.

(In Brooklyn … sitting in a third grade classroom … hearing a girl in the class ask “Is he dead” when the teacher delivered the news. Class dismissed. That was 49 years ago.)

William McKinley (1843-1901)

William McKinley (1843-1901) (Photo credit: Political Graveyard)

But I have to put this in context. The previous presidential assassination was 54 years before I was born. William McKinley in Buffalo on Sept. 14, 1901. That’s 111 years ago. Maybe it was a memorable moment for the generations before me, but as far as I’m concerned, it’s ancient history.

Just as the Kennedy assassination is ancient history to the generations that followed me.

The film of the Kennedy assassination is on the Web. I’m not going to imbed it here. But this appears to be an Edison film of a McKinley speech at the Pan-American Exhibition about a week before his assassination and released on Sept. 11, 1901.

McKinley was dead about two weeks after this was filmed.

McKinley had been elected for a second term in 1900. He enjoyed meeting the public, and was reluctant to accept the security available to his office. The Secretary to the President, George B. Cortelyou, feared an assassination attempt would take place during a visit to the Temple of Music, and twice took it off the schedule. McKinley restored it each time.

[Leon] Czolgosz had lost his job during the economic Panic of 1893 and turned to anarchism, a political philosophy whose adherents had killed foreign leaders. Regarding McKinley as a symbol of oppression, Czolgosz felt it was his duty as an anarchist to kill him. Unable to get near McKinley during the earlier part of the presidential visit, Czolgosz shot McKinley twice as the President reached to shake his hand in the reception line at the temple. One bullet grazed McKinley; the other entered his abdomen and was never found.

McKinley initially appeared to be recovering, but took a turn for the worse on September 13 as his wounds became gangrenous, and died early the next morning.

Theodore Roosevelt became the youngest president in American history. Until John Kennedy claimed that distinction in 1961.

Exactly 100 years after the McKinley speech filmed above was released, a huge national traumatic event occurred in lower Manhattan. And the generations that follow me know where they were … what they were doing … and how everybody reacted. As do I. We will always remember Sept. 11, 2001.

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