Monday, December 2, 2013

Death of a President - Part III, William McKinley

This article looks at the third of three presidential assassinations to occur during the lifetime of John and Frances Glessner.   William McKinley was elected to the first of two terms in 1896; on March 4, 1897 he was sworn in as the nation’s 25th president.  Six months into his second term, McKinley visited the Pan-American Exposition in Buffalo, New York.  He delivered his address at the fairgrounds to an audience estimated at 50,000 on September 5, 1901.

The next day, after visiting Niagara Falls, the President returned to the fairgrounds, where he was to meet the public at the Temple of Music.  A man by the name of Leon Czolgosz, who decided he needed “to do something heroic” after hearing a speech by anarchist Emma Goldman in Cleveland, came to the head of the line, and pulling a gun out from beneath a handkerchief, shot McKinley two times in the abdomen.  One bullet hit a button and was deflected, but the other entered the president’s body.

McKinley was taken by ambulance to the hospital on the fairgrounds.  Dr. Matthew D. Mann was unable to locate the bullet, so cleaned and closed the wound.  Ironically, a primitive x-ray machine was being exhibited at the Exposition, but was not employed to locate the bullet.  McKinley was taken to Milburn House where he convalesced for several days and appeared to be improving. 

On the morning of September 13th, his health quickly deteriorated; unknown to his doctors gangrene was growing on the walls of his stomach and poisoning his blood.   By evening, McKinley realized the end was near, and with friends and relatives gathered around his bedside, his last words were reported to be, “We are all going, we are all going, God’s will be done, not ours.”  He died at 2:15 am on September 14, 1901 and later that day Theodore Roosevelt was sworn in as president.  Czolgosz was quickly put on trial for murder, found guilty, and was executed on October 29, 1901.

The president’s body was taken by train to Washington DC where it first lay in the East Room of the White House, and then in state in the Capitol.  It was then taken to the Stark County Courthouse in Canton, Ohio.  On September 19th, the funeral service was held at the First Methodist Church, and then the casket was taken to the McKinley house.  Mrs. McKinley, overcome with grief, did not attend the services in Washington or Canton, but did listen from an adjacent room to the funeral service at their home.   In September 1907, the McKinley monument was completed in Canton, containing the bodies of the president, his two daughters, and his wife who had died four months before the monument was dedicated.

Interestingly, Frances Glessner’s journal only makes two brief mentions of the assassination.  For reasons unknown, but possibly due to ill health, she made only brief sporadic entries in her journal during mid-1901.  An entry covering five weeks written at The Rocks dated September 14, 1901, notes only “President McKinley was shot” and then “Saturday the 14th President McKinley died.”

Thomas and Mary (Glessner) Kimball

The interesting connection between the Glessners and the McKinleys has to do with the McKinley house in Canton, Ohio.  That house had been built about 1870 by John Glessner’s older sister Mary and her husband Thomas Kimball.   Located at 715 Market Avenue North, the two-story frame house with broad front porch became famous during McKinley’s first presidential campaign in 1896.

According to the book Cabins, Cottages & Mansions: Homes of the Presidents of the United States by Nancy D. Myers Benbow and Christopher H. Benbow (Gettysburg, PA: Thomas Publications, 1995), the McKinleys were married in January 1871 and resided for a time in the St. Cloud Hotel in Canton.  Shortly thereafter, Mrs. McKinley’s father, James Saxton, purchased the house for the couple and they remained there until 1877, when they sold the house and moved to Washington D.C. upon McKinley’s election to Congress. 

In 1896, McKinley leased his old home in Canton and celebrated his silver wedding anniversary there.  As he launched his presidential campaign, he considered it inappropriate to travel around the country delivering speeches.  Instead, people came, by the thousands, to his home where he delivered speeches from the front porch.  It is estimated that McKinley gave over 300 speeches in his “front porch campaign” to nearly 750,000 individuals, something that had never before happened in U.S. history.

In 1899, he repurchased the home for $14,500 with the plans of retiring there after concluding his term as president.  Mrs. McKinley remained in the house until her death in 1907, keeping it as a shrine to her late husband.  After she died it went through a long sad history.  It was used as a hospital and then a nursing home and by 1930 had been moved.  After plans to save the house were unsuccessful, the house was carefully dismantled with the idea of later rebuilding it.  But the parts were allowed to deteriorate and many were vandalized or stolen, making reconstruction impossible. 

An interesting newspaper clipping in the Glessner archives entitled “Drive to Save McKinley Home from Auction Fails” (pictured above) notes the following:

“This photo shows the home of former President William McKinley, inset, at Canton, Ohio, which faces the auction block because of a lack of funds for its rehabilitation and maintenance.  A movement to solicit $15,000 in subscriptions to save the home, scene of McKinley’s famous “front porch” campaign, failed and now it must be sold at auction unless federal aid can be obtained."

A note accompanying the article, written by John Glessner states:

“House built about 1870 at Canton Ohio by Thomas S. & Mary Glessner Kimball, & afterwards sold to the McKinleys.  The latter made all his speeches from these porches in his campaign for the Presidency.  And now in 1934 an effort is being made to raise money to repair & preserve it as a memorial.”

William McKinley has the dubious distinction of being the only President for whom no house in which he ever lived is still standing, except for the White House.  The site of the home is now occupied by the Stark County District Library.

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