Monday, September 6, 2010

Et tu Czolgosz?

Happy labor day. One hundred and nine years ago on this day, September 6th 1901, Leon Frank Czolgosz entered the Pan-American exposition in Buffalo New York, walked up to president William McKinley who was greeting the public near the temple of music, and fatally shot him.

The low power .32 caliber (8mm) round from the Iver and Johnson Safety Automatic revolver passed through McKinley’s very large abdomen and lodged in the muscles of his back.

The path of the round punctured his stomach, pancreas and kidney; forming a mortal wound that could not have been repaired with the best medical capabilities of the time. McKinley would not receive the best turn-of-the-century medical treatment. The doctors refused to use an X-ray machine because they feared "unknown side effects". The surgery where he was treated had no electric lighting, and even the candles were put out after they anesthetized McKinley with explosively flammable petroleum Ether. McKinley would suffer tremendous pain for the eight days he spent succumbing to his wounds.

Iver and Johnson was a small bicycle and arms manufacturer that eventually sold off the last of its holdings in 1993. They were best known for producing cheap revolvers (aka Saturday night specials). They would have the dubious honor of also being the manufacturer of the .22 caliber Cadet 55-A revolver that Sirhan Sirhan shot Robert Kennedy with on the 5th of June 1968.

When McKinley felt the bullet ripping his innards to shreds he turned to his personal secretary (George Cortelyou, who was standing beside him) and whispered:” My wife, Cortelyou, be careful how you tell her, oh be careful”. In a little over a year and a half Cortelyou would become the first United States Secretary of Commerce and Labor.

A crowd subdued and began severely beating Leon. McKinley, upon seeing this, cried out: “Boys! Don't let them hurt him”. Leon’s beating was so severe that it was thought he would die from his wounds. He survived, however, and was executed on the 29th of October 1901. As Leon was strapped into Auburn State prison’s electric chair he proclaimed: "I killed the President because he was the enemy of the good people – the good working people. I am not sorry for my crime”.

Leon liked to think of himself as an anarchist who was personally inspired by the legendary and attractive Emma Goldman. Their meeting was a brief one, but it did occur during the period of her life when Alexander Berkman (Emma’s lifelong friend and lover) was in jail for the attempted murder of Henry Clay Frick (the boss who’s labor practices resulted in the homestead strike of 1892). Despite the briefness of their encounter (really just a cab-ride) Emma wrote a post-assasination article entitled “The Tragedy at Buffalo” where she compared Leon to Caesar’s Brutus.

Most anarchists, aside from the lovesick Emma, thought Leon was a creepy man. Various groups posted bulletins warning about Leon; they believed him to be a spy.

After removing Leon’s brain the state of New York filled his coffin with sulfuric acid, and burned all his clothing and letters.


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