President William McKinley is shaking hands at the Pan-American Exhibition in Buffalo, New York, on September 6, 1901, when a 28-year-old anarchist named Leon Czolgosz approaches him and fires two shots into his chest. But did you know that Vice President Roosevelt was in the wilderness then?
No one knew where Vice President Teddy Roosevelt was as President McKinley died. He raced all night down mountain roads on a buckboard wagon in pitch black pouring rains to be sworn in after being found in the wilderness.
What were President William McKinley’s Last Words?
Be careful how you tell my wife, the president said as he rose slightly on his toes before collapsing and might be his final words before dying.
Czolgosz moved over to the president, intending to fire the third shot, but McKinley’s bodyguards wrestled him to the ground. McKinley, still conscious, instructed the guards not to harm his assailant.
Other presidential attendants rushed McKinley to the hospital, where they discovered two bullet wounds: one on his sternum and the other entering his abdomen. He was rushed to surgery and appeared to be recovering by September 12. Later that day, however, the president’s condition rapidly deteriorated, and he died on September 14 from gangrene that had gone undetected in the internal wound. Vice President Theodore Roosevelt was sworn in as president immediately.
Czolgosz grew up in Detroit as a Polish immigrant and worked as a child laborer in a steel mill. As a young adult, he became interested in socialist and anarchist ideologies. He claimed to have assassinated McKinley because he was the leader of what he saw as a corrupt government.
On October 29, 1901, Czolgosz was convicted and executed by an electric chair. The unrepentant murderer’s final words were.
I killed the president because he was the enemy of the good people, the working people.Leon Czolgosz, Anarchist
(Source: Constitution Center)
Where was Teddy Roosevelt?
Roosevelt was speaking at a fish and game event on Lake Champlain at the time of McKinley’s shooting. On September 6, the Vice President was informed of the shooting. He traveled to Buffalo by rowboat, yacht, and train, staying with an old friend, Ansley Wilcox.
Roosevelt left Wilcox’s Buffalo home on September 10, believing McKinley would recover. As part of a family vacation, he traveled to the Adirondacks to climb Mount Marcy, New York’s highest peak.
The Vice President was staying at a cottage when he learned that McKinley’s health had deteriorated. Roosevelt left the cottage at midnight rather than wait for daybreak. He traveled five hours to the nearest train station, where he boarded a train to Buffalo with the assistance of several wagon drivers. Roosevelt found out about McKinley’s death at the train station. Roosevelt took the oath of office privately at Wilcox’s house about 13 hours after McKinley died.
Roosevelt had to borrow formal attire for the occasion, and photographs of the ceremony were prohibited. Roosevelt took an oath administered by federal judge John Hazel at the request of Secretary of War Elihu Root. (Source: Constitution Center)
Image from Census