Theodore Roosevelt's Wild Ride to the Presidency: Part 1

Nov 15, 2016

As part of their time with us, we ask our digital cataloging interns to write a blog post to share some of their experiences and “finds” while working in the Roosevelt collections. Ashley Zengerski is a native of Buffalo, New York, a city that hosted one of only two U.S. presidential transitions to be held outside of Washington, D.C. (the first being that of George Washington, in Federal Hall in New York City). Ashley’s knowledge of the topics below has been influenced by local stories and her own visits to the Theodore Roosevelt Inaugural National Historic Site.

In 1901, a series of events in Buffalo unfolded that pushed Vice President Theodore Roosevelt into the presidency. This two-part blog post will illustrate the tumultuous turn of events that began at the Pan-American Exposition.

Pan-American Exposition

The goal of the Pan-American Exposition was to create an event that would go down in the history books. It was designed to be something to rival the grandeur of the Exposition Universelle of 1889, held in Paris. Buffalo was at its height of wealth and prestige. The tragic event of September 6, 1901, was not intended to be its legacy.

Buffalo was chosen for the event due to its proximity to Niagara Falls and its source of free power. Buffalo’s exposition could then be the first to truly utilize electricity. More than 200,000 electric lights were used, with the Electric Tower as the focal point. Never before had anyone witnessed such a spectacle.

The exposition also excelled in horticultural embellishments, fountains, and court settings. About 350 acres were set aside for the grounds in the northern part of Buffalo, and several buildings were constructed for the event. These buildings were grand, intricately adorned, and very costly. Only two buildings (which still stand today as the Albright-Knox Art Gallery and the Buffalo History Museum) survived the wrecking ball that arrived immediately following the close of the exposition.

Chicago's white city outdone

A few of the buildings constructed for the Pan-American Exposition. The Temple of Music on the bottom right is where President McKinley was shot.

The Midway was the location of all exhibits grotesque, bizarre, and amusing. It featured dances and fashion from around the world, historical scenes, and cycloramas. Onlookers could watch as bodies were pierced. Abraham Lincoln’s log cabin was also supposedly on site. Examples of homes from the Philippines, Africa, and Hawaii provided a form of cultural recognition.

Such was the scene that attracted thousands of people. President McKinley arrived on September 5 and gave a speech on peace. It has been noted that McKinley enjoyed himself as he viewed the exhibits and spoke with other attendees. On September 6 there was a reception in the Temple of Music and hundreds of people lined up to shake his hand.

the shooting of the president

The photo in the upper left corner depicts President McKinley on his way to the Temple of Music, about twenty minutes before he was shot.

The Assassination of President McKinley

One person in line was Leon Czolgocsz. He had a bandage around his right hand, which the president assumed was injured. As McKinley switched to shake with his left hand, Czolgocsz raised the bandaged hand and two shots rang out. Inside the bandage was a .32-caliber Iver Johnson revolver.

Before McKinley’s Secret Service could act, before the Exhibition Police could respond, James B. Parker attacked Czolgocsz and prevented him from taking a third shot. It is believed that Parker’s quick action gave McKinley the opportunity to fight for his life and recover from the wounds.

How the President is gurarded

James B. Parker gives an account of his actions to save the president.

Guidelines to protect the president in public have significantly changed over the last century, in part due to the events in Buffalo. McKinley is reported as preferring minimum security, and he often went for drives without his Secret Service. One change reported in Leslie’s Weekly is that the president henceforth would always be on a platform above the crowd. Although removing the personal touch McKinley appreciated, the president is safer when out of reach at public events. Without today’s technology of metal detectors and wireless communication, little other than standing guard could be done.

Vice President Theodore Roosevelt was in Vermont at the time of the shooting. He immediately set out by yacht, then by train, to Buffalo. When he arrived, he was assured that the president would live. McKinley had undergone surgery to repair the two holes in his stomach. By September 10, the news was so encouraging that Roosevelt left for the Adirondacks. McKinley’s humor had returned and so had his appetite. It seemed that McKinley would survive the assassination attempt.

On the morning of September 14, McKinley died.

Funeral of McKinley

Funeral procession in Buffalo for President McKinley.

Posted by Ashley Zengerski on Nov 15, 2016 in History  |  Permalink  |  Comments (0)  |  Share this post

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