An absolutely true presidential murder mystery

original gates to River Lea, where
this month’s Historical Society meeting
was held.

The featured speaker at yesterday’s meeting of the Grand Island Historical Society was John Koerner, who spoke about “The Secret Plot to Kill McKinley” (that’s also the title of his book).

view from the trail leading to River Lea
last night. In 1901, this trail was the start
of East River Road in Grand Island, and
there were mansions and private
clubs along the road. They were torn
down when Beaver Island State Park
was established.

This is the story. The year was 1901. The setting was the Pan-American Exposition in Buffalo, New York. The exposition, which was in part a celebration of the magic of electricity, was set in Buffalo because, at the time, Buffalo was the second richest city in the United States. The scene was set, despite glitches, such as the cannons that were shot off to celebrate the president’s arrival shattering the windows of the president’s train. 

There were a variety of characters in the story:
The president: William McKinley, who was considered to be a “symbol of the rich” and, therefore, controversial.
The assassin: Leon Czolgosz
The vice president & former governor of New York: Theodore Roosevelt
The anarchists: Emma Goldman, David Caplan, & Leon Czolgosz
The photographer: Charles W. Arnold
The Italian: mystery man at Pan-American Exposition, apparently a wealthy Republican ward boss in Buffalo
Bandage Man: Another mystery man
The Secret Service agents: George Foster & Samuel Ireland
Medical director of the exposition: Dr. Roswell Park

This guy, Leon Czolgosz, had gotten a job at a farm in West Seneca, New York, not far from Buffalo. He was a young single man, without a girlfriend or children. He was considered to be intelligent and ready to commit acts of violence. He was also described as an “anarchist,” which, in the early twentieth century, was another word for “terrorist,” as opposed to someone who dislikes government and just wants it to go away. During the summer, he may have met with Emma Goldman and David Caplan, who were visiting Buffalo. On August 30th, 1901, he ran out of money and was unable to pay his rent. Two days later, he returned to Buffalo, sporting a stack of $100 bills. He purchased a gun and began spending money like a drunken sailor. No one knows how he managed to obtain all of that cash.

September 6th was the last day of the exposition. President McKinley had a big day of activity planned. He had visited Niagara Falls earlier in the day. Later, he was going to attend a dinner that was scheduled to be held at the Butler Mansion, at the corner of Delaware Avenue and North Street in Buffalo. He never made it to the dinner. He went to the Temple of Music to do a meet and greet with the public. His private secretary, George Cortelyou, said that he had a premonition that something bad would happen at the Temple of Music. He asked the president to cancel the event but the president refused. 

The photographer, who had an all-access pass to the exposition, had been following President McKinley everywhere with his Brownie camera. Despite his all-access pass, he was not permitted in the Temple of Music and was told, “Get out of here.” He may have left before the president was shot. 

Either Mr. Arnold never took any pictures of the shooting or the pictures that were taken were destroyed.

When Leon Czolgosz went to the Temple of music, he had one hand wrapped in a bandage. He was hiding the gun. He was walking closely behind the Italian, who was walking in an odd posture. Apparently, he was aiding in hiding the gun by leaning backwards, while the disguised gun was shoved into his back. He quickly disappeared after the shooting. There was another man who was wearing a bandage on his hand. He, too, disappeared and was not identified until years later. The secret service did not check any of the men.

Why were anarchist leaders in Buffalo? Why was a Republican ward boss aiding an assassination?

After the president was shot, Leon Czolgosz was beaten up by numerous people before police took him to jail.

The president was taken to the Exposition hospital, where a gynecologist performed surgery, despite not being qualified to serve as a surgeon. Roswell Park, who was a surgeon, had been called away to perform surgery in Niagara Falls. President McKinley died on September 14th. Was his absence planned by someone else? Would the president have survived if Roswell Park performed the surgery? 

After President McKinley’s death, Theodore Roosevelt was immediately inaugurated as president in the Wilcox Mansion in Buffalo. Leon Czolgosz was convicted after a brief trial and, weeks later, was executed. In 1917, Emma Goldman was deported to Russia. She died in Toronto, Ontario, Canada, in 1940 at the age of 70.

Soooo… was President McKinley’s assassination the result of a conspiracy? I don’t know but I’m going to read John Koerner’s book, The Secret Plot to Kill McKinley (conspiracy, curses, and ghosts in Western New York) to find out more. If you are interested in purchasing the book, check out this website for more information: purchase information for “The Secret Plot to Kill McKinley”

 I am taking part in The Write Tribe Problogger October 2017 Blogging Challenge  (Hyperlink this to:   

#writebravely #writetribeproblogger

15 thoughts on “An absolutely true presidential murder mystery”

  1. Wow! This is intriguing! They always say lofe imitates art…or is it art imitates life? Either way, seems to be true, isnt it?

  2. Alice, I'm visiting again from the Ultimate Blog Challenge. Wow, what a great mystery! How wonderful you got to meet the author. I'm sure there is much more in the undertow of this story than we can guess without reading it. And maybe more that got into the crevices of history, never to be revealed. I may need to get the book!

  3. History is full of mysteries. This one, we may never know the answer to. At least, I learned who Roswell Park was; I only knew the name through the Buffalo cancer institute he founded. And, Brooklyn has a Cortelyou Road, but it is named after a different Cortelyou.

  4. Now I must read the book, just the little that you shared with us is enough to get me to purchase a copy. Thanks for a look at our history that you don't see in many history books.

  5. An extremely fascinating storyline! Sometimes premonitions come true. Had the president listened to his private secretary and cancelled his trip to the temple of music…

  6. I'm not sure if it is a book I'd read, but the name Czolgosz stuck in my head for some reason 🙂 Maybe because it's different.

  7. Wow, that was quite intriguing. Who knew that history has such fascinating stories. This book would make a fantastic read.

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