Tag Archives: William McKinley

Take Care at the Fair; Meet me in Upstate NY


Upstate New York is the setting for this fourth essay on the Edwardian and pre-war period.  The winsome town of Auburn, at the end of Owasco Lake, is a particularly unlikely nexus of circumstance. Although it is the home of abolitionist Harriet Tubman, and the William Seward museum – he who negotiated the purchase of Alaska – (and those two share some common history) – that is not the reason it appears here. It does, however, serve as the site of a maximum security penitentiary. [0]

Expositions are the timekeepers of progress.

They record the world’s advancement.

They stimulate the energy, enterprise, and intellect of the people; and quicken human genius.

They go into the home. They broaden and brighten the daily life of the people.

They open mighty storehouses of information to the student.

Every exposition, great or small, has helped to some onward step.

. Comparison of ideas is always educational and, as such, instructs the brain and hand of man.  [1]
– Wm McKinley, Sept 5, 1901


In 1901 the world, and the President, went to Buffalo for the 1901 World’s Fair, also known as the Pan-American Exposition. Since London’s “Crystal Palace Exhibition” in 1851 [2], fairs had been extravagant venues of social construct for promotion and inspiration: snapshots in time of the human race’s views and sociology, of its scientific and technological advancements, of its geopolitical constructs.  The ideologies of technological progress and nation-state expansion were on display: evidence that people and nations had, through technology and expansion, achieved great things.

Implicit and inspirational was that even greater accomplishments were yet to come. Also implicit was that fairs afforded each nation forums and opportunities to “show off” their achievements, cultures and pride:  “(to) juxtapose its prowess in any and all fields against that of all other participating nations.” A justification for World’s Fairs was that “that they promoted peace by bringing the world together and through education of its citizens by their educational content.” [3]

The 1901 Buffalo Pan-American Exposition certainly had some technological advancements on display, especially electricity and X-rays.

Electricity and Lights: Situated in Delaware Park [4] toward Buffalo’s northwest side – about 2 miles from the Niagara River and a 20 minute trolley ride from the center of town – the Fair had the world’s first significant display of hydroelectric power.  With power coming from Niagara Falls, some 25 miles away “… at dusk 240,000 eight watt bulbs came on at once, not in a brilliant flash of light, but in a gradual increase in brightness until every building was adorned in a bath of light. Since the Electric Tower was the focal point of the Exposition, it was studded with 44,000 lights. A powerful searchlight was mounted at the highest point of the tower that allowed it to be seen from Niagara Falls and Canada.” [5] [6]

X-rays: To German physicist Wilhelm Röntgen is ascribed the distinction of “discovering” X-Rays, in 1895. Although their effects had been observed before, he was the first to study them in detail. In December, 1895, he presented his findings to the Würzburg Physical and Medical Society. [7] By mid-1896, X-Ray machines (Röntgen Rays in many places; still Röntgen Strahlen in Germany) were in limited medical use: seeing “into” the body to detect bone breaks, and even famously, metal objects in or on the body. [8]

People came to the Fair to see the new and exotic, including electric lights and X-ray machines making pictures of what lies within the body, covered by skin and flesh.


President McKinley came to the Fair at the very height of his popularity. He had been recently re-elected in another electoral drumming of Democrat William Jennings Bryan. [9]

The economy, after several years of slumping due to the Panic of 1893, was humming along; unemployment had dropped from near 18% to under 5%. [10]  GDP was growing: the US economy had just grown to be the world’s largest [11] and the third largest GDP per capita – surpassed only slightly by Australia and New Zealand. [12] The US had become the world leader in wheat, steel and cotton production. [13]

On average, standard of living was high and climbing rapidly; the US was indeed the “land of opportunity” and the world was excited at any friend’s or relative’s opportunity to go to America: the population swelled past 75 million; more than each Germany, France and Britain – behind only China, India (part of the British Empire) and Russia. [14]

Politically, McKinley’s presidency marked the ascendancy of the United States to the role of major player on the world scene.  Fresh from a victory over a centuries-old international power in the Spanish-American War, the United States now had new territorial reach: from Cuba and Puerto Rico in the Caribbean to the Philippines in the Far East.

The international prestige seemed to have no bounds; the Hay-Pancefote Treaty of 1900 empowered McKinley to announce that the US would be taking on the world’s most impressive and audacious engineering feat: building the Panama Canal. The US had secured from Britain exclusive rights to build and operate such a canal. [15]

McKinley had moved away from his hardcore business and capitalist roots. As now in the 21st century, a wide chasm between the privileged industrialists and the common laborer had opened up, apparent for all to see. McKinley moved toward progressivism, no longer supporting the unconstrained lassaiz faire expansion of big business and protective tariffs. He now understood that, long term, these hurt American competitiveness and drove prices up for average consumers, hampering the economy.



The Panic of 1893 officially ended in November 1893, as bank runs fell off to near zero, and stock markets bottomed out. However, economic stability and sustained growth, both in the US and abroad, were not realized until ’97.  Even at the time of the 1901 Buffalo Fair, ripples were felt; the economic lives of all Americans had not returned to “normalcy”, if ever there is such a thing.

Some lessons of the Panic: Runs on banks are devastating; without a central bank, the economy is actually dependent on the good will of the uber-wealthy (a large gold loan from JP Morgan saved the Treasury from a run on its gold); over building and limited competition (as happened in the railroads) can lead to a crash; the world economy is interconnected: economic instability in Argentina, political instability in Brazil and low crop yields in Europe all contributed to the crash.

We now turn our attention to the lives of two people, both US citizens, who were affected by the Panic. Still aggrieved, they found their way to upstate New York, at the time of the Buffalo World’s Fair, in 1901.  Otherwise completely unrelated, and unknown to each other, their names were Annie and Leon.


Annie Edson Taylor

Annie Edson was born and raised in Auburn, NY, in the famous and beautiful Finger Lakes region.  She became Annie Edson Taylor when, in 1854 at the age of 17, she married David Taylor.  One of 8 children, her father – a flour mill owner and operator – died when Annie was 12. He left her enough money to live in a modicum of comfort and to acquire a good education.

With a solid basic education, Annie became a school teacher. Eventually she bore Mr Taylor one child, a son, who died in infancy. She became a widow only a few years later, a sacrifice endured by many, thanks to the US Civil War.

After that, Annie showed her brave heart and big ambitions: she moved around chasing a teaching career and starting small businesses, including a dance school in Bay City, Michigan, and a music school in Sault Ste Marie, Michigan. She also tried teaching in San Antonio, as well as Mexico City.

During the ‘90s, partly on account of the Panic and subsequent Depression, Annie fell on hard times.  She despaired about her situation; she had always perceived of herself as an independent and self-sufficient woman.

In 1901 she hit upon an idea to make enough money to take care of herself for the rest of her life. Reading about the vast crowds showing up for the Fair, she moved to Buffalo and hired a promoter.  She had a custom-built wood barrel constructed, based on a pickle barrel design.  It was reinforced with iron bands and fitted with a mattress and ballast on the inside.  The ballast was to ensure that it would float with one side always “up.”

Just a few days before the Fair ended, on her 63rd birthday, October 24, 1901, Annie climbed into the barrel.  The barrel was then filled with compressed air and the hole was immediately tightly sealed with a cork.  Then, gently, the barrel was slid into the current of the Niagara River.

The current carried Annie-in-the-barrel over to the Canadian side, and over Horseshoe Falls.  Twenty minutes later the barrel appeared, bobbing, at the bottom of the falls, drifting slowly toward Lake Ontario.

Ladies and Gentlemen, I give you Annie Edson Taylor: at 63 years old, the first person to go over Niagara Falls in a barrel, and survive. [16]


Leon was another person whose already unstable life was adversely affected by the Panic and the Depression that followed. Although the subject of a difficult life and times, this could hardly portend his end; his death was one of the very first to be preserved on film for posterity.

Born to immigrants of Polish heritage in Detroit in 1873 – his father, Paul Czolgosz (pronounced like Chawl-gosh); his mother, Mary Nowak (as Novak); both probably from Polish regions in or near Belarus – the family moved often.  First to Cleveland, then to other cities in the upper mid-west, each with strong Polish communities. [17]

Leon lost his mother to childbirth at an early age; his father remarried shortly thereafter.  This probably sparked his lifelong detachment from just about everything: his family, his faith, and – ultimately – the American way of life and dream to which the Polish community had come for opportunity and refuge.

Czolgosz became an avid reader, even after ending his formal education at about age 10. After beginning work in factories at age 15, his experiences drew him first to literature about labor and socialist movements; later he was drawn to writings of anarchists.

Perhaps embarrassed by his culture and name, he started going by pseudonyms, usually Freddie Nieman (which is German for “no one”). [18] He left the Catholic faith (most Poles are Catholic, a la Pope John Paul II – Karol Józef Wojtyla). He started hanging out with Socialist and Revolutionary organizations, but even there he did not fit in.

Unable to find steady work during and after the depression, Nieman/Czolgosz found his way to Buffalo in late August of 1901, perhaps thinking that the buzz of the Fair would provide some labor opportunity.

Before moving to Buffalo, Leon met with anarchist activist and political radical Emma Goldman on at least two occasions: once in Cleveland at a lecture in May 1901, and once when he went to Chicago to meet her, in July.

There is little chance that Nieman/Czolgosz knew of McKinley’s planned trip to Buffalo for the Fair, on September 5 & 6 at the time he moved there.  But there is little doubt that he knew after the president’s plans were made public soon after he arrived; Czolgosz was a faithful reader of newspapers and pamphlets. Here, he was presented by this coincidence: he and the president were in the same city.  This coincidence, he hoped, was his opportunity to tell and show the president exactly how he felt about the unfair labor-capitalist relations in the US.

On September 5, the day of the speech, Leon was unable to get close enough to get the president’s attention.  Fortunately, the president would be at the Fair again, on the 6th, eager to meet-and-greet, to shake hands – he was a popular president after all, and he was eager to oblige a populace that was just as eager to see him in public.

At the Temple of Music, with an ensemble providing a Bach sonata [21] as a mellow background, Czolgosz found himself at the front of the crowd, with the president working his way toward him.

The president moved quickly from person to person, smiling.  He extended his hand to Czoglosz, whose right hand was covered by a handkerchief, as if nursing some sort of injury. Instinctively, the president reached for Czoglosz’ left hand instead. Their hands met at 4:07PM.

Pop! Pop! Two shots.  Bullets pierced first the handkerchief, then the president’s body. The first hit and glanced off his collar bone. The second lodged somewhere in the 58-year old president’s generously sized abdomen.

Czolgosz was quickly wrestled to the ground, giving himself and his weapon up with little fight.  Security officers pummeled him with blows and kicks. He considered his mission on earth complete.

As McKinley was being moved to a stretcher, and to the Exposition hospital, he expressed concern for Czoglosz (they should not beat him; he couldn’t have known what he was doing) and for his wife (please tell her where I’m going and that I’ll be fine).

At the hospital, it was an hour or more before a doctor qualified to perform surgery on McKinley could be located.  Daylight started to dwindle.

A surgery that evening was unable to locate the bullet. It is horribly ironic to note that the fabulous X-Ray machines on display at the Fair could have helped immensely — the bullet would have showed up clearly.  So, too, could the wonderful electric lights that lit up the Fair’s Temples and towers every night have helped.  To light the surgery room, doctors held up mirrors to the windows in order to reflect the waning sunlight to the surgery table. To find the bullet, they guessed… and failed to find it.

McKinley began making a remarkable recovery, even with the bullet remaining in him.  President Andrew Jackson had lived decades with bullets in his chest and abdomen, taking at least one bullet – from a dual in 1806 – to the grave.

McKinley also took the bullet to the grave, although not lasting decades: on September 13 things turned bad. Internal wounds had grown too infectious and McKinley passed away, from gangrene, on September 14, 1901. A four hour autopsy also failed to find the bullet.



The plan, if there was one, was never for Teddy Roosevelt to become president.  Making him vice-president was a compromise: New York needed to get rid of a pesky, highly-energetic progressive governor; McKinley needed a running-mate, as Vice President Garret Hobart had died in 1899. The Vice Presidency was a safe place to “park” Roosevelt – and he was a nice addition to the ticket: he was enormously popular thanks to his recent Spanish War experiences, leading the Rough Riders and charging up San Juan Hill.

At 42, Roosevelt is still the youngest person ever to take the oath of the presidential office (Note: Kennedy was the youngest elected president, at 43).  Roosevelt’s presidency, and subsequent election in 1904, brought the nation into the Progressive Century.  He fought for great expansion of the National Park system and Public Lands holdings. His vigorous enforcement of the Sherman Anti-Trust Act broke up monopolies and price-fixing collusion rings, leading to a more competitive nation, lower prices and – at least the perception – of less influence by big-corporations over government.

He reinforced America’s image as a world power with his gun boat diplomacy, sailing the navy around the world, to put in at great harbors and “show the flag.”  America’s role in the world, he said, is “to speak softly, but carry a big stick.”

Theodore “Teddy” Roosevelt is still considered the most popular president of all time. He pulled away from a certain re-election in 1908: there were safaris to go on and jungles to explore.  His bust is one of the four carved into Mt Rushmore.



Annie Taylor went on few speaking tours, making speeches about her over-the-falls experience.  These did not make her much money. Eventually, her promoter ran off with most of her funds and her pickle barrel. Although not well off, she managed to eke out a living, making enough money from Niagara tourists to get by: posing with them for pictures, fortune telling and selling magnetic heath devices.

When Annie was safely on land after her falls plunge she said “No one should ever do that again.” [19] Despite that advice, and laws against it in both the US and Canada, fourteen people have successfully duplicated the feat.  Over 5,000 dead bodies have been recovered from the falls, many of them thrill seekers.

She lived her remaining 19 years near Niagara Falls.

Leon Czolgosz was, of course, rapidly tried and convicted for the murder of McKinley in the first degree. Very rapidly.  The conviction came down on September 24; just 10 days after McKinley’s death and 18 after the shooting. The next month, Czolgosz was executed by electric chair – the first to be re-enacted on film. [20] Coincidentally, the execution was at Auburn Prison, in New York – in Annie Edson Taylor’s childhood home town.

McKinley was buried in his native Ohio, at Canton; there is a monument to him there.  Roosevelt’s hand-picked presidential successor – William Taft – never really wanted the job, preferring a seat on the Supreme Court, which he eventually got in 1921.  Taft was ineffective as president, leaning back toward the party’s big business interests, causing Roosevelt to enter the 1912 election as a 3rd party candidate; this led to an easy victory by Woodrow Wilson (Democrats’ first since Grover Cleveland of the Bourbon Democrats 20 years before).

It’s impossible to know how the country and the world would have turned out had Leon Czolgosz – alias Freddy Nieman – not elbowed his way to the front of the crowd that day at the Temple of Music, in Buffalo, at the World’s Fair.  At a minimum, it’s FAIR to say that Teddy Roosevelt would never have become president. Looking a little further, perhaps the US would not have entered the Great War – WW1 – which began 100 years ago.

Wishing you a Fair and Peaceful month.

Joe Girard © 2014

[0] Tubman-Seward connection, Auburn, NY: http://www.nyhistory.com/harriettubman/home.htm

[1] –- President McKinley’.s last speech.  Delivered in Buffalo at a reception in his honor, at the World’s Fair on September 5, 1901. Full text here: http://www.bartleby.com/268/10/27.html

[2] The 1851 Fair, held in Hyde Park, London, was more formally known as “Great Exhibition of the Works of Industry of all Nations”; http://www.ndl.go.jp/exposition/e/s1/1851.html

[3] “Indescribably Grand”, Introduction, Edited and assembled by Clevenger, Martha – Diaries and Letters from the 1904 World’s Fair. Title taken from diaries of Edward Schneiderhahn.

[4] Delaware Park, so named for its proximity along Delaware Avenue, is on the registry of National Historic Places.

[5] Buffalo History Works: http://www.buffalohistoryworks.com/panamex/buildings/buildings.htm

[6] The Electric Tower, like Eiffel’s tower to the 1879 Paris Fair, was the technological and vista centerpiece of the 1901 Fair. 375 feet tall and lit with 44,000 lights, climbing to its top provided a spectacular panoramic view of the fair and surrounding landscape.


Electric Tower, at Night — 1901 Fair — Buffalo

[7] Roentgen’s presentation, Über eine neue Art von Strahlen (On a new kind of Rays):  http://www.xtal.iqfr.csic.es/Cristalografia/archivos_10/Uber_eine_neue_art_von_strahlen_ocr.pdf … translated here: http://web.lemoyne.edu/giunta/roentgen.html

[8] Röntgen’s famous X-Ray picture of his wife’s hand, clearly showing that the metallic wedding band does not allow the rays to penetrate.


[9] McKinley’s victories over Bryan, 1896 and 1900. http://www.270towin.com/1900_Election/; http://www.270towin.com/1896_Election/

[10] The “Social Democracy” site seems to have the best economic data at present for this era. http://socialdemocracy21stcentury.blogspot.com/2014/02/weir-on-historical-estimates-of-us.html

[11] The US economy is generally credited with becoming the world’s largest in either 1899 or 1900.  Here is one source: http://www.ritholtz.com/blog/2010/08/history-of-world-gdp/

[12] World economies, GDP per capita, http://www.nationmaster.com/country-info/stats/Economy/GDP-per-capita-in-1900

[13] US Production, 1900: http://pages.ucsd.edu/~jlbroz/Courses/POLI142B/lecture/1800-1900.pdf

[14] Population by Country 1900.  Oddly Russia is scarcely bigger now (2014) than then.  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_countries_by_population_in_1900

[15] Panama Canal: US History with Britain, and the Isthmus Canal.  http://www.u-s-history.com/pages/h929.html; the failed Hay-Herran Treaty with Columbia eventually led to a US backed – and organized – revolution to cleave Panama from Columbia.  Upon Panama’s independence, the US/Panama Hay-Bunau-Varilla treaty granted the US rights to build and operate the canal.  http://www.u-s-history.com/pages/h931.html); Hay was Secretary of State for McKinley and Roosevelt.

[16] Some sources on Annie Taylor

[a] http://www.biography.com/people/annie-edson-taylor-195766

[b] http://forgottennewsmakers.com/2010/02/09/annie-edson-taylor-1838-1921-first-person-to-go-over-niagara-falls-in-a-barrel/

[c] http://www.legacy.com/news/legends-and-legacies/annie-edson-taylor-heroine-of-niagara-falls/260/

[17] Some sources on Leon Czoglosz

a) http://www.spartacus.schoolnet.co.uk/USAczolgosz.htm

b) http://library.buffalo.edu/pan-am/exposition/law/czolgosz/#who


[18] On pseudonyms: Sarah Vowell (2005), Assassination Vacation, Simon & Schuster. ISBN 978-0-7432-8253-6 (p214); available here: http://books.google.pl/books?id=XdJid7UW9PEC&printsec=frontcover&source=gbs_ge_summary_r&cad=0#v=onepage&q&f=false

[19] Carolyn Thompson. “Seeking out Death – or Defying it for Niagara Falls, It’s a busy Season for Tourism, Suicide and Daredevils”, Sun Sentinel – Fort Lauderdale, July 2, 2000, pg3A

[20] Film: Execution of Leon Czolgosz.  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UYSxfyIqrjs;
this is not the real execution.
It was a re-enactment based on supposed first-hand testimony done as an Edison publicity stunt.


Library of Congress; http://memory.loc.gov/cgi-bin/query/h?ammem/papr:@field(NUMBER+@band(lcmp001+m1b38298))



[21] Bach Sonata during the assassination: http://articles.baltimoresun.com/2001-09-06/news/0109060175_1_william-mckinley-james-garfield-assassination


[ii] Biography of Leon Czolgosz.  By John Simkin. http://www.spartacus.schoolnet.co.uk/USAczolgosz.htm

Murderpedia: http://murderpedia.org/male.C/c/czolgosz-leon-frank.htm

[iii] The gun used by Czolgosh was a .32 caliber Iver-Johnson “Safety Automatic” revolver, serial number 463344, purchased for $4 on September 2, 1901. This pistol is currently on display at the Pan-American Exposition exhibit of the Erie County Historical Society in Buffalo.
It is the only US Presidential assassination weapon which is not in federal custody.