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The American president, William McKinley, was shot on September 6th 1901 and died a week later. At the time of the shooting the president was being guarded by the Secret Service, 11 soldiers and some policemen.

What went wrong? As the Secret Service later admitted, they were too busy looking at an unarmed black man to notice the white man right in front of him who was hiding a gun in a handkerchief.

The killer, Leon Czolgosz (sounds like Cholgosh), a white man from Detroit, had got in line to shake the president’s hand at the Pan-American Exposition in Buffalo, New York. Schumann’s “Traumerei” was playing. Behind him in line was a “dark complexioned man”, who turned out to be James “Big Ben” Parker, a waiter and former constable from Savannah, Georgia.

Czolgosz had bandaged his hand in a handkerchief to hide his gun. When McKinley went to shake his hand, Czolgosz shot him twice. Before he could get off a third shot, Parker hit him and knocked him down and knocked the gun out of his hands, saving the president from certain death.

They took McKinley to the exposition hospital for an operation. The second bullet had gone in, through his stomach and his kidney. The doctors could not find the bullet. Two of the new inventions shown off at the exposition – electric lighting and the X-ray machine – could have helped them find the bullet, but neither was used. No one thought to put electric lights inside the hospital and the doctors thought the X-ray machine was too dangerous.

When word first got out about the shooting, it was said that a black man did it.

In the days that followed McKinley seemed to be getting better, but then on the 12th, almost a week after the shooting, he took a turn for the worse. On Friday the 13th it got so bad there was nothing more the doctors could do. In the early hours of the 14th McKinley died.

Czolgosz was an out-of-work factory worker. His parents had come to America from Poland. When he heard anarchist Emma Goldman speak in Cleveland, he tried to become friends with her, but she thought he was with the police. Her words burned inside him. When he heard that the president was going to be at the Pan-American Exposition he went to Buffalo to kill him.

Czolgosz saw McKinley as the enemy of the good working people: his power only helped the rich against the poor, so Czolgosz was not sorry about killing him. This was a new position for him: he used to vote Republican.

His trial lasted less than nine hours. He was put to death by a new invention of the age: the electric chair.

What changed because of the shooting:

  • Theodore Roosevelt became president.
  • The anarchist movement got a bad name in America and lost ground to socialism.
  • The Secret Service was required by law to protect the president.

What did not change:

  • Racial profiling.

See also:

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