Tag Archive | Presidential Assassination

Circus Trip 2018: Theodore Roosevelt Inaugural NHS

Day 44, Tuesday, August 28, 2018

Theodore Roosevelt Inaugural National Historic Site, Buffalo, New York

Most of you probably know that President William McKinley was shot by anarchist Leon Czolgosz while he was attending the Pan American Exposition on September 6, 1901.  That’s my birthday! Well, it is long before my actual birthday, but you get my point.

McKinley hung on for 8 days, and Vice President Theodore Roosevelt rushed to get to Buffalo to be by the President’s side.  He originally arrived on September 7, and McKinley’s prognosis was good; in fact it was so good that on September 10 doctors determined he was out of danger, and Roosevelt left to return to a family vacation in the Adirondacks.

Of course, the President soon worsened, and a telegram was sent to summon Roosevelt back to Buffalo.  He arrived shortly after McKinley died on September 14, 1901, having learned the news on his journey back.  A suitable location for the inauguration was sought and determined to be the home of Ansley Wilcox, a prominent attorney and friend of Theodore Roosevelt.  It also happened to be where Roosevelt was staying while he was in Buffalo.

The home itself was built beginning in 1840; it was the Officer’s Quarters of the Buffalo Barracks Compound, built because of concerns about a minor insurrection to the north in Canada at the time.  It was eventually sold and became a private residence, and the Wilcox family purchased the home and built an addition that doubled its size in 1896.  It is built in the Greek Revival style, with huge columns adorning its front porch.  That is how the home looked in 1901, when Roosevelt’s inauguration was held.

Roosevelt was inaugurated in the library of the Wilcox home, a small room that ended up being packed with several cabinet members, dignitaries, and the judge administering the oath.  Theodore Roosevelt was now the President of the United States.  No photos were taken of the inauguration, but several were taken of the room afterwards.

Here is where Roosevelt stood during his inauguration

The Theodore Roosevelt Inaugural National Historic Site is set up with exhibits on the exposition, McKinley’s assassination, and Roosevelt’s Presidency.  There is an interesting film detailing the political climate at the time, and the events that happened surrounding the assassination.  Upstairs, the rooms on the main floor of the home have been restored to what they looked like when Roosevelt was inaugurated here.  The docent led tour takes visitors to the library when Roosevelt took the oath of office, and photos taken after the inauguration are displayed.

Upstairs you can see additional exhibits and sit at a mock President’s desk!  It was certainly worth a visit and it wasn’t crowded, only averaging about 13,000 visits per year.  It is a must if you are interested in Presidential history!  If you aren’t able to visit, they have a virtual tour!

 

Circus Trip 2018: McKinley Memorial

Day 37, Tuesday, August 21, 2018

Canton, Ohio

I heard somewhere that this is the largest Presidential tomb in the United States.  I tried to corroborate this with information online, but I came up empty, but having seen it, it seems plausible.  That said, I wasn’t really expecting that, since President William McKinley isn’t exactly the most famous or revered of our Presidents.

The memorial

McKinley lived in Canton, Ohio for the majority of his adult life. He served in the Civil War and participated in several battles an officer in a regiment of the Ohio volunteers; he was the last Civil War veteran president. After the war, he became a lawyer and had a robust civil and political career before being elected President in 1896.

On September 6, 1901, an anarchist named Leon Czolgosz shot McKinley at the Pan-American Exposition in Buffalo, New York. He died eight days later after developing gangrene. His body was returned to Washington, D.C. to lie in state at the United States Capitol, and then he came home to be interred in Canton.

McKinley’s friends planned a memorial for McKinley and raised over $600,000 to build it in Canton’s Westlawn Cemetery.  Construction started in 1905 and was completed in 1907, the same year that Ida McKinley died.  McKinley, Ida, and their two daughters who died in early childhood were all interred in the memorial building.

And what a memorial it is!  It stands on a grass-covered hill overlooking the city of Canton, and is immense!  It was designed by architect H. Van Buren Magonigle (that’s a name you really have to grow into!) and is a huge domed pink granite building that is 96 feet tall and 79 feet in diameter. To get to the building, you must first climb up 108 stone steps that lead up to the mausoleum.  When I visited, there were quite a few joggers getting their workout in on these imposing steps.  There used to be a long reflecting pool in front of the memorial and steps, but it was replaced in  1951 by a depressed lawn.  About halfway up the steps is a bronze statue of President McKinley delivering his last speech in Buffalo, by artist Charles Henry Niehaus.

You can go inside the mausoleum and see the tomb where the McKinley family is interred, but it was already closed for the day when I visited.  It would have been neat to see!  Instead I took pictures outside, where my hair really shows how windy it was at the top of the hill that day!  The memorial is managed by the William McKinley Presidential Library and Museum – one day I’ll visit there too!

 

The Assassin’s Accomplice: Mary Surratt and the Plot to Kill Abraham Lincoln

My most recent audiobook read was The Assassin’s Accomplice: Mary Surratt and the Plot to Kill Abraham Lincoln, by Kate Clifford Larson.  Published in 2008, it is a comprehensive study of the role Mary Surratt played in the plot to kill President Lincoln.

The Assassin's Accomplice: Mary Surratt and the Plot to Kill Abraham Lincoln

The Assassin’s Accomplice: Mary Surratt and the Plot to Kill Abraham Lincoln

Larson begins her story with her belief that Mary Surratt was innocent of the charges that she was tried, convicted and hanged for.  It is a fair assessment; there certainly are plenty of people who believe that Mary was caught up in the public fervor to swiftly find and punish the guilty parties.  But then, she begins presenting the research, and the evidence stacks up.

Larson methodically presents the case, beginning months prior to the assassination, going over Mary’s role and what she knew, and how her actions convinced investigators of what she knew.  She interweaves the story of Mary’s family life, abusive marriage and eventual life as a widow trying to clear her alcoholic husband’s debts after his unexpected death.  It has the rhythm of a novel, so you are never bored with the numerous records that she introduces and the facts she describes.  She describes Mary in vivid detail for the reader, so you really end up feeling like you know her as a person.

She describes the arrest, the subsequent investigation and interrogations, and the trial of the conspirators before the military tribunal.  She doesn’t glorify either side, pointing out the flaws in both the prosecution’s and defense’s case, and explaining the part that media and public opinion played in the trial.  She detailed the fragile emotional state of both Mary and her daughter Anna, and how it influenced observers both in her favor and against.

She matter of factly describes the shortcomings of Mary’s inexperienced attorneys, and how Mary’s own unwillingness to provide any sort of alternate explanation against the mountain of evidence was critical in sealing her fate.  And of course, one cannot ignore that fact that Mary basically took the fall for her son John Surratt, who undoubtedly had significant knowledge of the plot, but remained hidden after Mary was arrested, tried and executed.  Would the outcome have been different had John come forward to stand before the tribunal?  We will never know.

Larson also describes the execution, making the reader feel that they understood what happened, without making it into a gory scene.  And finally, she examines the debate about Mary’s innocence by firsthand witnesses and her attorneys that continued well into the early 1900s.  The pendulum swung from the public believing in her guilt, to outrage over what was thought to be the execution of an innocent woman.

In the end, Larson has made it clear that the project did not reaffirm her belief in Mary’s innocence, as she expected it would, but led her to a deep understanding of Mary’s guilt and her knowledge of the plan.

Well researched and well written, this book is a must read for anyone who wants to more fully understand a humble, pious woman’s role in the conspiracy to kill the President.