On this day in 1901, President William McKinley succumbs to gunshot wounds inflicted by an assassin on September 6. According to witnesses, McKinley’s last words were those of the hymn “Nearer My God to Thee.”
McKinley was shaking hands in a long reception line at the Pan-American Exhibition in Buffalo, New York, when a 28-year-old anarchist named Leon Czolgosz approached him with a gun concealed in a handkerchief in his right hand. McKinley assumed the handkerchief was an attempt by Czolgosz to hide a physical defect and kindly reached for the man’s left hand to shake. Czolgosz moved in close to the president and fired two shots into McKinley’s chest. The assassin was attempting to fire a third bullet into the stricken president when aides wrestled him to the ground.
McKinley suffered one superficial wound to the sternum and another bullet dangerously entered his abdomen. He was rushed into surgery and seemed to be on the mend by September 12. Later that day, however, the president’s condition worsened rapidly and, on September 14, McKinley died from gangrene that had remained undetected in the internal wound. Vice President Theodore Roosevelt was sworn in as president immediately following McKinley’s death.
Czolgosz confessed to his crime, but remained unrepentant. At his execution by electrocution on October 29, 1901, his last words were “I killed the president because he was the enemy of the good people—the working people.” The Polish immigrant-turned-anarchist’s death is said to have been filmed by famed inventor Thomas Edison.
On September 16, after receiving a funeral befitting a president in Washington, D.C., McKinley’s coffin was transported by train to his hometown of Canton, Ohio, for burial.