Leon Czolgosz

Hi guys… my name is Scott. I’m very new here, so please be gentle.

Okay, I’m in AP U.S. history at my high school, and our teacher spent an entire day on Charles Guiteau, the guy who assasinated James Garfield. That guy was pretty screwed up… a lot of weird repressed sexual problems, socially unaccepted, religious zealot. Interesting stuff. Being a guy who’s interested especially in Presidential history, I asked my teacher about Leon Czolgosz (spelling?), the guy who shot McKinley, but he didn’t know anything about the guy. What’s the deal with Czolgosz? Lone-nut gunman? One egg short of a dozen? I’m dying to know. (Bad pun.)

  • Scott

Welcome, SGMagic, to the SDMB.

Here’s a site with some background information on Czolgosz and the assassination in general:
http://www.geocities.com/CollegePark/Quad/1430/

Here’s a some good background on Czolgosz:
http://www.slavicvillagehistory.org/czolgosz.htm

It appears he was a militant anarchist.

FYI - I got these and hundreds of other hits with an Alta Vista search for “Leon Czolgosz”. Try it, there’s much information out there.

If you can find an old copy of the People’s Almanac by Irving Wallace you’ll find a pretty good bio of Czolgosz.
Basically a loner who attahed himself to the Anarchist movement but wasn’t really welcome there. Nonetheless, the assasination was used as an excuse for mass arrests of Anarchists.

BTW - Guiteau was from Freeport Illinois. Other persons of note from Freeport: Loella Parsons, Calista Flockhart and Slithy Tove.

Yeah, either he was a nut or he was mentally ill.

A quick search through http://www.google.com/ turned up several sites on him. These two seem to have the most info:

Leon Czolsgosz (1873-1901)

The Assassination of William McKinley

Hi, Scott, and welcome to the Straight Dope. Here’s the brief story of Leon Czoglosz. Czoglosz was born in the U.S. of Polish parents. He became interested in socialism and anarchism, becoming an anarchist himself, and closely following the anarchist movements in Europe. He met Emma Goldman, and spoke to her, as well as other prominent anarchist leaders, but apparently they considered him unstable. In 1901, he heard that President McKinley was going to appear at the Pan-American Exposition in Buffalo, NY. Czoglosz traveled to Buffalo from Chicago. On Sept. 6, the McKinleys left Buffalo to go to Niagra Falls for the morning. He was due back in Buffalo to do a “meet and greet”…a public appearance where he would shake hands with citizens, at the Temple of Music at the Exposition. His advisors suggested against it, saying that 1. It was too insecure, 2. He had already fufilled his commitment to appear at the exposition, and 3. There was no way he could shake the hands of everyone who wanted to meet him. He just shrugged and said, “Well, they’ll know I tried, anyhow”, and went back. The event was insecure…there were just too many people for the police to check every one. Czoglosz approached the president, his hand, with revolver wrapped in a handkerchef like a bandage, and shot him in the stomach. The doctors were able to sew the president up, but not remove the bullet, and he died a week later of gangrene. When asked why he shot the President, Czoglosz said that “I am an Anarchist-a disciple of Emma Goldman. Her words set me on fire.”, insisting he worked alone. He was found guilty, and sentenced to death by electrocution. His last words were “I killed the President because he was the enemy of the good people-the good working people. I am not
sorry for my crime.”
It doesn’t seem that there was a conspiracy. Czoglosz seemed to see himself as the American Gaetono Bresci (who had assassinated King Humbert of Italy).

Leon Czolgosz was an anarchist, apparently obsessed with the “plight” of the working man. He was also a loner, and his own family thought he was a bit nuts. He reportedly was thrilled to read of the assassination of King Humbert I of Italy by another anarchist, and seemingly viewed this act as the beginning of great things. He attempted to ingratiate himself with the leading thinkers of the time, listening to speeches by Emma Goldman and talking to her on several occasions. He was, however, never accepted by “the movement.”

In September of 1901, Czolgosz travelled to Buffalo to intercept the President during his visit to the Pan-American Exposition. During the President’s appareance at the Temple of Music, an auditorium with a large stage and a even larger pipe organ, Czolgosz covered his .32 revolver with a handkerchief. This didn’t arouse the Secret Service or guards’ suspicions; the weather was very warm and most people were wiping their brows. As McKinley reached out to shake Czolgosz’s hand, Csolgosz shot him twice.

Although doctors were able to suture both wounds, there was no such thing as antibiotics in 1901; the President developed complications and died a week after beiong shot. Vice-President Theodore Roosevelt succeeded him.

Czolgosz was tried for murder nine days after McKinley’s death - another difference between 1901 and today. He was foudn guilty and sentenced to death. His last words reputedly expressed no remorse for his actions.

  • Rick

To stray slightly off the subject - the urban legend I’ve heard about the assassination says that the president died due to the fact that the surgeons could not find the bullet. If they had, he would have lived. Coincidentally, an early version of an X-ray machine, which could have been used to find it, was being demonstrated at the Exposition.

Wow… I appreciate the help.

  • Scott

Actually, the way I heard it was that all the probing around to find the bullet was what really did McKinley in - producing a massive infection. Perhaps if they really had just sewed him up with the bullet inside he might have survived. (I also seem to recall efforts to find the bullet using some sort of magnetic or electric device.)

There is something vaguely ironic about McKinley’s demise.

In the Civil War, he started as a commissary seargeant. He was promoted to 2nd lieutenant for getting rations to his fellow troops under fire at Antietam. He was appointed commander of an infantry company–a very, very dangerous job, but before he could see any action he was snapped up for a staff position by fellow-future-President Rutherford B. Hayes.

As best I can tell, McKinley was never wounded in the Civil War, but died of a gunshot wound.

Rutherford B. Hayes was wounded five times in the Civil War, served his full term, and died a quiet death.

If you go to http://memory.loc.gov/ammem/amhome.html , and do a search for “Czolgosz,” you will find a contemporary Edison film about McKinley’s funeral, and a somewhat tedious dramatic reenactment of the execution of Leon Czolgosz, complete with actor writhing in the electric chair for what seems like forever. Who says the good old days were less violent?

Sounds like your confusing and conflating Garfield with McKinley.

The doctors were unable to find the bullet that struck Garfield, and it was discovered later that the bullet wasn’t the cause of death. It was the doctors that killed him – probing and poking, sometimes with unwashed hands and messing up the wound so badly that they couldn’t begin to guess where the bullet ended up. It turned out that it lodged in a bit of muscle and became encysted, so it could have been left there harmlessly. But Garfield was so weakened by the infections caused by his treatment that he died.

In one attempt to find the bullet, Alexander Graham Bell tried an experimental magnetic device. It failed. That might be what you’re thinking of when you talk about an x-ray machine.

I don’t know the details of McKinley, other than the doctors also seemed to botch things. As a matter of fact, the only assassinated president to have died strictly from the result of the wounds was JFK. (Lincoln’s head wound may have been treatable using the techniques of the time, though he may have ended up a vegetable.)

I once read that this was because the doctors who were treating Garfield foolishly insisted that he be placed on a bed with metal springs under the mattress! Hel-loooo…

The story currently making the rounds about Bell and Garfield is that Bell had quite successful in detecting old, unremoved bullets from veterans. He offered his device to the doctors working Garfiled over and they accepted his offer, readily. Bell came and failed, going home very despondent because it was his machine’s first failure. Garfield was lying on one of the earliest wire-spring beds, but Bell did not know that at the time.

(Whether the spring bed was specially ordered by the doctors or was simply a new device Garfield was trying out, the story I’ve heard does not say.)

Which was the basis of part of the legal defense by Guiteau (he also tried to plead insanity). He claimed he should not have been found guilty of murder in any case because the wound he inflicted should not have killed Garfield, who only died because of medical incompetence (essentially admitting to his own incompetence as a marksman, I guess, since he never denied that he INTENDED to kill Garfield). The doctors inadvertently bolstered this defense by stating to the press following the attack that Garfield’s wound was not serious, and that the president would recover. Nevertheless, the defense didn’t work, and Guiteau was found guilty.