Eric Rauchway, author of "Murdering McKinley," up top, I`d like to have do three things, explain three different attempted assassinations. The first one is Charles Guiteau, in 1881. What -- what -- does that have any connection with the McKinley assassination?
Well, Guiteau shot Garfield on a train platform in 1881, with the idea that he was going to benefit the conservative wing of the Republican Party. Guiteau was, in all probability, a little bit unhinged, and had a bit of a circus of a trial, based on determining his responsibility for the crime, in which he represented himself, and then he was eventually hanged. And that influenced the McKinley assassination, inasmuch as it scared the dickens out of the prosecutors. They didn`t want to repeat that kind of circus and that problem again. And so they were determined to prosecute the assassin and do away with him fairly quickly, learning the lessons of the Guiteau case.
Do you happen to remember how old Guiteau was?
I don`t, off the top of my head, no.
Then the second assassination attempt was in 1892...
... which you write about in your book. Now, see, we had the first one in 1881...
... the second one in 1882, Henry Clay Frick.
Who was he, and who was trying to kill him?
Frick was a steel executive, and he was a colleague and business partner Andrew Carnegie. And during a strike, he was trying to break a union, and an anarchist named Alexander Berkman (ph) walked into his office and shot and stabbed him a number of times in what turned out to be a failed, if energetic, attempt at assassination. Berkman ultimately served 14 years in jail, I believe, for that.
And what -- what was his relationship to a woman named Emma Goldman, who you have a relationship with the assassin of William McKinley?
Berkman was, in all probability, romantically involved with Emma Goldman. And certainly, he was philosophically simpatico with Goldman. They were both anarchists and radicals.
Actually, there are four. I said three, there`s four.
The next one is about 10 years later, 1901, Leon -- and is it correct to call him Czolgosz?
Czolgosz, I think, yes.
I`ve seen about four different pronunciations.
You have a footnote on it. What were the circumstances of his assassination?
Well, on September 6, 1901, Czolgosz went to a public reception that William McKinley was holding at the grounds of the Pan American Exposition in Buffalo, New York. And Czolgosz worked his way to the head of the line and prepared to shake the president`s hand -- or rather, the president prepared to shake his hand, only Czolgosz was holding a revolver in his hand, concealed by a handkerchief, and he shot the president in the abdomen.
What are we looking at here?
What we`re looking at here is the Edison Company`s film of the outside of that building, the Temple of Music at the Pan American Exposition, and the crowd waiting and hoping for McKinley to come out. He was never, of course, coming out to be received. I particularly like this piece of film, and I refer to it in the beginning of the book, because the cameras are there. They`re at the scene of the event. You can -- you know that the event is occurring behind that wall, and yet there`s all this space between you and the event and these people between you and the event. And it kind of -- it kind of represents the historian`s problem, is that it`s there but you`re not quite there, and it`s very difficult to tell what`s going on. And so you have to sift through these recollections.
We had the assassination of James Garfield, 1881...
... the attempted assassination of Henry Clay Frick in 1892...
... the assassination of William McKinley, 1901. Then about 11 years later, in 1912, John Shrank (ph).
What did he try to do?
He shoots Theodore Roosevelt in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, as Roosevelt is on his way to give a campaign speech. This is the presidential campaign of 1912, with Roosevelt running as a Progressive Party candidate for president. And Shrank would say afterwards that he didn`t think anyone should have a third term and that was why he shot Roosevelt. Roosevelt, famously, went on to give the speech anyway, with a bullet in his chest. And he had been saved from death by the fact that it passed through the folded-over pages of his speech, which he had tucked into his breast pocket there, and the bullet had to pass through all of that dense Roosevelt prose before it hit Roosevelt`s person, so he was -- he survived that attempt.
What does it say, in, you know, 10-year increments -- these are just four of -- other -- there are others. But what does it say to you, when you studied all this?
You mentioned that there are others, and let me mention some of the others because it`s important to the McKinley assassination to put this in a slightly more international context. In 1881, the Russian czar, Alexander II, is killed by a bomb exploding under his carriage, I believe. And in that year, there are meetings of some hundreds of anarchists in Paris and London, who adopt the propaganda of the deed, which is a euphemism, essentially, for terrorism, as their model for attacking industrial civilization. And over the next couple decades, there are many bombings and many assassination attempts and many successful assassinations, and McKinley`s fits into that context, as well. I mean, there were bombs exploding in Paris and London streets. There were assassination attempts. The French president, the Spanish prime minister, the Italian king and one of the Habsburg heirs were all murdered in the decade preceding McKinley`s death, and that was the context in which people saw it at the time, as well.
When did you get interested in this, and why did you get interested in all this?
Well, I originally got into it for sort of academic and scholarly reasons. As time wore on, I discovered personal reasons to be interested in it, as well. Let me start with the sort of the serious reasons first. I mean, this assassination, the assassination of William McKinley, is, in my opinion, one of the most important political events of the 20th century, for obvious reasons and for less obvious reasons. The obvious reasons are that pretty much no assassination, no Roosevelt, no Roosevelt as president, anyway, no Theodore Roosevelt as president, no Franklin Roosevelt as president, in all likelihood. And you can see where this sort of goes with American politics. Roosevelt was far too eccentric, far too independent-minded, possibly far too entertaining a person ever to be nominated as a presidential candidate for the Republican Party in the normal way of things. So it took some kind of extraordinary event to put him in the White House. That being said, you know, you don`t need an assassination. It could be a streetcar hit William McKinley or he ate a bad clam or something like that. But the fact that it was a political assassination is really the more important thing, and it was this particular kind of assassination, an anarchist assassination, a radical political assassination that gave Roosevelt an opportunity that he wasted no time in seizing. And in coming to the presidency, he said, Well, now, we must, on the one hand, condemn anarchists and radicals as evil. They`re criminals. They don`t understand our American way of life. On the other hand, Roosevelt said, there`s something to these complaints that the radicals have about American society, and we really ought to regulate corporations, look a little bit more favorably on labor unions, address the circumstances of workers in factories, regulate the railroads, that sort of thing. And it was this "on the one hand, on the other hand" way of speaking and of doing things that made him such an effective president. And it was the assassination that gave him the avenue into that strategy.
So what about the personal reason that you got into this?
I discovered on doing this that my father`s grandfather, Shlomo Kanagel (ph), who`s one of the people who`s referenced on the dedication page, arrived in New York from Austria on September 7, 1901. And so, in a sense, my family`s story in America begins on the day after the assassination attempt, and this is the America to which my immigrant ancestors came. And so I developed a personal interest in it for that reason.
Who`s the other fellow on this list here, Hans Gunther Belotz (ph)?
That`s my grandfather, my mother`s father, who is the most recent male migrant in my direct ancestry, who came to this country from Germany in the 1920s.
When did you discover this -- that you had this relationship?
The September 7 coincidence?
Fairly late in the process. Ellis Island put its records on line not too long ago, and I looked them up, just as a matter of course, and found that out.
What book is this for you?
This is my second book.
And where do you reside full time?
I live in Davis, California.
I teach at the University of California at Davis.
And where do you come from to Davis?
I had been teaching for three years at Oxford, in England.
What kind of subjects?
And where did it all start in this country for you?
Where was I born?
I was born in Cincinnati, Ohio. For the first six years of my life, we moved around a bit, lived in Louisiana, New York. I grew up mostly in St. Petersburg, Florida, where we lived from 1976 onward -- and my parents still live quite near there -- until I went to college.
And you went to school where?
At Cornell and then at Stanford.
Back to the assassination.
Who was Leon Czolgosz?
Well, that`s the central question of the book, Who was Leon Czolgosz? People thought, when they saw that this young -- he was about 28, some accounts say 25 -- this young man with this, as you say, a very-difficult-to-pronounce name for many Americans both then and now, people thought that this was the example of sort of the new immigrant coming to our shores who posed a threat to American society, kind of, the millions of young men who are coming to America for strictly economic reasons. And a lot of Americans thought, Well, these are taking American jobs and they`re lowering American wages. And they don`t want to Americanize. They just want to take our money and go home. And that`s what people thought they were looking at when they saw Leon Czolgosz. And again, that was one of the things that gave a sort of boost to Roosevelt`s style of politics, was dealing with the immigrant threat. But on the other hand, as I spend some time developing in the book, he was not that kind of person at all. In fact, he was American-born. He was born in Detroit in about 1873 to parents who had come to this country, and not for those chiefly economic reasons, or not apparently for those chiefly economic reasons. They had come fleeing oppression or the specter of oppression in Europe. And they followed very much older pattern of migration, where the whole family would come over with a very specific intent of becoming Americans. And it was not so much that Czolgosz was a foreigner, ultimately, that led him to an alienation from William McKinley`s administration, but the fact that he had hopes to find a certain kind of America and hadn`t found it.
The circumstances of the shooting of McKinley. Where was it? Under what -- what time of day and all that?
It was about 4:00 in the afternoon, a little bit after 4:00 in the afternoon in Buffalo, New York, where there was a Pan American Exposition, a kind of World`s Fair, going on to celebrate America`s connections to the rest of the world. And so like many world`s fairs, it had marvels of new technology, wonders of other lands, this sort of thing. This is right on the morrow of America`s acquisition of colonial colonies in the Philippines and in Puerto Rico, so America had become an imperial power. They were planning building a canal through Central America to connect the United States to its new acquisitions. And all of this sort of celebration of American extension of power was going on in Buffalo.
This is some of the video from there.
As you can see, this was an electrified exposition, and the Edison Company had contributed to the "tower of light" at the exposition, and there were lots of new uses of electricity on display, including the X-ray machine and that sort of thing, wonders of the modern world kind of thing. And the Temple of Music was the largest enclosed space at the exposition, and it was there that McKinley was simply doing what we now call meet-and-greet with the people. There was a long line of people waiting to see the president. He went to the head of the line and started shaking hands and passing them along.
How long had he been president?
Well, he was just starting his second term. He had been elected president in 1896 and had taken office in March of 1897, then was re-elected in 1900 and had been inaugurated for the second time in 1901. So he was just a little ways into his second term.
And what did the country think of this man?
Well, he was tremendously popular, I mean -- or -- judging by the vote, anyway. He was re-elected by a comfortable majority. In 1896, it had been a bit closer, a closer-run thing between him and William Jennings Bryan, and the country was -- appeared to be very strongly divided between this sort of swath of Bryanites in the mountain states and in the South and then the sort of outposts of McKinleyites in the Northeast and on -- California, the Pacific Coast. By 1900, it was a much more McKinley-supportive affair, and he won by a much greater margin, again over William Jennings Bryan.
Were there Secret Service around William McKinley when he was shot?
There were Secret Service. There were a variety of New York detectives and military men who had been detailed to the fair, and they somehow failed to prevent the assassination. Now, immediately afterwards, pretty much every cop in the country began saying, Well, had I been there, you know, I would have done this and that, and they should have done the other thing. But at the time, they appeared to be doing more or less what they thought they should be doing. Lots of people thought there was a strong chance that this was a dangerous appearance for the president to be making. George Kortolue (ph), who was his personal aide, thought that -- had a premonition that the president shouldn`t do this particular meet-and-greet. The people who had planned the exposition were having a beer on the afternoon just before this appearance, and said, Wouldn`t it just be Roosevelt`s luck if the president were to be shot? I mean, there was a general idea that -- again, that there were radicals out there, there were anarchists, and they might take a shot at the president at any time.
So how did he do it?
He had had a revolver in his hand, an Ivor-Johnson (ph) .32. And he had a white handkerchief wrapped around it. And he simply stood in line until he got to the president, upon which he raised his hand and shot the president twice at close range in the abdomen.
And this footage, again -- people just waiting for him to come out?
Yes, people are waiting for the president to come out. And you can see some of the various helmets being worn by the exposition military detail in the front of the crowd there. And they are kind of conferring and appear to be trying to decide what to do. Some of them start scurrying a bit towards the end of the footage. And you know, again, nobody knew really quite what to do, at this point.
You say there was somebody in the line that the Secret Servicemen were suspicious of.
Right. Well, afterwards, one of the Secret Service agents gave testimony that he had seen a swarthy man with a mustache in the line and that he thought that this was a suspicious person. And so he was looking at this suspicious person instead of at Czolgosz, and that`s why he let Czolgosz slip by. He had sort of looked at Czolgosz and said, Well, he looks like an ordinary young mechanic out for the day to meet the president. He doesn`t -- this swarthy guy is somebody I should be keeping an eye on.
Did the swarthy guy turn out to be anybody?
Well, there was a strong chance that the swarthy guy with the mustache could have been James Parker, who was somebody the Secret Service man later said wasn`t in the line. James Parker was a black man who was in line behind, it appears, Czolgosz, who, according to newspaper accounts immediately after the shooting and up until about the time when the president died about a week later, tackled Czolgosz first.
Let`s look at this just for a moment. This is an artist`s drawing. The gentleman there with the white hand there, you know, wrapped in the handkerchief, is Czolgosz, and the fellow right behind him is supposed to be Parker?
Is supposed to be Parker, yes. This is -- this is a representation that was done by an artist a few years later. I mean, the presence of Parker was something that was widely accepted in popular culture, even though it never went into the official record. It was widely reported in newspapers. Parker was interviewed. And at the time, it was well known that this was, The Negro who saved McKinley, as one newspaper said, because he had put his arm around Czolgosz`s neck, apparently, and given him a bit of a beating and borne him to the ground and had prevented Czolgosz from shooting McKinley for a third time. And if you take into account the president survived for about a week after being shot, you know, there was a lot of -- there were several news cycles in there, during which people said, Ah, this African-American hero is the man who saved McKinley. And the Secret Service later wrote him out of the story because it made it look like they weren`t doing their job. At least, that`s what it appears.
So how many times was he shot?
He was shot twice.
Where did the bullets go?
Well, they went into the abdomen. One of them, it seems, was deflected by the president`s sternum and so didn`t actually penetrate his belly. The other one went deep into the president`s belly, and they never found it. They tried to get it while the president was still alive. They tried to get it after he died. And eventually, they were prevailed upon to stop looking for it, and they never found it. It did, apparently, a great deal of damage to the president`s pancreas and various other internal organs, which caused his body to poison itself, effectively, going septic.
Didn`t you say there was a dispute over what happened to his stomach?
Yes. When I was looking into the book, I talked to a Buffalo doctor, a pathologist, who said, Well, you know, when I was doing my residency here, there was a story going around that his stomach was on display and that you could see the bullet hole in the back of the stomach, but I never saw it, he said. And apparently, nobody has, either. But it`s part of Buffalo lore, certainly.
So what happened -- well, where was Theodore Roosevelt at the time that President McKinley was shot?
He was in Vermont, at the Vermont Fish and Game Club, and he was doing what vice president presidents tended to do in those days, which was not very much that was satisfying to somebody who was as energetic as Theodore Roosevelt. And so he received the message that the president had been shot, and he made his way very quickly to Buffalo. And then, when it appeared the president was recovering, he left again, and he was on his way up Mount Tahalas (ph) or Mount Marcie (ph) in upstate New York when he got a message from a park ranger that the president was, in fact, dying of it. He was about to be president and he should come back to Buffalo.
So where did they take the president, and where did they take Czolgosz?
The president`s body was laid out in Buffalo first. It was eventually put on a...
Well, actually -- sorry. Excuse me. I wanted to get that week when he was still alive.
Oh, right. Yes, of course. Well, he had been taken to the -- he was -- first he was worked on at or near the exposition by some doctors who were present, who tried to -- you know, who got the one bullet and set it aside and then who tried to find the other bullet. And then he was put up at the exposition -- one of the exposition managers` house, a man called John Milburn (ph), in Buffalo, where he was sort of recuperating under the attention of several physicians for this week.
Were there people working on him when he was alive that ended up being in the picture later? Any of those doctors who were involved in any kind of an investigation?
Not that I know. There is a sort of a -- within the community of medicine, there`s a sort of controversy as to whether all had been done that could be done to save McKinley, and I think it`s basically resolved that, given the state of the medicine at the time, they had done about what they could do, and it wasn`t...
What did he end up dying of?
Well, ultimately -- I mean, ultimately, he died because he had this sepsis in the abdomen, it appears, but I mean, the proximate cause was the gunshot. He wouldn`t have died otherwise.
How old was he?
He was at that time -- let`s see. He had been born in 1843, so he was 58.
And where was his wife in this whole thing?
And she was -- she was by the president`s side by this time, yes.
And Czolgosz? What did they do with him?
Czolgosz? Well, first they took him away to the Buffalo police headquarters for interrogation, and then he -- his movements are not entirely clear during this time. There`s some -- the Buffalo DA, Thomas Penney (ph), later said, you know, I`m not going to release any records more than I have to. I don`t want to talk about this more than is necessary. I don`t think there`s any constructive purpose served by keeping this before the public. You know, We got him. He`s the guy who did it. He says he did it. Let`s not talk about the details. Now, what he was trying to conceal is, you know, not clear, as is always the case when officials are trying to conceal things. But they had him in their custody for a while, and then he was taken to trial in the New York courts. And he was tried over a very brisk trial of a couple of days, and then he was sentenced to electrocution where he was, in Auburn State Prison. He was electrocuted a little over a month after that.
We have some more video. This is the Auburn State Prison.
Have you seen this before?
I have. Yes.
We got this, thanks to your recommendation in the book, from the Library of Congress. This is a reenactment.
Yes. Again, this is the Edison Company, and it`s the same thing as the footage that we saw at the exposition. The Edison Company couldn`t really get to the event, so they were filming outside the prison at, they said, the time of the execution. And then they appended this reenactment of the execution here, this fairly detailed and somewhat grim, in fact, reenactment of the execution.
What -- was his -- what -- was his the first electrocution?
Oh, no, no.
They had been electrocuting people since 1890, 1890. They`d -- in New York state. The first electrocution a man named called William Kindler (ph), also in Auburn prison.
And what are we seeing here, when they -- what`s the purpose of showing that there -- they hit him once, and they hit him again?
Again, you know, this is the Edison Company`s impression of what might have happened. And if they hit him once and they hit him again, they may be trying to reproduce the controversial Kindler execution. The first time they did it, they electrocuted somebody, it didn`t go well. Either they electrified him for the wrong amount of time or something else went wrong, they hit him with the wrong amount of current. And you know, he didn`t die right away, and they had to electrify him again to do it. And here you see the doctors apparently checking to make sure that he`s dead.
From the moment he shot McKinley until he was killed himself, how many days?
I don`t know how many days. It`s late October when he`s electrocuted, yes.
But at least a couple...
It`s some weeks, yes.
Six weeks, or something like that.
Yes. A little over that, yes.
And what kind of a story was it, at the time, in the press? Did you look at the old newspapers?
Oh, yes. I mean, you know, once -- once he`d been sentenced to death and was simply awaiting death, there was a sort of a lull in the coverage of the case. And then it came out again when he was electrocuted, partly because, apparently, the prison warden made an extraordinary decision how to dispose of the body, which they -- they designed a special coffin and a special grave into which they were going to put sulfuric acid to dissolve the body more quickly, rather than the usual quicklime. And the prison warden, you know, was trying to keep anyone from taking away bits of the body away for medical analysis. Again, it`s probably likely he`d wanted to make sure that there wasn`t extended discussion of the case, that it was going to be open-and-shut. And so they were effectively destroying whatever remains there were.
Czolgosz is buried somewhere?
Well, it would have been a grave within the grounds of Auburn prison, and the body isn`t there anymore.
And William McKinley was -- what kind of a funeral did he have?
William McKinley had an elaborate state funeral. You seem to have footage of it there. Yes. He was taken to lie in state in Washington and then to his hometown of Canton, Ohio.
It started in Buffalo, and...
... we have some video also in the Capitol and on to Canton. What impact did this have on the country and the change to Roosevelt?
Well, it provided, as these kinds of elaborate ceremonies can, a sense of the orderly transition of power, in that, you know, they were grieving for this man, who, as I said before, was tremendously popular in 1901. And he was laid away in Canton, where he is still regarded as rather a local hero.
What was the reaction to having Theodore Roosevelt as the president?
Well, that depends who you ask, doesn`t it? McKinley`s friends were, many of them, very nervous. As I said before, Roosevelt was a very independent-minded man. Some people thought of him as being eccentric. He was somebody who took radicalism much more seriously than other Republicans tended to do. I mean, McKinley`s -- one of McKinley`s friends and colleagues was the industrialist and campaign manager and later senator Mark Hanna (ph), who is responsible for the well-known, possibly apocryphal quotation, "Now look at that damned cowboy as president of the United States," referring to Theodore Roosevelt, whom Hanna regarded as a loose cannon. And so when Roosevelt came to the presidency, his -- again, the willingness to adopt this "on the one hand, on the other hand" kind of rhetoric -- On the one hand, we must criminalize anarchism and wage war on it as if it were international piracy, on the other hand, we must do some things to eliminate the causes of radicalism -- was an attempt to navigate this distrust of him among Republican leaders and the popular perception that something might be done.
Now, how many books have been written about the McKinley assassination, many?
There were a couple just in the last year or so, since it was the centennial in 1901, and there have been one or two in the earlier part of the century. It had entered the kind of literature of assassinations, you know, as you started off by mentioning Guiteau. And there are -- and there`s a small literature on presidential assassinations. And most of that literature centers on whether the assassin was sane or not, and therefore, you know, why people would want to shoot the president. It`s a question that obviously was the central question following the McKinley assassination. And even following Czolgosz`s execution, there was a little bit of a hue and cry within the psychological community as to whether they might have done a little bit more to determine his state of mental health. And it was that investigation, that post-mortem investigation into Czolgosz`s insanity that provided the bulk of the primary source material for my book -- the notes that the psychologists took when they were interviewing his family and his friends, and this sort of thing. And that hadn`t been looked at in any great detail before.
Explain how that whole investigation started.
Well, in about November of 1901, not too long after the assassination, a Boston doctor named Walter Channing (ph), who had in his employ another doctor named Lloyd Vernon Briggs (ph), decided to undertake a private investigation of Czolgosz`s family history, with an eye onto determining whether he had been mad or not, and whether, therefore, justice had been served in executing him rather than committing him. And Channing had followed these kinds of crimes over the decades, had weighed in on the Guiteau case on the side of the assassin being insane. And so he was -- he took an interest in this particular problem of criminal or -- versus insane assassins. Briggs was a younger man who Channing employed simply to go do the footwork, essentially, for the investigation. And Briggs, therefore, went to Auburn, went to Buffalo, went to Detroit, went to Cleveland, where Czolgosz`s family lived, and interviewed, he ultimately said, some dozens of people to find out what kind of man Czolgosz had been. And that`s how we know -- that`s how I know that Czolgosz was not what he appeared to be because Briggs got the straight story.
Again, what did he appear to be?
Well, again, people looked at him, and they saw this name that had a lot of consonants in it, and they saw this young man, this sort of disaffected worker who had been out of work for a few years, and they thought, Well, this is -- this is the classic case of the new immigrant, this -- people would say this sort of -- this problem that is plaguing America, these -- some 18 millions of new immigrants between 1890 and 1914 came to the United States. The vast majority of them were young men who were simply seeking employ and had no interest in staying and becoming American citizens. So people fixated on Czolgosz as being foreign and being a threat to American institutions. And in fact, at his trial, the Buffalo district attorney said, Here is this representative of this class who come to our shores and who have no regard for our institutions, which was somewhat ironic since the Buffalo district attorney was, in fact, an immigrant, although Czolgosz was not.
Yes, Thomas Penney.
He came from?
He came from Britain.
And I want to show this picture again so -- and we can spell the name, for those who`ve never seen it before. It`s there on the -- in the cutline, but -- Czolgosz -- C-Z-O-L-G-O-S-Z.
His father, again, came from where?
Came from what was then part of Prussia, a town called Possan (ph), it appears. And Czolgosz, some people say, may be Hungarian in its ethnic origins, but they spoke Polish and were part of a Polish community by the time they came over and were in the United States.
He was born where, Czolgosz?
Czolgosz? Leon Czolgosz was born in Detroit.
How many kids in the family?
Eight or nine, it appears. It`s -- again, that`s not quite clear, but somewhere in that range.
And one of the brothers played a part in the investigation of Channing and Briggs.
Well, they interviewed several of his brothers. Leon`s brother, Waldeck -- or Valdeck, I`m not really sure how you pronounce that, either, frankly -- was a major source for Lloyd Vernon Briggs because he was, among the siblings, the closest to Leon, had worked at the same wire factor as Leon and had gone through a number of the same sort of political awakenings as Leon had done. And so he testified as to this to Briggs in the course of the investigation.
What kind of a life had Leon had?
Well, it was not -- it was not unusual. He`d -- he`d grown up in this family that came to Michigan. There were an awful lot of Poles and other Eastern Europeans who came to Michigan, and they moved sort of from city to countryside and back. I mean, it appears their goal was to buy a farm, and so they would live in a city and they would work and save up their money as best they could until they could afford to buy some land. Now, in those days it was very hard to earn a living wage and put by money if you were doing essentially unskilled work, the census then called least-skilled labor, which is what Paul Czolgosz was doing. And so, cyclical unemployment was very common if you were in Paul Czolgosz`s line of work, which was later the timber industry, quite often you might be unemployed maybe three months of the year for seasonal reasons.
This is his dad here.
That`s Paul Czolgosz there, that`s right. That`s photograph taken shortly after the assassination. Your children would probably have to work in order to augment the family`s income if you had any ambition to save up money. And so, Leon and the other Czolgosz children did work, they worked in -- Leon worked in a glass-blowing factory, after going to public school, later on he worked in a steel wire factory. He appears to have been fairly skilled worker doing what the foreman called fancy wirework in the factory, so he might have been earning a slightly better wage than some of his brothers and sisters.
When did Leon get involved in politics of any kind?
It came on the wake of the 1893 panic and depression, which was a really epochal event in American history -- this -- this panic, which came on the heels of a big boom, which was driven in turn by the desire to annex and consolidate our hold on the western states. There was an enormous amount of railway construction, telegraph wire laid and barbed wire stringing, all of which drove the steel industry in a big boom. The boom went bust beginning in the early 1890s, and in 1893 there was this terrible panic. That was exacerbated by some not very wisely conceived laws that the federal government had adopted in the early 1890s, and all of gold went leaching out of the United States treasury, and people began withdrawing the deposits from American banks. And in response to this, you know, credit, obviously became very hard to get, as it does in recessions, and people who employ other people began laying them off, which is what happened to Leon and millions of other Americans at that time. And so he was put out of work then, and it was then that he and his brother, Waldek (ph), began looking into, you know, why America wasn`t doing for them what they believed it was supposed to do, and they -- they read around a lot, and first they began to question Catholicism, and then later on they began to question capitalism, but only in a very mild sort of way. I mean, Leon`s favorite book was a very well known, very well selling novel by Edward Bellamy called "Looking Backward," which was this -- the most tepid form of socialism you could possibly imagine. And it hypothesized that although we now, and Bellamy was referencing 1887, a little bit before that, we now live in this kind of grim industrial world where people can`t find well paying work or constant work, sometime in the future, and Bellamy put that date as the year 2000, we would live in a society that had peacefully evolved into one that was much better managed, in which machines did most of the dirty work and people were free to enjoy their leisure. This was a tremendously popular book. It drove a political movement of its own. There were Bellamy clubs and that sort of thing, and Leon was a devotee of that political philosophy for most of the 1890s as far as we can tell.
There is a group of pictures here, caricatures of Emma Goldman, and she was...
Emma Goldman was an anarchist who -- also an immigrant, who had come to this country in the 1880s, and the event that provided her political awakening was the 1886 hay market bombing in Chicago, for which four anarchists were hanged. It was later concluded pretty doubtlessly without much evidence. And that fired her sense of injustice, and so she became an anarchist at that time, and she was, as we`ve already said, associated with Berkman (ph), the would-be assassinator of Henry Clay Frick (ph), and she was this sort of fire-eating orator and rhetorician who went around the country giving these speeches about how, you know, you should resist tyranny.
What`s an anarchist?
What`s an anarchist? Well, this is a fair question, because the anarchists at that time would not have agreed what an anarchist was. There is a kind of irony involving the notion of anarchist societies at all, but an anarchist is somebody -- an anarchist in the 1890s was somebody who believed that there should be no government, that any considerable accumulation of property was a form of theft, that laws existed therefore to reinforce theft, and that government was therefore complicit in this form of oppression, and they looked forward to, as communists would have said the withering away of the state and the coming of a socialist utopia. They disagreed over how that was going to happen and where it was going to happen violently. If it was going to happen violently, should they try to precipitate the violence or should they simply arm themselves in anticipation of the state trying to stamp them out, or should they just wait and hope. And there was -- there were all stripes of anarchists in America at that time.
How did Emma Goldman get her start?
Well, she -- she under the sort of almost religious awakening in the wake of the hay market ...
From where? Where was she based, and...
You actually know, she traveled around so much; I don`t know -- actually know where she was based.
But what she thought of it? Did the public know about her?
Oh, she was widely known as an anarchist figure. Indeed, suspicion lit on her immediately after the assassination in 1901 because she was -- she had been in Cleveland, which is Leon`s hometown, not too much before the assassination, and it was said that Czolgosz had attended this speech. And it does appear that Czolgosz did try to seek her out and meet her, because he was inspired by her in some way and, you know, there was a little brief face-to-face meeting at a railway platform in Chicago after one of her speeches, in which she basically told him to go away and had some of her friends tell him to go away because they thought that anybody who was so eager to meet Emma Goldman to find out about secret anarchist cells must be a police spy, and so they tried with … to get rid of him. In fact, they published in one of theirs newsletters, a notice, warning, this is a spy, don`t go near him. So the anarchists were very keen to distance themselves from Leon Czolgosz before the assassination. Afterwards, Emma Goldman kind of went soft on him, started writing about how it was poor Leon, and said, you know, this -- this man, you know, even though he may have been deluded was obviously operating in the spirit of true anarchism.
We go back to when we started the program, were talking about the four assassinations, Guiteau, the next one would have been the hay market -- I mean the...
Frick (ph) attempted assassination, then the McKinley assassination. Then John Schrank, who shot Theodore Roosevelt. What did the public think about it? Is this a form of terrorism, first of all? And what was it -- how much comment was there through those 20, 30 years in the public print?
Oh, there was a tremendous amount of comment, and it was regarded as from terrorism. That was the word that they used quite wildly in assessing Czolgosz after the fact. One of the physicians said, you know, if we`re going to call this man mad, we have to call all anarchists mad, in fact, we have to call all terrorists mad, and this particular physician said -- you know, you can see that point, that what they want and how they think they`re going to get it, it`s mad. On the other hand, you know, it`s mad in a political sense, it`s not mad in a clinical sense, and that was the distinction that they felt themselves forced to draw for legal reasons, obviously.
By the way, what`s your own conclusion after you read all about this? Was Czolgosz a mad man? Or was he insane?
Well, I don`t think there is -- I don`t think there is any evidence that he was insane in the sense that he should have been committed rather than executed. But that`s a very narrow legal sense. I mean, in my mind, anyone who shoots anybody in cold blood is to some degree mad. Obviously, that doesn`t let them off the hook, but between that narrow legal sense of being responsible for your actions and the much larger sense of having an off-kilter view of society, there is a lot of shades of gray. I mean, I try to paint a picture of that world as Czolgosz lived in it and to give a sense of how he could have come to this pass, and pointing out that, you know, these were not uncommon experiences, but alone among these people -- these many, many millions of Americans who had these experiences he`s the one who decided to shoot the president on account of them.
Guiteau was executed by our government.
What happened to Alexander Berkman (ph)?
Berkman (ph) served 14 years in prison, I think, of a longer sentence.
And he tried to kill Frick (ph). And then, what happened to John Schrank?
Schrank was committed, because, they say, he was insane, because he said a vision of William McKinley had come to him and told him that Roosevelt was his true murderer and that he should be avenged, and so -- Schrank got off being -- he had committed the crime in the state that didn`t have capital punishment, which Roosevelt thought was a sign of his sanity that he had tracked Roosevelt through several other states where Roosevelt said he surely would have been lynched had he tried to shoot me in Tennessee. But he was -- he was committed, and...
Do I remember you saying he lived about into the `40s sometime?
I may have said that. Yes, he did live -- he did live into Franklin Roosevelt`s presidency.
What was T.R.`s reaction? Were there different reactions to the assassination of McKinley and his attempted assassin -- assassination in 1912?
Yes. This is -- this is in my mind a critical difference between the two assassination attempts. The first one -- I mean, the first successful assassination of McKinley was, as I say, politically very useful to Roosevelt, to let him say, these people who would shoot our leaders are criminals, we must fight a war against them. Oh, and by the way, that includes anyone who`d give them aid and comfort, which means basically the entire Democratic Party and William Randolph Hearst and his newspaper chain, which gave Roosevelt a nice stick with which to beat his political opponents. And as I said, on the other hand, you know, he wanted to address what he believed were the causes of the misery in which Czolgosz had come up and had become alienated from society. And so it was an extremely useful political tool for someone who is, you know, kind of a genius of creating useful political tools -- Theodore Roosevelt. The assassination attempt on him in 1912 was not nearly so useful. This man first of all said he wanted to prevent Roosevelt having a third term, which painted Roosevelt in a rather unflattering light as an excessively ambitious man, which was one of his vulnerabilities in the public mind anyway, and second of all he was probably somewhat mad or appeared to be somewhat mad. And so it was as if he had been struck by accident by some force of nature. It didn`t give him a sort of political handle that he could really pull on. He tried -- I mean, his appearing at that speech with a bullet in his chest was a tremendous gesture of political ambition, and I excerpt quite a bit of that speech in the book to give you a sense of what Roosevelt is saying, you know. Here I have been shot and I appear before you with this bullet in my chest and I am doing this because I truly believe in the progressive cause, and if I were to die it would be worth dying. I have had an A-1 time in life and I am having one now, he said. Even this to him was an opportunity to be seized.
For the moment, let`s stop in the 1912. 1912 he was running for the third time, Bull Moose party...
Well, he -- it wouldn`t -- it wasn`t going to technically going to be a third term, it would have appeared to be a third term because he had served almost all of McKinley`s first term, but he had only been elected once, in 1904 in his own right, and then he had decided in 1908 not to run again, partly amid, you know, sort of press accusations that this would be third-termism, and that was, you know, unbecoming ambition.
Woodrow Wilson wins the presidency.
But Theodore Roosevelt gets a lot more votes than the president, William Howard Taft.
That`s right, you know. Taft came in third place. It was -- it was actually a four-way election in many people`s minds, because there was also the socialist candidate, Eugene Debs, who had been the head of the American Railway Union. And so, there was Debs and Wilson and Roosevelt, and between the three of them, they were vying for the anti-Taft vote, which was actually very large if you take obviously the three of them together, and then there was Taft, who was plugging away, saying, look, none of these radical changes that these men are proposing are really necessary. We ought to hew to a much more conservative line.
Do you remember the date Theodore Roosevelt was shot?
I don`t. It was -- it was very close to the election.
So it would have been about October in 1912?
The city and the exact circumstances?
Milwaukee, Wisconsin. And he was - he was getting out of -- or getting into a car at his hotel on his way to the auditorium where he was going to give a speech, and he had -- appears to have gotten into this car and then in a characteristic Roosevelt gesture decided to bounce up again and wave to the crowd and he was shot while he was waving, so...
You know the weapon?
Roosevelt made a joke about that. But I can`t remember what the joke was. He said, it was -- it was not a large enough caliber to kill a Bull Moose ultimately, was the gist of the joke.
How many times was he shot?
I believe it was just the once.
And how did he know that he wasn`t hurt? I mean -- and where did the bullet go?
Right. Well, the bullet went through his speech, as I say, which is in his breast pocket and hit him in the fleshy part of the chest, it appears, and he kind of looked down at himself, and he didn`t think that there was any arterial blood coming out, and he coughed, which he said, you know, he remembered from being a soldier that was one way to tell if there was internal bleeding. He didn`t cough up any blood, and so he said to himself, well, I can go on and do this. Now, this was a considerable risk. I mean, whatever precautions he took, to go walking around with a bullet in your chest is never a good idea. But he thought it was worth the risk to achieve this political end of giving this important speech.
And when he gave his speech, how long was it and how much of this did he show the audience? The fact that he had been shot?
Well, he -- he stood before the audience and he pulled out the text of the speech, so that people could see that the bullet had passed through the speech, and then when he opened his jacket you could see that there was blood on his shirt, so this was a very -- it appears, it was somewhat surprising to Roosevelt, it appears that he did not know how much blood there was, or that the speech had been perforated at that point. But in any case, it was a very dramatic gesture, and as I say, it gave Roosevelt this sort of spur to deliver this fairly long, almost an hour speech in which he sort of explained why he was running as a progressive and why he was, you know, repudiating the Republican Party and why he was challenging Debs and Wilson as demagogues of the left and why he was the sensible, centrist candidate and as I say, why he was having such a good time doing it.
And what happened to him after the speech?
Then he went to the hospital and then he was given some medical attention, and it turned out it hadn`t been quite so bad, and he was laid up -- he wasn`t able much to campaign, and there were some gentlemanly hemming and hawing by other candidates saying they would not speak but there was - there was really not much result, after as I say, it was fairly close to the election. And he was fairly discouraged, ultimately, having lost the election, even though he knew he was probably going to do that. But -- that was just about the end of his political career, really, that election.
If I remember, I don`t know what his electoral votes or popular votes, he got something like 27 percent of the vote.
He did very well in the popular vote. Yes.
Most ever of a third-party candidate.
Possibly until Ross Perot; I`m not sure about that, but yes.
Go back to the thing that got you the most intrigued, new information that you got on all of this, that Channing, that Walter Channing of Boston versus -- is it the Briggs -- what is it -- Vernon Briggs?
Where did you get the Briggs material?
It`s no secret. Briggs published a book called "The Manner of Man That Kills" in 1921 drawing off of his notes, and one of his case studies was Czolgosz. But his actual notes are lodged with Channing`s papers in the Massachusetts Historical Society, and his actual notes are much rawer and fresher than what`s in the book, and I think, you know, as legal documentation several months after the fact, but as far as evidence of what Briggs saw and heard while he was investigating Czolgosz`s family, I think it`s pretty good because he took these notes as he went along, he typed them up, but he mailed them to Channing (ph) by registered mail, and so they`re sort of a fresh depiction of what he found while he went on that trip from Auburn to Buffalo and to Detroit and Cleveland to meet Czolgosz`s family and acquaintances and talk to them about what kind of man Czolgosz had been. And I think it must, therefore, be a pretty good picture of what kind of man Czolgosz was. If there had been a sort of conspiracy of lies, it would have involved some dozens of people, and that just seems very unlikely.
Channing and Briggs -- you know, I`ll come back to that kind of a -- Channing and Briggs had a falling out.
They did have a falling out.
Who were they, again? Who was Walter Channing?
Walter Channing was, as I think Bostonians would say of the Boston Channings, he was of a very eminent Boston family. He was a descendent of William Alary Channing (ph), the Unitarian, he was related to various other civic figures, and he had been heavily involved in the civic life of the city of Boston, by virtue of his family name. He was in his 50s -- 53, I believe in 1901. Briggs was a younger man, although not as young as people say. He was 38 in 1901. But people always talked about how he was being boyish and referred to him as young man. This is partly because he had had to work to support his family, and had only been able to enter medical school and achieve his M.D. in 1899, and so he was sort of fresh out of medical school as he was working with Channing on this case. And he had -- Channing had been away from his private sanitarium and left Briggs in charge and Briggs, you know, kind of changed the regime at the sanitarium, implemented a lot of his new what he would have called progressive ideas for how to treat people and get them more quickly out onto -- you know, on the street and back in society. He believed really in curing the insane, or the nervous, which Channing was more skeptical about and preferred more to sort of give them comfort, and -- they represented sort of a more progressive and a more conservative point of view with respect to that.
After all their study, what were their conclusions?
They both concluded that Czolgosz was insane, although for different reasons. Channing basically said what I have just said to you, as I can`t imagine that any sane person would do this, which doesn`t sound like a medical opinion, but in 1901 I suppose it could be -- 1902 -- it was at the time that he gave that talk. Briggs gave a sort of theory in line with a lot of the newer psychology of the day having to do with a developmental theory about how Czolgosz had had a deformed or perversed secondary ego, and therefore he was unable to have empathy for other people, and this was -- this was the source of his dementia and ultimate insanity.
What did they do with the report?
They each published their separate versions of the report, and then as you say they went their separate ways.
What was the falling-out about?
Well, the real cause of the falling out is somewhat mysterious. As I say, they had very different views of how to treat their patients, and they were probably going their separate ways anyway. It became a political set-to between the two of them, because Briggs was lobbying for, and ultimately was successful in seeing through, the Massachusetts state legislature a number of laws to regulate the treatment of the insane, and in fact, one of the later laws that actually is usually referred to by his name, the Briggs law for dealing with the criminal -- the possibly criminally insane, and so he was pushing to get through these laws and they would have done Channing out of his living and that`s what Briggs would have said. Now, Channing said that the falling out was because Briggs was a man of bad character, and what he meant by that apparently was that Briggs had done -- had extra-marital affair -- rather, had had premarital affairs with a variety of women, including some of the patients at the asylum, and Briggs -- I don`t feel too bad about saying this because Briggs himself published this in his own memoir of the -- of the set-to that they had, but it was a personal attack that Channing had leveled against Briggs.
How long did Briggs try to investigate the family and the connections in his pursuit of this conclusion?
It was a very intense trip. He was on the road for some weeks, and then he came back and wrote it up.
Where did he get the best material on Leon Czolgosz?
To my mind the best material comes from his visit to Cleveland, where he met Czolgosz`s whole family and a lot of the people who knew him when he was young and the people -- the board -- people who had the boarding house where he sometimes stayed. When he visited upstate New York, he was seeing people who had only known Czolgosz for a very short time, and that at the end of his life, and in Detroit he only saw people who would have known Czolgosz very young, if at all. So Cleveland was the bulk of the good material. Cleveland was where Czolgosz had spent most of his adult life, where he had worked when he worked, where he had been put out of work when he worked, and so it was where most of the material was to be found.
How did he get the family -- I mean, you paint a picture of, you know, -- and you can see it in modern day, here they come again, it`s another reporter, it`s somebody else wanting information and they don`t want to talk to people.
How did he get through that -- that barrier?
In fact, it appears that he almost missed them. He lit upon them as they were moving, and I`m not sure he would have known where they were going to.
Who was he approaching?
Well, he was trying to talk to Paul Czolgosz, the father, and the various siblings who were in the home at the time, which wasn`t all of them but there was a number of them in and near the Paul`s home at that time. And you know, he hired an interpreter to speak to the members of the family who didn`t speak English or didn`t speak it very well, and he spoke to Czolgosz`s younger sister, Victoria, who did -- did speak English, and Waldek (ph) spoke English also, but I think -- I think he just -- you know -- he present -- by presenting himself as a doctor rather than as a reporter, as somebody who was a man of science, he was able to kind of present himself more sympathetically than -- than simply a reporter who was interested in getting the story, especially because there had been so many false and sensationalistic accounts in the newspapers between the assassination at this time, he was somebody who was saying, look, I`m going to give this the professional imprimatur of a science, and it will be published in a journal, and that sort of thing.
And Briggs and Channing published their documentation in what year?
Channing published a paper in 1902 and Briggs published his own in a book much later in 1921. They gave -- they gave public papers in 1902 very shortly after Briggs` trip.
Go back the trial, which happened right after the September assassination.
What did Czolgosz say at the time?
In the trial?
In the trial.
He didn`t -- he didn`t say but, I think, one sentence, which was -- he tried to plead guilty and the judge wouldn`t admit the plea, apparently because he couldn`t have a guilty plea in what was potentially a capital case, and that was all he ever said at the trial. He said a few other things at the sentencing, where he said he wanted to make sure that they knew that he had acted alone and that there was nobody else in it with him.
And did the insanity issue come up in the trial?
Well, this is very interesting to me. Thomas Penny (ph), we`ve already talked about the Buffalo D.A., impaneled three doctors to determine Czolgosz`s sanity for the prosecution, and then in what was a very I think, potentially a very shrewd move also got a couple of other doctors to act, as it were, for Czolgosz to determine whether or not he was sane. And both sets of doctors concluded that Czolgosz was sane and therefore responsible for what he had done, so -- so Penny apparently decided at that point not to bring it up at all at the trial. When Czolgosz`s attorneys, who had been appointed, had been selected by the Erie (ph) bar association and were appointed to take his case, he didn`t appear to want them because anarchists don`t believe in the law was the argument. When Czolgosz`s attorneys, particularly, Loren Lewis (ph) got up to speak on his behalf, they kind of introduced the concept of insanity as the only way that jury could find that Czolgosz should not be found guilty and put to death, and they made a sort of purely rhetorical plea for Czolgosz`s insanity, without really presenting any evidence at all, and in fact, it`s a very -- it`s a very shrewd tactic of courtroom rhetoric, that he`s essentially pleading for the jury to kind of do what the law wouldn`t have allowed them to do, which is find him insane without much of a case there. But Lewis (ph) was saying, you know, wouldn`t it be much nicer if we would find this man was insane? It would have been as if the president had been killed in a railway accident. We should regret it very much, but it would lift a great cloud off the hearts of the world and of our people if it were that kind of accident rather than if it turned out to be the product of an anarchist plot.
The very first page, in the preface, you write, "Among the presidential assassins William McKinley`s had the most dangerously political motive. Abraham Lincoln`s murder was waging the Civil War by other means. James Garfield`s assassin claimed divine inspiration. Whatever motives may have been spurred John F. Kennedy`s killer remain murky." Four assassinations in our 43 presidencies -- any thread there on those four?
You know, there have been attempts to connect them. I don`t know that I find any of them persuasive. The sort of the high-water mark of attempts to categorize presidential assassins was in the 1950s, which was also the high-water mark of social science and of psychology generally, I think, in that kind of discussion. You know, the saying that these were loners, saying that these were men who were alienated from their families doesn`t say a whole lot. There are an awful lot of people like that who never take a shot at the president, and so I`m not sure that I believe that.
Here is the cover of the book, and on the cover, three men. There on the left, Theodore Roosevelt, in the middle William McKinley, and Leon Czolgosz on the right who killed William McKinley in 1901. Eric Rouchway is our guest. Thank you very much for joining us.