Leon was a short, thin, 28-year old man. A self-described anarchist – a term that would translate today as terrorist – he determined to commit an act of murder. His target was the President of the United States.
Almost 100 years to the day before the 21st century faced the murderous terror of Sept. 11, 2001, Leon F. Czolgosz (pronounced: “Cholgosh”) waited his turn in a receiving line at the Temple of Music, part of the Pan-American Exhibition in Buffalo, New York. Everyone wanted to shake the hand of President William McKinley who had presided over a national economic recovery via a sturdy conservative approach.
A secret service agent locked eyes with Czolgosz briefly, but seeing nothing out of the ordinary he didn’t linger. Too bad, because when Leon found himself face to face with the president, McKinley reached out his right hand, which the would-be assassin batted away while bringing his own handkerchief-draped right hand up toward McKinley’s abdomen. He fired two shots from the .32 caliber Iver-Johnson "Safety Automatic" revolver he had purchased just two days before for $4.50.
President McKinley at first seemed to defy the assassin by appearing to survive, only to succumb to his wounds eight days following the shooting. The 25th President of the United States died on September 14, 1901. Czolgosz was swiftly arraigned and indicted. He was brought to trial on September 23rd – a proceeding that lasted a little more than eight hours from start to finish. Found guilty by a jury, he was sentenced to death by Judge Truman C. White three days later. There is some dispute as to whether or not the jurist added the perfunctory “May God have mercy on your soul” addendum.
That very day, as the nation’s newspapers carried news about the death penalty sentence for the presidential assassin, newsreels were released showing McKinley’s Canton, Ohio burial. It was all very real and very fresh in the minds of Americans.
Sometimes a rush to judgment is better than deferred injustice born of misguided compassion.
Czolgosz was the 50th criminal to sit in New York’s electric chair, doing so on October 29, 1901 – less than two months after his sordid act. His brother witnessed the execution and asked for the body – presumably on “compassionate grounds” – but was denied. As Leon Czolgosz was buried, jailers at the Auburn, New York facility poured liberal amounts of sulfuric acid on the body. The remains diffused into the prison-ground soil.