The Gun That Killed US President William McKinley: .32 Iver Johnson Revolver
On 6th September 1901, Leon Czolgsz, an anarchist from New York State, shot William McKinley the 25th President of the United States. Czolgsz (see image two) used a .32 calibre Iver Johnson ‘Safety Automatic’ revolver.
McKinley (see image three) had been visiting the Pan-American Exposition in Buffalo, New York. It was a hot afternoon and many men where wiping their brows and hands before shaking McKinley’s hand. Czolgsz went unnoticed as he stepped forward with his pistol concealed beneath a handkerchief. Czolgsz offered the President his left hand and as Mckinley went to shake it he shot the President twice with the pistol in his right hand. The President was hit at point-blank range by two .32 bullets in the abdomen (see image four).
Czolgsz had bought his pistol from Walbridge’s Hardware Store in Buffalo, allegedly for $4.50, three days before the assassination. As McKinley had greeted well wishers Czolgsz took his opportunity, mortally wounding the President, before he was beaten to the ground by a group of civilians and members of the President’s entourage. The President was seated in a chair and ordered the men to cease their attack.
McKinley was taken to the Exposition’s Hospital, which while it had an operating theatre it was ill-equipped for major surgery. The physicians on hand also proved inept as McKinley’s treatment much like James Garfield’s twenty years earlier left a lot to be desired. The surgeon chosen to operate, Dr. Matthew D. Mann, was a noted gynecologist but had little experience with abdominal gunshot wounds. Mann was unable to track the course of the bullet and with the hospital lacking even simple equipment, such as adequate lighting and retractors, the wounds to the President’s stomach were stitched and then the entry wound closed.
(The Exposition Hospital’s Operating Room)
The President was then moved to Milburn House and made as comfortable as possible. It was initially hoped that his condition would improve but when he could not keep food down it became clear that his condition was deteriorating. Unknown to the doctors gangrene had set in and was slowly progressing along the bullet’s path through McKinley’s stomach, intestines and kidney. The gangrene began to poison the blood and early on the September 14th the President died.
Czolgsz was tried for First-Degree Murder but refused to speak to his defence team as they represented the establishment and he maintained he shot the President to progress Anarchy. He was convicted ten days after McKinley’s death. He was sentenced to death and electrocuted on the 29th October. His last public 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.”
In one last grisly detail to the story the Governor of Auburn Prison where Czolgsz was executed had sulphuric acid poured on the assassin’s remains to speed up his decomposition after they were buried. President McKinley was succeeded by his Vice President, Theodore Roosevelt, who was sworn in on 14th September, he would go on to become one of America’s most popular Presidents. The pistol Czolgsz used is today on display at The Buffalo History Museum (see image one).
This article is part of the ‘The Gun That Killed…’ series, you can find the previous article on the Webley British Bulldog that was used to kill President James Garfield and also the first article about the MAS-39, which killed the Italian dictator Benito Mussolini here.