McKinley’s assassination is less notable than the Vice President who took over 112 years ago when he died.
It’s funny how wide our knowledge gap can become one similar events.
There is nothing we don’t know about Abraham Lincoln’s assassination. We are still making movies and writing books about this President who ended slavery and led the country through the Civil War. That interest is justified.
The assassination of President John F. Kennedy has been the topic of more than a few books, movies and investigative journalism. He was a young President. And, of course, his murder occurred in the age of television. That meant that everyone in America at the time and everyone born since that day has seen the actual assassination happen.
But does anyone even remember that two presidents who were killed in between those two famous events?
James A. Garfield was killed by Charles J. Guiteau, who had hoped for a political office and didn’t receive one. Garfield had a long history of public service in the military and Congress but his Presidency lasted only 200 days.
The other assassination was completed on Sept. 14, 1901.
William McKinley was leading the country and continuing the trend of a weakening presidency. McKinley was t a Pan-Am Exhibition reception in Buffalo, NY when a 28-year old anarchist named Leon Czolgosz appeared to be shaking hands with McKinley, but he had a gun hidden under a handkerchief and got off two shots before he could be stopped.
One bullet did little damage. The second bullet entered McKinley’s abdomen. In 2013, he would probably have been treated and released in a couple of days. In 1901, he spent a week in a hospital where he contracted gangrene and died on Sept. 14.
His Vice President was Theodore “Teddy” Roosevelt.
That bullet made Roosevelt President and forever changed American history.
No one would have ever considered McKinley for Mount Rushmore but Roosevelt is there.
It’s funny, Roosevelt’s life was a full of contradiction and proof that perception is reality. He was a blueblood from New York City. He was a sickly and hyper child.
He served in New York’s State Legislature for years as a young man. But after his wife and mother died on the same day in the same house and his political career took a turn for the worst, Roosevelt “became” a cowboy and move to a ranch he had purchased in North Dakota when he had visited on a buffalo hunt.
He was a much of a cowboy as those lawyers and investment bankers that sit in the front row of country music concerts and pretend to talk with a southern twang for a couple of hours after the music stops.
In fact, his life as a frontiersman was short-lived, but well publicized. He spent a lot of his “ranching” time writing. He wrote articles for magazine and published three books about life in the west on a ranch.
A few years later, he was back east after a cold winter wiped out his cattle herd. Despite being born and raised there, Roosevelt ran for mayor of NYC as a cowboy from the Dakotas. He placed third.
After remarrying Roosevelt, a Lt. Colonel in the US Army famously led his Texas Rough Riders in the Battle of San Juan Hill in Cuba and his persona grew.
So the blueblooded cowboy military hero came back home and won the office of Governor of New York in 1898. That position and reputation made him a desirable candidate to be a running mate for McKinley.
That plus Roosevelt’s work to tear down New York’s political machine. His fellow Republicans in New York were happy to see him go on to bigger and better things with McKinley so they could get back to business as usual.
The fateful bullet and woeful medical care McKinley received after being shot made Roosevelt President.
The work he did in office allowed him to win election for a second term.
After his Presidency ended, Roosevelt led many African and South American expeditions where he and his friends shot and killed thousands of big game animals to be stuffed in museums in New York City.
After that phase ended, he formed the fittingly named Bull Moose Party and ran for President again. During that campaign, Roosevelt almost succumbed to a bullet himself. Thankfully for him, a steel eyeglass case and 50-page speech absorbed most of the force of the bullet. Instead of seeking treatment, Roosevelt gave his speech with blood seeping through his shirt.
Woodrow Wilson won the election in 1912 with Roosevelt in second and incumbent William Howard Taft in a distant third.
After his failed Presidential race, Roosevelt continued his work supporting troops in WWI and even playing an instrumental role in the creation of the Boy Scouts. He also continued his expeditions and big game hunting.
In the case of Lincoln and Kennedy, Presidents who were considered great were taken away from America. But McKinley’s assassination is less notable than the Vice President who took over 112 years ago when he died.
Kent Bush is the publisher of the Augusta Gazette, the El Dorado Times, and the Andover American newspapers. He can be contacted at: firstname.lastname@example.org