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Posts Tagged ‘William McKinley’

A Son, A Brother, and Assassins

Posted by Laurie Frost on August 4, 2009

jwbMy virtual tag-along on Sarah Vowell’s Assassination Vacation is just about over, but before leaving it behind, I thought we should have a look at some of the folks who made this trip possible and a couple of hanger-ons.

Once again, all photos credits are to the Library of Congress.

John Wilkes Booth (LC-DIG-ppmsca-13706) has name recognition, but what about those executed as his co-conspirators?

At first I had trouble finding a shot of Lewis Thornton Powell, who failed to kill Secretary of State William H. Seward the night Booth shot Lincoln. The Library of Congress prefers one of Powell’s other names, Payne (Vowell mentions that he also went by Paine). Once I got that worked out, I had no trouble finding what I think is the picture (credit: LC-USZ62-130829) of him Vowell talks about:


He smouldered, decked out in a jaunty, crumpled, double-breasted trench coat, staring at the camera dead-on. . . .the way he was reaching into his pocket struck me as gallant, as if he were Cary Grant pulling out a monogrammed cigarette case to offer a dame a smoke. Of course, right after that picture was taken, the government strung up Powell’s pretty neck.

 Booth was killed when apprehended. Of his co-conspirators, four (Mrs. Surratt, Lewis Payne, David Herold, and George Atzerodt) were hanged, and four sent to prison in Fort Jefferson on Dry Tortugas, Florida (Dr. Samuel Mudd, Michael O’Laughlen, Samuel Arnold, Edman Spangler).

 I failed to find a picture of Mrs. Surratt or of Dr. Samuel Mudd at the Library of Congress, but here are the rest, photographed by Alexander Gardner, who also shot Payne/Powell.heroldspanglerarnoldmclaughlin

3a24066r David E. Herold (LC-B817- 7784), who was with Booth when he was caught; Edman Spangler (LC-B8177787), Samuel Arnold (LC-B817- 7778),  Michael O’Laughlen (LC-B817- 7783), and George Atzerodt (LC cph 3a24066), who didn’t follow through on his assignment to kill Vice-prresident Andrew Johnson, but was executed just the same.

Can you recall the names of the other two assassins? Vowell has fun with the way Stephen Sondheim’s musical, Assassins, contrasts these two men’s personalities. Garfield’s was Charles J. Guiteau, who went to the scaffold singing; McKinley’s, Leon Czolgosz, a grim anarchist. So much for lasting noteriety. Photos of these two are less than sparse.


 If you look closely at this collage of nine images you’ll see Pres. Garfield, his doctors, the depot and room where he was shot; the coffin at the Capitol, and Guiteau and Guiteau’s gun (LC-USZ62-80339). 

3b46778rThere are only two photo selections in the Library of Congress of Czolgosz, and for one the rights status hasn’t been evaluated, so we’ll make do with this (LC-USZ62-99204).

Finally, a few pictures of two other memorable characters from Assassination Vacation. Vowell is clearly intrigued by the way that John Wilkes Booth’s brother Edwin’s acting career and social standing survived after his brother killed the much loved (and not least of all by Vowell herself) Abraham Lincoln. She writes of passing Edwin’s statue in Gramercy Park and visiting New York City’s Players Club, which he founded.














Here he is as Hamlet ( LC-USZ62-53046) and out of costume ( LC-DIG-cwpbh-00728).


And then there is Robert Todd Lincoln, or, as Vowell deems him, the “presidential angel of death.” His connection to Lincoln is obvious, but it is his weird coincidental eyewitnessing of Garfield’s and missing by moments McKinley’s assassinations that gains him this Vowellian tag. Moreover, although a fan of his father’s, she isn’t one of his son’s.

Possible explanations for her antipathy:

  • when Mary Todd Lincoln fought his efforts to have her placed in an asylum, son Robert “instigated a nasty public insanity trial.”
  •  as Garfield’s Secretary of War, RTL was responsible for seeing that the relief ship to support the Greely North Pole expedition was dispatched to the 25-man team with supplies for their second year in the Arctic. It was never sent, and 19 died. The remaining six survived by eating their dead comrades. When the cannibalized corpses were discovered, the government claimed that the survivors had used the dead as “shrimp bait.” Vowell notes: “That’s how ugly the scandal was — that turning human flesh into shrimp bait was the positive spin.”
  • during McKinley’s term, Robert served as special counsel to the Pullman company during its suppression of labor negotiators.  
  • yet he survived to represent his family, “clearly enchanted,” at the dedication of the Lincoln Memorial in 1922.
  • rbt todd



Robert Todd Lincoln in 1865 (LC-DIG-ppmsca-19229) and 1922 (LC-USZ62-33031)

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Another Day on the Assassination Vacation

Posted by Laurie Frost on August 1, 2009

When we left Sarah Vowell she was visiting the grave of James Garfield and on the way to William McKinley’s in Canton, Ohio, which she describes as “a gray granite nipple on a fresh green breast of grass.” The website for his home, now the William McKinley Presidential Library and Museum, has copyright notices, but the mausoleum is a national historic landmark, and I found this on a National Park Service webpage.mckinley2

McKinley was in his second term of office when he was assassinated by the anarchist Leon Czolgosz at the Pan-American Exposition in Buffalo, New York, in the Temple of Music, now, along with all but one of the event’s buildings, demolished. But pictures and movies remain. Vowell notes that the Library of Congress has some reels of film by Thomas Edison of the Exposition, and among these is a re-enactment of Czolgosz’s execution in the electric chair.  Here’s a link. (Did you know that the electric chair was first used at New York State’s Auburn Prison in 1890? This is the kind of thing Sarah Vowell knows.)

Beckitemscredit: NPS

For Vowell, the essence of the exposition’s spirit — and of the McKinley administration — is well illustrated by the logo for the event, the allegorical picture of blond North America and brunette South America:

Their handshake takes place in Central America on the future site of the Panama Canal. Miss South America smiles, unaware that two years later, the U.S. Navy would swoop in and hack her arm off at the elbow so that cargo ships could sail through the blood of her severed stump.

In the logo, most of the United States and Canada is blanketed in Miss North America’s billowy yellow dress. But one delicate foot pokes out of the southeastern edge, shaped like the state of Florida, as if she’s poised to step on Cuba.

When the Spanish reportedly blew up the battleship Maine, an initially reluctant McKinley — and an eager vice-president Theodore Roosevelt — found themselves at war in Cuba (Guantanamo Bay is a relic of this Spanish-American War). Vowell finds the optional wars of their time have quite a lot in common with those of ours; considering the Maine monument at the southwest entrance to Central Park is her occasion to recall these lessons unlearned.


credit: Library of Congress LC-B2-2694-9

Now back to McKinley’s assassination. He lived eight days, and since initially he appeared to be improving, Theodore Roosevelt saw no reason not to go hiking in a fairly remote area of the Adriondacks.3b21880r









Left: Lake Tear-in-the-Clouds, Adirondack Mountains, where Roosevelt ate lunch the day before he became president [credit: LC 11134-3].   Right:  Vowell, an eager urban walker but a miserable mountain hiker, says that the Tawhaus Lodge where Roosevelt’s family was staying looks well-maintained today, not that she is eager to hike back up there [credit: LC-D4-16785].

By morning September 13, 1901, it was obvious that the president was dying. A ranger reached the vice-president’s party that afternoon with the news. McKinley was dead by 2:30 the following morning, but it would be 3:30 in the afternoonof the 14th, after a rough night of hard riding down dark mountain roads, before Roosevelt took the oath of office in Buffalo.

In Buffalo, Vowell visits the home of Roosevelt’s buddy Ansley Wilcox, now known as the Theodore Roosevelt Inaugural National Historic Site, where the oath of office was administered in its library.

116259prcredit: LC-HABS NY,15-BUF,12-2

librarycredit: NPS


And here we have the memorial to McKinley in downtown Buffalo, New York, or, as Sarah Vowell calls it, “the-sorry-you-got-shafted shaft” [credit: LC-D4-70292].

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