On This Day In History: Freemason President McKinley Dies

"Shortly after his second term began, President McKinley visited the Pan-American Exposition in Buffalo, New York, on September 5, 1901. The Pan-American Exposition was filled with displays of America’s pre-Industrial Revolution technolog-ical advancements. These expositions were popular all over the world. Paris had held an exposition the year before in 1900 where the American pavilion had been a major draw. Americans seemed to be leading the pack in technological advancements. The modern marvels on display at these scientific expositions stunned the world.

McKinley, as a modernist, wanted to visit the exposition, not only to enjoy seeing the wonders on display himself but also to talk to the American people about the future. This kind of exposition was obviously the best place to do that. On the first day, McKinley made a speech in which he seemed to question his own past views of supporting tariffs in this new modern technological society. He was beginning to see that American’s exclusivity was changing. He said, “We must not repose in fancied security that we can forever sell everything and buy little or nothing. The Period of exclusiveness is past.”

McKinley, the modern President, saw the world was on the verge of change, and America had to change with it. In that same speech, he encouraged the growth of the Merchant Marine and supported the building of an Isthmian canal. His words were received with tremendous support, but fate would see his vision of the future carried out by the hands of others.

The following afternoon, McKinley was standing on the steps of the Temple of Music, shaking hands with the public. One of the men standing in line to meet the President, Leon Frank Czolgosz, had intentions other than just shaking hands with McKinley. When Czolgosz got to McKinley, he used the pistol he had concealed in his right hand with a handkerchief to shoot McKinley twice at close range.

The first bullet, which did little damage, was easily removed. The second bullet passed through McKinley’s stomach and kidney and lodged in the muscles in his back. Fearing that nineteenth century surgery might do more harm than good, doctors decided to leave the bullet where it was. Oddly enough, one display at the exposition was of the newly invented X-ray machine, which could have easily located the second bullet, but the side effects of X-rays were unknown so it was not used. Another ironic note is that the exposition was lit by thousands of light bulbs, but there was no lighting in the exposition’s emergency hospital. Medical personnel were unable to use candle light because ether, a highly flammable substance, was being used to keep McKinley unconscious. Instead, instrument pans were used to reflect light from a window while McKinley’s wounds were being treated.

After a week, McKinley seemed to be recuperating. Doctors thought he would make a full recovery. But McKinley took a sudden turn for the worse and went into shock. He died on September 14, 1901, eight days after he was shot, from gangrene which surrounded his wounds. He was buried in Canton, Ohio.

While modern technology could not save McKinley’s life, it did play a role in that of Leon Frank Czolgosz, who was found guilty of assassinating McKinley. Czolgosz was introduced to a brand new modern marvel himself—Sparky. He was electrocuted in the chair, instead of being hanged at the gallows.

William McKinley is often overlooked as a major American President. There are two reasons for this. McKinley was a manager more than he was a politician. He most often kept his own counsel, which made him difficult to know—he listened much more than he spoke. McKinley was also a very careful, deliberate policy maker. As a result of the time and care he took in making major decisions, he sometimes appeared to others as indecisive. Because of his somewhat stiff, circumspect personality, he was later viewed as more of a product of the past—a Victorian era President. His administration, for many years, has been seen as somewhat lackluster and unremarkable, and he has been, at best, considered a mediocre President.

Perhaps this image of McKinley is because he was assassinated, and his full vision was never carried out in his lifetime. Another reason McKinley is so often overlooked for his accomplishments is that he was, and still is, overshadowed by his larger-than-life successor and second term vice president, Theodore Roosevelt. Many of McKinley’s plans were carried out, but they were carried out by his energetic and extroverted successor, who, more often than not, is remembered for accomplishing so many of the things that McKinley began.

McKinley’s popularity was unrivaled; in fact, he was so popular early in his second term in 1901 that he felt it necessary to squash rumors that he would run for a third term. McKinley helped usher the United States into an era of prosperity and patriotism. He also helped the nation take its first tentative steps towards being a recognized world power. He renewed, through his own impeccable character and example, the nation’s belief in its government officials and restored its faith in the political system. And he accomplished all of these things in just over one Presidential term. Few other Presidents in history have accomplished so much in so short time. McKinley should rightly be recognized as one of America’s Presidential greats. McKinley’s views, policies, and attitudes helped to bring America into the modern age; in fact, history in recent years has begun to view McKinley much differently as, if not as a great President, certainly as a near-great one.

Brother William McKinley is sometimes said to have become a Master Mason in Hiram Lodge No. 10 in Winchester, West Virginia, in 1865. Later research however, seems to indicate he actually received his degrees at Hiram Lodge No. 21 in Winchester, Virginia. McKinley was also affiliated with Canton Lodge No. 60 in Canton, Ohio, and was later a charter member of Eagle Lodge No. 43. He received the Capitulary degrees in Canton in 1883 and was made a Knight Templar in 1884."
Excerpted from Famous American Freemasons: Volume I  by Todd E. Creason (2007) ISBN 978-1435703452.  All rights reserved.

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