Buffalo, NY has a few claims to fame: the chicken wing, home of Alfred P. Southwick: the inventor of the electric chair, and the site of President McKinley’s assassination.
My great-great-great uncle, Leon Czolgosz, came to Buffalo during the time of the Pan-American Exposition just in time for President McKinley to come to town. He didn’t come to Buffalo to enjoy the world’s fair, experience A Trip to the Moon, or check out the Court of Fountains. And he wasn’t there to see the president of the United States. Well… not exactly…
On September 6, 1901, Czolgosz entered the Temple of Music where McKinley was greeting guests with a revolver concealed by a handkerchief. When McKinley greeted him with a handshake, Czolgosz fired two shots into his abdomen at point blank range. As the president fell, he begged of those around him, “Go easy on him, boys.” Of course, when the president is killed in cold blood, no one is thinking of going easy on the killer.
Czolgosz was found guilty and was put to death via electric chair on October 29th in Auburn Prison. According to legend, among his personal effects in the jail was a quarter with the date 2218 stamped on it and it doesn’t have George Washington’s face on it, but one that has still not been identified (I feel like this definitely should have been left to the family and the fact that I haven’t seen it yet just makes me mad). There is also a film floating around the internet from 1901 claiming to be a recording of the actual execution. However, it is a recreation made by Edison nearly a month after Czolgosz’s death and can actually be found on Youtube.
Today, houses and the Buffalo Zoo have replaced the seemingly incredible Pan-Am Exposition. Very few of the buildings from the 1901 fair still exist (the Albright-Knox Art Gallery being the only one that I’m aware of), however, Buffalo has marked where President McKinley fell in the Temple of Music. Nestled literally in the middle of Fordham Drive is an extraordinarily ordinary boulder with a plaque immortalizing where Czolgosz assassinated President McKinley.
As Czolgosz’s great-great-great niece, I feel like I should apologize for Uncle Leon. But… should I? I mean, think about it: McKinley was an aristocrat and was in the back pocket of big businesses at the turn of the 20th century. If it wasn’t for Uncle Leon, we wouldn’t have gotten Teddy Roosevelt or our incredible National Parks system, nor would we have become a viable player on the world’s stage. So… sorry, I’m not sorry?
And you know that Buffalo connection to the electric chair? Even if Uncle Leon never shot President McKinley, Buffalo native, Alfred Southwick, still invented the electric chair so we were destined to be creepishly connected to one of the more macabre methods of execution (still legal in some states) one way or another.
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