Buffalo’s Connection to the Electric Chair: Freaky Facts

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.

Leon_Czolgosz_ca_1900My 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.

chairCzolgosz 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.

IMG_0381As 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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One thought on “Buffalo’s Connection to the Electric Chair: Freaky Facts

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  1. There are two additional buildings, I think, from the original Pan Am Expo. One is on Delaware Avenue, between Amherst and Nottingham. It has a big sign out front indicating it was an original building. I remember that one because it was nearly lost a while back. It’s a small house wedged between apartment complexes and people didn’t think it was important. Plus, that sign was always a marker for me during the Turkey Trot…..LOL

    There is also a building on Forest Avenue across the street from the Richardson Complex. That was the center of everything in 2001 for the Pan Am celebration. I can’t say for certain it was an original building, but a lot of remaining original pieces are stored there I think? Rooting through the library archives now trying to clarify these items for my own brain.

    And I just read on Wikipedia that the Buffalo History Museum is an original building? And that the Albright Knox was designed and intended for the Pan Am Expo but wasn’t completed in time? I’m trying to verify these facts somewhere else because well, Wiki…..

    (Sorry for the Pan Am Spam BTW, I was working at the Science Museum during the centennial and we were part of the city wide celebration. My memory is foggy but hopefully I can verify things and we can chat more!)

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