The Last Photo of President William McKinley

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President William McKinley in a suit walking up stairs in what would be his last photo.
25th President of the United States, William McKinley, walking up the stairs of the Temple of Music, on the day of his assassination, September 9, 1901.
Credit: Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

This photo depicts the 25th President of the United States, William McKinley, ascending the steps of the Temple of Music, a concert hall constructed for use during the 1901 Pan-American Exhibition. After guiding the United States through not only a recession but also the Spanish-American War, McKinley wanted to capitalize on his beneficial public appeal and tour the United States, giving speeches at public events which advocated for his political policies. It was at one of these public events, held at the Pan-American Exhibition, where McKinley would be publicly assassinated.

Against the advice of his advisors and secretaries, McKinley enjoyed openly fraternizing with the public after his speeches had concluded. Not long after the above photograph was taken, McKinley would shake the hand of Leon Czolgosz – a self-proclaimed anarchist with a personal agenda against McKinley. A former steel mill worker, Czolgosz had become disillusioned with American political values and subsequently turned to anarchism. Czolgosz decided that it was his responsibility to kill the President, viewing him as the figurehead of a system that did not deserve to exist any longer.
As McKinley shook Czolgosz’s hand at the exhibition, Czolgosz revealed a revolver from his jacket, wrapped in a white handkerchief. He shot President McKinley twice at point-blank range – one bullet ricocheted off of a suit button and inflicted minor injuries, while the other dug deep into his chest and was never found. Czolgosz was quickly attacked by onlookers, and the President was rushed to the hospital. McKinley remained in the hospital for a little over a week, showing gradual signs of improvement – however, his wounds ultimately became gangrenous, and he finally died on the 14th of September. As punishment for his crime, Czolgosz would eventually be executed via the electric chair.

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