A riveting narrative of Wall Street buccaneering, political intrigue, and two of American history’s most colossal characters, struggling for mastery in an era of social upheaval and rampant inequality.
Leon Czolgosz hadn’t worked in years. When he arrived in Buffalo on the last day of August 1901, he rented a room above John Nowak’s saloon for two dollars a week. Czolgosz-slender, clean-shaven, brown-haired, blue-eyed, twenty-eight years old-survived mostly on milk and bread. He didn’t talk much. He didn’t stay long. He seemed to be one of those young men adrift in America’s raw, roaring economic churn.
One afternoon, he walked to Walbridge Hardware on Main Street and bought the most expensive handgun on display, a .32 caliber Iver Johnson automatic revolver, for $4.50.
Czolgosz called himself a socialist, sometimes an anarchist. In May 1901, he heard one of the most famous anarchists, Emma Goldman, speak in Cleveland and was so taken by her that he began to contemplate radical, violent, and, in his mind, heroic, action. Goldman was introduced to him, but that was as far as it went, the meeting really didn’t go as Czolgosz had hoped. But the anger and violent thinking stayed with him.
President William McKinley In September 1901
President McKinley, well rested after a summer at home in Ohio, arrived in Buffalo on Wednesday, September 4, 1901,, for the Pan-American Exposition. It was a month-long festival in a 350-acre park meant to showcase America as a flourishing and innovative nation, taking its right place as a world leader.
” My fellow citizens, trade statistics indicate that this country is in a state of unexampled prosperity. The figures are almost appalling,” McKinley said to a cheering audience of some fifty thousand mostly middle-class men and women gathered on the vast esplanade. “That all the people are participating in this great prosperity is seen in every American Community.” McKinley added.
The Day McKinley Was Shot
At the Pan-American Exposition on September 6, 1901, two days after McKinley arrived. Attendants opened the front doors of the Temple of Music, even though McKinley’s personal security said that the president was vulnerable in the Temple. It was humid outside and McKinley being a bigger man was very hot said: “Let them come.”
National Guard soldiers paced in front of the entrance, and secret service agents and local police hovered. But no one noticed Czolgosz.
Czolgosz had arrived at the Temple hours earlier and was near the front of the crowd, inconspicuous in his pressed gray suit, flannel shirt, and black string tie. “He appeared as a mechanic, a printer, a shipping clerk,” an eyewitness noted later. Except for one detail: He had wrapped his right hand with a plain handkerchief, as if he were injured. Underneath, he gripped his revolver.
McKinley smiled and reached to shake Czolgosz’s left hand. As Czolgosz stepped forward, he raised his right instead and fired two bullets. The first grazed the president, but the second went deep into his abdomen, puncturing his pancreas and kidney and embedding somewhere beyond.
“I done my duty,” Czolgosz said as the police and soldiers and men waiting in line hit and kicked him. Czolgosz was blood-splattered and un-moving. McKinley was half conscious. “Be easy on him, boys,” he murmured. The police had to carry Czolgosz out before he was killed. The president poked his fingers under his shirt. They came out bloody.
On the eve of McKinley’s second inauguration, Morgan had announced the creation of the first billion-dollar American company, United States Steel.
And at 4;07 P.M. on September 6,1901,, Leon Czolgosz, a former employee of one of those smaller businesses, was firing a bullet into President McKinley’s abdomen. Morgan put on his silk hat, picked up his mahogany cane, tucked a box of cigars under his arm, and on his way out, glanced at the ledger on a clerk’s desk. He couldn’t help himself, that is just the way he was. A reporter rushed in.
“We have a dispatch, Mr. Morgan, stating that an attempt has been made on the life of the president.”
“What?” Morgan looked hard at the reporter, set down his cane and cigars, and grasped the man’s arm. “What?”
The reporter said the president had been shot. This time the words registered.
“Is it serious?” Too early to tell.
Theodore Roosevelt-Vice President To McKinley
Roosevelt was four hundred miles from Buffalo that day, in Vermont, to give a luncheon speech to some thousand guests on a small island in Lake Champlain.
He was changing his clothes, preparing to rejoin the men and women, eager to shake his hand, and generally enjoying the hours as the center of attention.
He was told McKinley had been shot and had just entered surgery. “My God” was all the vice president could say. Tears filled his eyes. He couldn’t bring himself to announce the news and asked one of the hosts to speak to the crowd.
Roosevelt set off on a hiking expedition, due to McKinley’s health was improving-per doctors, with his family in a particularly remote part of the Adirondacks. He would climb the highest peak, eat lunch at Lake Tear Of The Clouds and stay at a cabin thirty-five miles from the nearest railroad and telegraph station and ten miles from a telephone.
Then before daylight on Friday, September 13,1901, McKinley’s heart began failing. His pulse slowed. He could not no longer eat. He became disoriented. Stimulants had no effect. Oxygen didn’t help. Gangrene had developed along the path of the bullet and he was in septic shock. A flock of crows flying over the Milburn House had to be a bad omen. The doctor’s bulletin came at six-thirty that evening. “The end is only a question of time.”
It seemed like no force in the world could slow J.P. Morgan’s drive to power. In the summer of 1901, the financier was assembling his next mega-deal: Northern Securities, an enterprise that would affirm his dominance in America’s most important industry-the railroads.
Then, a bullet from an anarchist’s gun put an end to the business-friendly presidency of William McKinley, A new chief executive bound into office: Theodore Roosevelt, He was convinced that as big business got bigger, the government had to check the influence of the wealthiest or the country would inch ever closer to collapse.
Richly detailed and purposely told. The Hour Of Fate is the gripping story of a banker and a president thrown together in the crucible of national emergency even as they fought in court. The outcome of the strike and the case would change the course of our history. Today, as the country again asks whether saving democracy means taming capitalism, the lessons of Roosevelt and Morgan’s time are more urgent than ever.
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