Leon Czolgosz

Leon Frank Czolgosz
Photo from 1900, found among effects
Born1873
Detroit, Michigan, USA
DiedOctober 29, 1901
Auburn, New York, USA
Conviction(s)First-degree Murder
PenaltyDeath
Statusexecuted by electric chair
Spousenone
Childrennone


Leon Frank Czolgosz (choll-gosh), (1873 – October 29, 1901) (often anglicized to /ʧoɫgɑʃ/, also used his mother's maiden name "Nieman" and variations thereof<ref name="manner" />) was the assassin of U.S. President William McKinley. In the last few years of his life, he was heavily influenced by anarchists like Emma Goldman and Alexander Berkman.

Early life

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Paul Czolgosz, Leon's father
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Jacob Czolgosz, Leon's brother
One of seven children of Polish immigrants from Russia,[1] Czolgosz was born in Alpena, Michigan<ref name="manner" /> in 1873. His family moved to Detroit when he was five years old, and at the age of sixteen he was sent to work in a glass factory in Netrolia, Pennsylvania for two years before moving back home.<ref name="manner" />

He left his family farm in Warrensville, Ohio, at the age of ten to work at the American Steel and Wire Company with two of his brothers. At the height of his employment, he was making $4 a day, a high wage at the time.

After the workers of his factory went on strike, he and his brothers were fired. Czolgosz then returned to the family farm in Warrensville.

Interest in anarchism

Part of the Politics series on
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In 1898, after witnessing a series of similar strikes (many ending in violence), Czolgosz again returned home, where he was constantly at odds with his stepmother and with his family's Roman Catholic beliefs. It was later recounted that through his life he had never shown any interest in friendship or romantic relationships, and was bullied throught his childhood by peers. <ref name="manner" /> He became a recluse and spent much of his time alone reading socialist and anarchist newspapers. He was impressed after hearing a speech by the political radical Emma Goldman, he met her for the first time during one of Goldmans lectures in Cleveland in 1901. After the lecture, Czolgosz approached the speakers' platform and asked for reading recommendations. A few days later, he visited her home in Chicago and introduced himself as Nieman, but Goldman was on her way to the train station. He only had enough time to explain to her about his disappointment in Cleveland's socialists, and for Goldman to introduce him to her anarchist friends who were at the train station.[2] She later wrote a piece in defence of Czolgosz[3]

Czolgosz was never known to be accepted into any anarchist group. Indeed, his fanaticism and comments about violence aroused anarchists' suspicions; some even thought he may have been a covert government agent. Furthermore, Czolgosz was known to have been a Republican (the same party as President McKinley), and had voted in the Republican primaries in Cleveland.[4]

The radical Free Society newspaper issued a warning pertaining to Czolgosz reading:

"The attention of the comrades is called to another spy. He is well dressed, of medium height, rather narrow shouldered, blond, and about 25 years of age. Up to the present he has made his appearance in Chicago and Cleveland. In the former place he remained a short time, while in Cleveland he disappeared when the comrades had confirmed themselves of his identity and were on the point interested in the cause, asking for names, or soliciting aid for acts of contemplated violence. If this individual makes his appearance elsewhere, the comrades are warned in advance and can act accordingly."


Czolgosz's experiences had convinced him there was a great injustice in American society, an inequality which allowed the wealthy to enrich themselves by exploiting the poor. He concluded that the reason for this was the structure of government itself. Then on July 29, 1900, King Umberto I of Italy was assassinated by avowed anarchist Gaetano Bresci. Bresci told the press he had to take matters into his own hands for the sake of the common man. The assassination sent shockwaves through the American anarchist movement. In Bresci, Czolgosz found his hero: a man who had the courage to sacrifice himself for the cause. The assassination inspired Czolgosz enough that he went to the trouble to duplicate the event as much as possible, buying the same type Iver Johnson revolver Bresci had used. When he was later arrested, police found a folded newspaper clipping about Bresci in Czolgosz’s pocket.

Assassination of President McKinley

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A sketch of Czolgosz shooting McKinley.
On August 31, 1901, Czolgosz moved to Buffalo, New York and rented a room near the site of the Pan-American Exposition.

On September 6 he went to the exposition with a .32 caliber Iver-Johnson "Safety Automatic" revolver (serial #463344) he had purchased on September 2 for $4.50. With the gun wrapped in a handkerchief in his pocket, Czolgosz approached McKinley's procession, who had been standing in a receiving line outside of the Temple of Music greeting the public for several minutes. At 4:07 p.m., Czolgosz reached the front of the line. The President thrust out his hand; Czolgosz slapped it aside and shot McKinley twice at point blank range.

Members of the crowd immediately subdued Czolgosz, before the 4th Bridgade, National Guard Signal Corps[5] and police intervened. He had been beaten so severely it was initially thought he might not live to stand trial.[6]

Trial and aftermath

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Police mug shot of Leon Czolgosz.
On September 13, the day before McKinley succumbed to his wounds, Czolgosz was transferred from the police headquarters which was undergoing repairs, to the Erie County Women's Penitentiary until the 16th, after which he was taken to the Erie County Jail before being arraigned before County Judge Emery. After the arraignment, he was transferred to Auburn State Prison.<ref name="manner" />

A grand jury indicted Czolgosz, who spoke freely with his guards, yet refused all interaction with Robert C. Titus and Lorin L. Lewis, the prominent judge-turned-attorneys assigned to defend him, and with the expert sent to test his sanity.[7]

The district attorney at trial was Thomas Penny and his assistant Mr. Haller, who made a "flawless" performance.[8] Although he answered that he was pleading "Guilty", the presiding Judge overruled and entered a "Not Guilty" plea on his behalf.[9]
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First photograph of Czolgosz in jail.
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Czolgosz' prisoner card at Auburn.
He was convicted and sentenced to death on September 23, in a brief trial that lasted eight and a half hours from jury selection to verdict. Upon returning to Auburn Prison, he asked the Warden if this meant he would be transferred to Sing Sing to be electrocuted, and seemed surprised to learn that Auburn had its own electric chair.<ref name="manner" />

He was executed by electrocution, by three jolts at 1700 volts each, on October 29, 1901, in Auburn Prison in Auburn, New York. His brother Waldek and his brother-in-law Frank Bandowski were in attendance, though when Waldek asked the Warden for his brother's body to be taken for proper burial, he was informed that he "would never be able to take it away" and that crowds of people would mob him, so the body had to buried on prison grounds.<ref name="manner" />

His last words were "I killed the President because he was the enemy of the good people — the good working people. I am not sorry for my crime." As the prison guards strapped him into the chair, however, he did say through clenched teeth, "I am sorry I could not see my father." Sulfuric acid and lye were thrown into his coffin so that his body would be completely disfigured, and to aid in its decomposition. His letters and clothes were burned.

Emma Goldman was arrested on suspicion of being involved in the assassination, but was released because there was no evidence to support this suspicion.

The scene of the crime, the Temple of Music, was torn down in November 1901. A stone marker in the middle of Fordham Drive, a residential street in Buffalo today marks the approximate spot where the event occurred. Czolgosz's revolver is on display at the Pan-American Exposition exhibit of the Erie County Historical Society in Buffalo.

Trivia

  • Czolgosz's story was the fictionalized theme of the play Americans, by Eric Schlosser.
  • Czolgosz's story, along with those of 8 other presidential assassins and would-be assassins, was the basis of Sondheim's and Weidman's Broadway musical Assassins. His story is told in the song The Ballad of Czolgosz.
  • The antagonist of Warren Adler's mystery novel American Quartet used Czolgosz as inspiration in a Washington, D.C. killing.
  • Richard Linklater's film Slacker quotes Czolgosz's last words in the liner notes of the DVD release.
  • A fictional account of his life is portrayed in The Temple of Music by Jonathan Lowy
  • He is described in Montmorency's Revenge by Eleanor Updale.
  • There is a Boston-based anarcho-punk-band called Czolgosz.
  • In Chile, there is an anarchist group called Fuerzas Autónomas y Destructivas León Czolgosz".

See also


References

1. ^ Eric Rauchway, Murdering McKinley: The Making of Theodore Roosevelt’s America. New York: Hill and Wang, 2003.
2. ^ Emma Goldman. Living My Life. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1931. p. 289 and 290
3. ^ [1]
4. ^ Kick, Russ. You Are Being Lied To. New York: The Disinformation Company, 2001. p.77 ISBN
5. ^ Briggs, L. Vernon. "The Manner of Man That Kills", 1921
6. ^ [2]
7. ^ Andrews, E. Benjamin (1912). History of the United States. New York: Charles Scribner's Sons. 
8. ^ Dr. McDonald's description of the trial
9. ^ Hamilton, Dr. Allan McLane. "Autobiography". Pre-1921

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