HISTORIC NEW YORK STATE COURTHOUSES
ERIE COUNTY HALL AND THE TRIAL OF
PRESIDENT WILLIAM MCKINLEY'S ASSASSIN
Location: 92 Franklin Street, Buffalo, N.Y.
Houses: Supreme and Surrogate's Courts; County Clerk's Office; Erie County legislative offices; chambers, Eighth Judicial District Administrative Judge and administrative offices
Judicial District: Eighth
... in taking the life of our beloved president, you committed a crime which shocked and outraged the moral sense of the civilized world.
|| Built: Construction began in 1871; the dedication was not until 1876 Architect: Architect Andrew Jackson Warner of Rochester, N.Y., was paid $24,000 to prepare plans
Architecture: The building, in the late
Victorian Romanesque style, is a double
Roman cross. In the center is the
clock and bell tower, 40-feet square at
the base and rising to a height of 268
feet, of which 170 feet is masonry. Four
turrets are located on the upper central
tower. At each corner is a pedestal
capped with a 16-foot, 14-ton granite
statue sculpted by Giovanni F. Sala. The
northeast corner represents "Justice,"
the northwest corner "Mechanical
Arts," the southeast corner "Agriculture,"
and the southwest corner "Commerce." The main walls are 80-feet
high, constructed of granite from Clark
Island, Maine (then considered the
best building stone in the country).
The first story is of uncut stone with
chiseled edges; the stone above is bushhammered,
or distressed. Above the
main walls, 12 dormers and 14 turrets
rise 20 feet high.
Historic Status: Local and National Historic
THE ASSASSINATION OF
PRESIDENT WILLIAM MCKINLEY
President William McKinley missed
the official dedication of the Pan-American Exposition in Buffalo in
May 1901 due to his wife's illness, but
agreed to a later visit to help boost
low attendance. He arrived at the
exposition on Sept. 5, greeted by a
large crowd. A popular president, his
image was everywhere, according to
the Buffalo Evening News - ribbons,
programs, even glass tumblers.
At the same time, Leon Czolgosz
arrived in Buffalo with the sole purpose
of assassinating McKinley. Czolgosz
had heard anarchist Emma
Goldman give a speech in May, in
which she reportedly advocated the
"extermination" of all rulers. Czolgosz
stayed in a room over John Nowak's bar at 1078 Broadway and purchased a
pistol in a shop on Main Street.
On Sept. 6, although political
assassinations abroad and the growing
anarchist movement at home worried
the president's aides, McKinley insisted
on attending a 10-minute public
reception at the Temple of Music
on the exposition grounds. Shortly
after 4 p.m., Czolgosz, a handkerchief
over his right hand, approached
McKinley in the receiving line. When
the president extended his left hand in
greeting, Czolgosz fired two shots
from the concealed gun. Before he was
able to fire a third, bystanders knocked
him to the ground. President McKinley
exclaimed: "go easy on him, boys."
The president was taken to the small
hospital on the exposition grounds,
which was not equipped for surgery,
but doctors felt it was too risky to
move him and operated on him there.
Unable to locate one of the bullets, the
doctors closed the wound, believing
the bullet had ended up in fatty tissue
and would not pose a threat.* The
president was moved to the home
of a friend to recuperate, but died
eight days later.
McKinley lay in state on Sept. 15 and
16 on the first floor of County Hall,
in an area that today is marked by a
roped-off brass intaglio.
THE TRIAL OF LEON CZOLGOSZ:
The trial began on Sept. 23, 1901, in
the Superior Court chamber of Buffalo
City Hall. Officials built a wrought iron
fence in front of the entrance to the
courtroom, fearing Czolgosz might be
lynched. A tunnel, still in use, which
connects the jail to the courthouse, was
reportedly built for this trial.
Justice Truman C. White presided
over the trial, with District Attorney
Thomas Penney leading the prosecution
and Loran Lewis, Robert Titus
and Carlton E. Ladd as defense counsel.
The jury of 12 men, whose occupations
ranged from plumber to
blacksmith, was chosen in under
Each eyewitness identified Czolgosz
as the man who shot the president.
Czolgosz reportedly sat with a
blank stare throughout most of the
A detailed confession Czolgosz
made to police after his arrest was
admitted as evidence. In that confession,
Czolgosz said: "I killed President
McKinley because I done my
duty. I don't believe one man should
have so much service and another
should have none."
Excluding jury selection and deliberations,
the trial lasted less than five
hours over the course of two days.
Before imposing sentence, Justice
White addressed the defendant:
"Czolgosz, in taking the life of our
beloved president, you committed a
crime which shocked and outraged
the moral sense of the civilized world.
You have confessed that guilt, and
after learning all that at this time can
be learned from the facts and circumstances
of the case, 12 good jurors
have found you guilty of murder in
the first degree. The penalty for the
crime for which you stand is fixed by
this statute, and it now becomes my
duty to pronounce this judgment
against you. The sentence of the court
is that the week beginning Oct. 28,
1901, at the place, in the manner and
means prescribed by law, you suffer
the punishment of death." Czolgosz
died in the electric chair Oct. 29,
1901, at Auburn State Prison.**
Upon McKinley's death, Vice President
Theodore Roosevelt became the
26th President of the United States. In
his State of the Union address on Dec.
3, 1901, Roosevelt called anarchy "a
crime against the whole human race."
Congress made anarchistic speeches
and meetings seditious and treasonable.
Immigration laws were changed
to exclude known anarchists, and
those living in the U.S. were deported,
including Emma Goldman.
*A new invention on display just yards
from where the doctors operated - the
X-ray machine - could have determined
the bullet's location but was not
used because the doctors were uncertain
of its side effects.
**The electric chair used was invented
by Buffalo dentist Alfred P. Southwick
after he saw a man accidentally touch a
live generator terminal. Southwick,
believing this was a quick and seemingly
painless way to die, developed his
invention and worked to have states
adopt it as a humane alternative to other
methods of capital punishment.
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