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Benchmarks: Journal of the New York State Unified Court System

Winter 2006

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

Erie County Courthouse  
... 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 Landmark

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 three hours.

Each eyewitness identified Czolgosz as the man who shot the president. Czolgosz reportedly sat with a blank stare throughout most of the testimony.

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.

Winter 2006 PDF Format
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State of the Judiciary Judicial Elections Report Summary Jury Trials Indigent Defense Services Multi-Hat Judge Matrimonial Commission Solo & Small Firm Practice Office of Self-Represented National Adoption Day Court Reporters Listening Conference Construction Update Historic Courthouses and Trials Did You Know? Judicial Institute Calendar UCS Katrina Fund Update Black History Month

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Web page updated: September 1, 2006 - www.NYCOURTS.gov