Current Events

The other day I read a little article about Google’s News Archive Search service, and thought I’d take it for a spin. I wanted to search for something that wouldn’t have been written about much for a long time, so after a moment’s thought I typed in the name “Czolgosz”, which readers will remember as the name of the Michigan-born anarchist who shot and fatally wounded President William McKinley in Buffalo on September 6th, 1901. I was rewarded with a fascinating clipping from my hometown rag, the New York Times, published on October 27th of that year, shortly before Czolgosz’s immolation in the electric chair.

The article (not a retranscription, but a scan of the actual printed page, in its original wobbly type-set) explained the extraordinary measures that were being taken to deny Mr. Czolgosz any publicity, and to deter souvenir-seekers. We read:

The time that Leon F. Czolgosz, assassin of President McKinley, has to live is reckoned by hours now, but there has been no relaxation of the stringent rule under which the prisoner has been secluded since his confinement. Auburn prison was closed today to any man who sought the assassin, and so it will remain until the prisoner has paid the penalty which the law exacts. In fact, the plan to deprive Czolgosz living of any notoriety has been extended to deprive Czolgosz dead of notoriety.

Immediately after the execution the clothing of the murderer, with the vast accumulation of mail that has come to the prison for him will be burned, and if possible the request of the parents of the dead man for his remains will be evaded. It is feared that the removal of his body to Cleveland would lead to scenes of an unfortunate nature, and the prison officials are very anxious to avoid anything of the kind. The plan of burning the clothing and letters of the murderer will prevent the exhibition of relics by those who pander to the morbid.

Ah, what style. Times, and the Times, sure have changed.

Anyway, they were dead serious, you might say, about this. We read on:

The firm purpose of Superintendent Collins and Warden Mead to avoid even the appearance of sensationalism in this case, is demonstrated by an incident in connection with one of the principal witnesses. Dr. Carlos F. McDonald of New York City, a former president of the State Lunacy Commission, is to be the principal attending physician at the execution. He was one of the alienists who examined Czolgosz in Buffalo and pronounced the prisoner sane.

Why we no longer have a State Lunacy Commission, I cannot imagine; pre-emptive oversight by its expert alienists might well have spared us some recent unpleasantness in Albany.

Reading on:

He has been very anxious to take away with him from the autopsy the assassin’s brain for purposes of microscopical examination. A few days ago Dr. McDonald had a talk with Superintendent Collins and asked him to allow him after the autopsy to take the brain to New York City for examination. Mr. Collins said to him:

“Doctor, I have planned to make this execution an example of mystery that will forestall any attempt at sensationalism. I cannot allow anything to go away from the prison that will in any way continue this man’s identity or notoriety. You may stay at the prison for a week if you will, and examine any portion of the anatomy you please, but my present plan is not to allow any portion of the man, his clothing, or even the letters he received to leave this place.”

Dr. McDonald replied: “I would like to have taken the brain away, but I am frank to say that you are absolutely right in the matter. If I desire to make any examination I will do it at the prison.”

A splendid “example of mystery”, indeed. And by a stroke of luck, the scoundrel’s accursed family would have no claim on his mortal leavings:

The plan of Superintendent Collins is heartily acquiesced in by Warden Mead, and it is reported that an unrepealed law has been found that will allow the Warden to refuse any request for Czolgosz’s body from even his relatives, and will give the Warden the privilege of disposing of it. In that event, within two hours of the execution, unless Dr. McDonald cares to make an analysis of the brain, Czolgosz’s body, clothes, letters, and everything reminiscent of him in the prison will be disposed of; the body of the assassin will be buried in quicklime, and the clothes, letters and packages will be consumed by fire.

And that is not all. Warden Mead, with Superintendent Collins’s approval, has decided that for the next thirty hours preceding the execution of Czolgosz not one word of his condition or actions shall be given out from the prison. In other words, the man, beginning from midnight to-night, is practically dead, so far as the public is concerned.

There is more, but I am weary of transcribing, so you will have to read it for yourself. Don’t miss the bit at the bottom, in which a Father Percy Stickney Grant reasons that folks of Czolgosz’s ilk, like the street toughs in West Side Story, are “depraved on account of they’re deprived”, and argues for reclaiming such criminals with love. He tells us:

If there were not Divine powers that men could use toward such a nature as Czolgosz’s to bring it to a higher consciousness of right, then our humanity is a failure.”

Well, I guess we’re screwed, then.

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One Comment

  1. JK says

    I shall take no isue with your concluding remarks however one thing-recognizing of course you mention how “…times have changed…”-I seached the various departments of our State’s pre-eminent institute of medical learning to no avail so.

    I did do a bit of searching but kept coming across entries on Area-51 which I’m certain post-date what’s his names’ demise. What the heck are “alienists?” Some kinda barber maybe?

    Posted September 15, 2008 at 5:05 am | Permalink