Extraordinary Eyewitness Account of the Assassination of President McKinley-Dated One Day After

September 7, 1901

Add to History Board Share Print
Back to The Collection
Manuscript
See full images and transcript
Extraordinary Eyewitness Account of the Assassination of President McKinley-Dated One Day After
Typed Manuscript Signed
8 pages | SMC 183

Quick Reference

      Background

      Socially distinguished, a confidant of presidents, and a veteran Washington reporter, De Benneville Randolph Keim was, literally and figuratively, perfectly positioned to record the assassination of William McKinley at the Pan American Exposition on September 6, 1901, in Buffalo, New York. Standing near the President, he heard the shots, saw the smoke from the pistol, watched the President fall into George Cortelyou’s arms. He helped the President into a chair and fanned him; saw the assassin dragged away; heard, distinctly, exactly what McKinley said about informing Mrs. McKinley – a recollection at variance, as it happens, with the known historical record. He helped carry the stricken president into the ambulance, shielding his face with a hat; rode on the back of the ambulance and flung open its doors at the hospital. Standing guard at the door of the operating room, he was privy to the doctors’ conversations, and the President’s praying. The Secret Service agent showed him the bullet. After the operation, he helped to carry McKinley into the Milburn mansion, re-arranged the furniture in the sickroom, and was the last to leave him prior to the advent of the nurses. He was even the last of the “assistants” to leave the house. Every word McKinley spoke, everything that was done or said from the moment of the first shot to the end of the President’s day – Keim heard and recorded here.
       
      It is generally accepted that upon being shot, McKinley said, “My wife, be careful, Cortelyou, how you tell her – oh be careful.” Keim’s account is otherwise, and insistent. “The President remarked: ‘Let no exaggerated reports reach Mrs. McKinley.’ (This is exactly as given, all other reports are incorrect.)” 


      Typed Manuscript Signed (“De B. Randolph Keim”), annotated in autograph pencil throughout with numerous additions, entitled “Personal Notes of the Shooting of President of President McKinley At Buffalo, N.Y. Sept. 7. 1901”; 8 pages, quarto, Buffalo, New York, September 7, 1901.
      Read More

      all pages and transcript

      Page 1/8

      Page 1 transcript
      PERSONAL NOTES OF ON THE SHOOTING OF PRESIDENT McKINLEY
      At Buffalo, N.Y.,
      Sept. 7. 1901

      by

      “Hearing the cheers of the vast throng of people who were awaiting the arrival of the President at the exposition grounds, I sauntered across the esplanade to view the enthusiastic demonstrations which were being made as the procession passed along the western drive of the esplanade in a southerly direction from the railroad gate. The Presidential party arrived at the Music Temple about three minutes past 4 o’clock, entering the northeast doorway of the Temple of Music. About five minutes later those who had passed before the President began to emerge from the opposite door. I entered the southwest door to witness the form and arrangements for handling such an immense crowd, having been familiar with the long-established custom at the Executive Mansion in Washington. I was in a position to have a full view what was taking place.
       
      I was especially attracted by the curved aisle extending diagonally moved across the floor of the building, the covered [illegible] settees having blue cambric hanging down their backs to make a lane or aisle so that no one could stop. I saw that many of the Park police were stationed along this lane to hasten people out.
       
      (I have made a drawing plan of the building of this arrangement to show to those interested.) I was looking directly at the party and noticed Secretary Cortelyou at the rear and back of the receiving party, and who was moving from place to place evidently uneasy.  Seemingly, thinking a change of form was necessary.

      Page 2/8

      Page 2 transcript
      2

      Suddenly hearing two quick, sharp reports, and seeing smoke, I feared that something serious had happened. I saw the President fall back (not fall over) and was apparently caught by two persons one on each side. I think Mr. Cortelyou was one. I am not sure about the second one. On the impulse of the moment I rushed forward. In an instant the park guard, stationed along the passageway, seemingly about twenty five feet apart, shouted: “The President is shot! Put everybody out!” Close the doors! Realizing what had happened, and, observing Secretary Cortelyou and Mr. Millburn and George Foster, of the Secret Service, in attendance, with others, assisting the President, I broke through the improvised diagonal aisle [illegible], across the building, and hastily turned around and arranged a settee for the President to rest upon. (as shown in picture.) 
       
      “The President was led forward, along the aisle toward the center of the building walking with great composure, supported by Secretary Cortelyou and Mr. Foster. As he approached the settee, I assisted in placing him upon it. The President sat down with entire self-possession. I began fanning him with my straw hat. Others then began to gather and also fanned him. The President was but slightly pale, and showed no little if any signs whatever of nervousness.
       
      At this moment the Coast guards and Secret Service men rushed by, carrying the would-be assassin hanging limp in their grasp to the outer entrance to await the patrol wagon. I have since learnt that they took him to a room adjoining the stage.

      Page 3/8

      Page 3 transcript
      3

      “The white vest which the President wore had been unbuttoned as well as his shirt front evidently by someone before he was led from the receiving party and showed plainly the powder marks and the bullet hole. A little blood had accumulated which attracted the President’s eye. It seemed to worry him, somewhat. Secretary Cortelyou, who had now left for a moment to make arrangements for the President’s removal, returned. He asked the President: ‘Have you much pain?’ The President replied, ‘No,’ turning his head toward the place he had just left and where he had been receiving. Secretary Cortelyou then departed for a moment second time, and upon returning the President remarked: ‘Let no exaggerated reports reach Mrs. McKinley.’ (This is exactly as given, all other reports are incorrect.) This he repeated frequently, while Secretary Cortelyou assured him that his wishes would be carried out. In the meantime, occupying a seat on the settee near the President, I kept fanning him so that he might have plenty of fresh air, as did others some five or six in number who had gathered.
       
      “Secretary Cortelyou again departed but reappeared when the stretcher arrived with the hospital aids. This was not more than five eight minutes after the atrocious deed had been committed and seemed a remarkably quick response to the call, as not more than five minutes has elapsed. Secretary Cortelyou, and I think George Foster, and myself, with the aid of others, assisted the President, who showed the same self-control as all through the terrible ordeal, to the stre[t]cher. He was covered with a blanket by the hospital attendants and willing hands bore him along the aisle to the ambulance, which was waiting at the outer or southwest door. I carried the upper left hand corner, and, having picked up the President’s hat from the settee, where he had placed it, and would evidently have been left, I shielded his face from public

      Page 4/8

      Page 4 transcript
      4

      gaze as we emerged into the light. As we reached the exterior of the building moans and sobs were distinctly heard from the crowd which had gathered and were held back by the police.
       
      “After the President had been comfortably adjusted in the electric ambulance Secretary Cortelyou desired to ride on the front seat with the driver, but the later objected, not knowing who Mr. Cortelyou was and pushed Mr. Cortelyou off. I said to him (the driver): ‘This is the President’s secretary and must go!’ where upon I pushed Mr. Cortelyou on just as the taller of the attending doctors got up to his seat on the other side evidently because he had not left his seat. This I think now, is the chief service I rendered, for if the ambulance had hurried off Mr. Cortelyou might not have reached the hospital as soon as he did and taken such control of the situation. As the ambulance started, finding no guard on the rear step, I jumped on myself to prevent the door from flying open. There were two hospital attendants on the box with Mr. Cortelyou, and the other riding inside with George Foster. The only government officials accompanying the ambulance were Secretary Cortelyou and myself unless Mr. Foster could be called one.
       
      “The mounted police, numbering about fifteen, instantly closed in on the rear, and a rapid space was made through the esplanade to the exposition hospital, going north along the west side of the Court of Honor, upon the concrete, and then turned west near the main or west Amherst gate entrance. The smooth concrete payvments [pavement] and the rubber tires ground vibration to a minimum. Many people whom we passed had evidently, as yet, no knowledge of what had transpired within the building. Upon halting at the hospital entrance, Secretary Cortelyou was, I think, the first to alight. In the mean-

      Page 5/8

      Page 5 transcript
      5

      time I opened the rear doors, assisted by the young doctor from within, the ambulance and George Foster and the attendants from inside, having been joined by others, the President was borne into the room on the right od (sic) the hall, with ample sunlight, and equipped with the most modern surgical appliances. Shortly several surgeons and physicians arrived. Many others on the outside, in vain sought admittance. I think the accompanying doctors told Mr. Cortelyou who was in charge of the Hospital and which city surgeons were of pronounced ability, for very shortly Dr. Mann came in. One or two others came in and I think Dr. Mynter were accepted. 
       
      “In about fifteen minutes, the time being about 4:45 p.m., Dr. Mann arrived. A hurried examination of the President’s wound was made, followed by a consultation in the hall, at which an immediate operation was determined upon. Dr. Mann, who came out into the hall told Mr. Cortelyou (in my hearing),“I think we better operate at once” (these are the very words used), to which Secretary Cortelyou assented.
       
      Dr. Park came when the operation had progressed about 20 minutes and Dr. Mann explained what he had determined upon and done thus far. 

      While the doctors were washing up preparatory to the trying operation several telegrams were handed in the side or rear windows and I saw the maid take them asking for Mr. Cortelyou, “who is Mr. Cortelyou?” &c. I seized them and hurriedly went to Mr. Cortelyou, who, after reading them said to me “I’ll not answer any of them now.”
       
      “In the meantime, at Secretary Cortelyou’s request, I stationed myself at one of the doors of the operating room, with George Foster at the other, with instructions not to permit any undesirable persons to pass. Shortly Mr. Foster retired leaving me the only doorkeeper. In the meantime, by the rear entrance to

      Page 6/8

      Page 6 transcript
      6

      the hospital, several physicians had entered and were pressing their claims. This entrance was quickly barred and several policemen were stationed there with instructions which I gave.
       
      During these moments of waiting, the President, while resting on the operating table was heard to say: “Thy will be done; thy kingdom come". evidently a sentence from the Lord’s prayer, and was, I thought, his prayer at the moment. Other broken words followed. I believe he also said: “God forgive him - he little knew what he was doing.”
       
      During the operation Secretary Cortelyou was in and out of the room observing the progress of the operation receiving numerous telegrams from all parts of the world and answering urgent calls at the main entrance. Throughout he was as cool and collected as if in the ordinary transaction of business in his office at Washington. His coolness under the terrible strain of the situation was the admiration of all. It allayed undue haste or excitement, and at the same time no moments were lost in indecision. It was undoubtedly due to his extraordinary presence of mind that the President’s sufferings were reduced to a minimum, and that the way to recovery was opened.
       
      The operating room was most wonderfully provided with modern appliances, and very timely there was scarcely anything lacking: the glass water jars [interpolation illegible], the glass side boards, the excellent planned two west windows letting in the warm setting sun, light and ventilation, the glass trays with instruments lying in solution of antiseptics, the many kinds of antiseptic bandages, the nurses constantly flying in and out bringing what was required without noise and seemingly without instructions all went to show the thoroughness with which this hospital was fitted.

      Page 7/8

      Page 7 transcript
      7

      Before the operation George Foster showed the first or stray bullet, and I wondered as I examined it, how so little a wound missel [missile] could do so much harm as it seemed to have done. It was an ordinary 32 calibre lead bullet uninjured.
       
      As darkness drew on the doctors called for more light. So the over head electric cluster was turned on, later they asked for a movable light. One was produced and I handed it to Dr. Rixey who held it in as required by the surgeons. As the President’s clothes were removed before the operation by the regular attendants, Mr. Foster took charge of them and carried them to the front office, where they were locked up. In the meantime, I had charge of the President’s hat, but soon afterwords placed it with the other articles under Mr. Foster’s care.
       
      At the close of the operation Dr. Parker said “Gentlemen before we depart I want to say one thing – let nothing that has been seen or heard in this room be repeated.” At 7:15 P.M. the President was returned to the electric ambulance assisted by the same willing hands and in about the same order and slowly conveyed by way of the Lincoln Park gate to the Milburn house. As the sad procession was about to leave the grounds, the evening illumination all over the building and grounds began to appear slowly at first, but in about thirty seconds and before they were turned on full head, however, the lights were turned off, leaving the exposition in utter darkness. A very appropriate mark of respect. This was very remarkable for it happened just about the Lincoln gate.
       
      As others were leaving the hospital, I was tendered a seat in the carriage of Mr. Goodrich, one of the directors of the exposition who had with him his daughter, and later we were found by Dr. Mynter. We reached the residence immediately after Dr. Rixey and the nurses, having passed the ambulance just outside of the Lincoln gate. The President was very quickly and quietly borne into the mansion and up the stairway to the apartment which had been prepared for him.
       
      Just before the party reached the Milburn house steps some hesitancy was apparent which end should go up first. Dr. Mann said the head last so it was done. I soon saw that height was needed at the rear or head so assisted them on up the winding stairs around a dangerous turn to the rear bed room where the President was carefully placed in bed. The stretcher as it was removed from the patient showed clearly

      Page 8/8

      Page 8 transcript
      8

      the blood stains from the operation, having been used from the first till the last this moment. In about five minutes all the arrangements had been carried out and the President was resting comfortably as could be expected. I assisted in arranging some furniture that was crowding the room and at the same time I cleared the windows so that more air could enter.
       
      In doing this I was the last to leave the room, Dr. Mann leaving but a few moments before. The two hospital nurses were in the room when we entered and were most attentive, and together with myself were the only persons there when Dr. Rixey reappeared and for the first time seemed to take charge. The President, but a few moments before, seemed to be coming out from under the influence of ether and was moaning continually, and evidently being in much pain. He talked and said many broken words which seemed to connect with those expressed by him before going under the influence of the ether. 
       
      The surgeons, ambulance corps and friends who had assisted through these trying scenes now departed one by one, leaving Secretary Cortelyou, the medical staff, the stewards of the ambulance and stenographers from the White House who were there to care for the nation’s sufferer.
       
      This was, I judge, about 8 o’clock, and. The quiet, sad but cool evening I shall never forget. I bade Mr. Cortelyou goodnight having asked him if there was anything more I could do. I was the last of the assistants to leave and regretted that I could do nothing more for the President we all loved so much.
       
      By De B. Randolph Keim