It’s September 6, 1901, and it’s a stiflingly hot day in Buffalo, New York. The hundreds of people who have come to catch a glimpse of President William McKinley at the Pan-American Exposition stand in ragged lines, with some mopping the sweat from their brows using stained handkerchiefs. The president, meanwhile, is engaged in one of his favorite activities: meeting and greeting the American public. But what should have been a joyful event ultimately spiraled into a tragic calamity that saw the U.S. leader assassinated.
And the consequences of that catastrophe went on to reverberate through American society. McKinley had just overseen the nation’s triumph in the Spanish–American War, you see, and he was a well-liked president as a result. Naturally, then, Americans were appalled by his death, but there was also international sorrow; a number of European countries observed a mourning period for McKinley, too.
So, as McKinley lay in state at Washington’s Capitol Rotunda, hordes of mourners flocked to pay him visits. And the American people continued to show an outpouring of respect for their former president as his body was moved across the country. When his funeral train traveled to Canton, Ohio, for instance, where the president was to be interred, cities came to a complete stop to mark his passing. Those old enough to remember the death of President John F. Kennedy can probably recognize the feelings of those grieving over a century ago.