On Friday afternoon, September 6, 1901, William McKinley, twenty-fifth president of the United States, greeted well-wishers filing by him at a reception at Buffalo's Pan-American Exposition. Although three Secret Service agents, local police, and military guards were on duty, no one spotted a self-proclaimed anarchist who patiently stood in line, a revolver concealed in his handkerchief-wrapped hand.
At 4:07 p.m., McKinley turned to greet this man. Two shots rang out across the Exposition. The gunman, known as Leon Czolgosz, was wrestled to the floor and taken into custody. A call for help went out to Buffalo's surgeons. Among those responding was Dr. Matthew Mann, a distinguished gynecologist and dean of the University of Buffalo's Department of Medicine. Unfortunetely absent was Dr. Roswell Park, a nationally recognized surgeon who would have been the first choice, had he not been twenty-five miles away, operating on a patient in Niagara Falls. Mann was asked to take charge.
Surgical exploration revealed two bullet holes in the president's stomach wall, which Mann repaired. Park, who arrived when the surgery was nearly over, concentrated on arranging for McKinley's aftercare. For five days, even though he slipped in and out of reality, it seemed certain the President would survive. However, by the sixth day, his rapid pulse began to weaken and despite the use of every known therapeutic measure, William McKinley, aged 58, died on September 14, 1901.
The nation was mortified at this tragic news! The president's surgical team, granted heroic stature immediately following surgery, was declared incompetent by laymen and professionals alike. Nearly every historical interpretation of the McKinley era concludes that the "bungled surgery" of Mann cost the nation its great leader.
A different explanation emerges when the medical evidence is re-examined in light of a more thorough understanding of surgical physiology. It is unlikely that Park or any other surgeon could have saved McKinley in 1901. Similar surgery today, however, would likely be successful. A reconsideration of the McKinley tragedy thus also provides the occasion for celebrating a century of medical progress.
President McKinley's funeral train made it's only stop in Port Allegany, PA before moving on to the White House.