For a little over a week, President William McKinley clung to life although he drifted in and out of consciousness. During the days following the operation that was hoped had saved his life, confidence was high that the President would recover fully. In this period of suspense, apprehension and hope, there were many troubled minds that felt a fully recovered President would result in the setting free of Leon Czolgosz. However, the President's death changed the scene for the murderer.
Perhaps the most tender scene of the entire tragedy was the parting of the President and his wife. It was early in the evening at the Milburn House, on September 13, 1901, that the administration of oxygen brought McKinley back from a comatose condition. He slowly opened his eyes and looked around the room with a kindly, gentle expression that brought feelings of admiration and love to all those present in the room with him. They saw that he was trying to speak so they bent over him to listen.
"Mrs. McKinley," he slowly whispered and then closed his eyes in pain. It was apparent to all that he knew that the end was near; the time had come to say his good-byes. Ida McKinley was helped into the room and saw that her husband had once again fallen into unconsciousness. After waiting for a few moments, she obeyed the suggestion of the doctors present that perhaps she should return to her room to wait.
It was not until 8 o'clock that McKinley regained consciousness again and once more he whispered Mrs. McKinley's name. Once more they brought her in and put a chair beside her husband's bed. All present in the room saw that the President was conscious and turned away -- all except a nurse and one doctor. When Mrs. McKinley was seated she took her husband's hand. A faint smile came to his lips. They sat in silence for a few moments before the President whispered, "Nearer, My God, to Thee." Then he seemed to drift out of consciousness.
The quietude in the room was almost deafening. Mrs. McKinley was trembling as she held on to her husband's pale hand. It was very obvious that as the moments passed, McKinley's breathing became very labored and shallow. Those present knew that the
end was imminent. The white-robed nurses stepped back into the shadows of the dimly lit room, the physicians turned away and bowed their heads.
After some time, the President regained consciousness again. His eyes fluttered and glanced around the room. When he saw his wife, he weakly smiled at her and clutched her hand. They gazed into each other's eyes and everyone knew that it was time for him to say good-bye to the woman he loved. McKinley opened his mouth as if to speak and his wife leaned over and put her ear to his quivering mouth.
"God's will, not ours, be done," he whispered.
"For his sake. For his sake" she whispered back to him. She took both his hands and smiled at him, tears flowing from her eyes.
"Goodbye, all; good-bye. It is God's way. His will be done." These were the last words William McKinley spoke.
Mrs. McKinley, sobbing pitifully, stood and slowly released her husbands hands and disappeared into her own room. As the evening continued, the President's pulse grew fainter and fainter. At 2:16 a.m., Dr. Rixey, McKinley's personal physician, put his finger on the President's neck -- tears streaming down his face. He slowly raised his head and turned to face the others in the room.
"It is over," he said. "The President is no more."
President William McKinley was 58 years old. The official cause of death was listed as gangrene of both walls of the stomach and pancreas following a gunshot wound.
Meanwhile, in Chicago, another drama was taking place.
The middle-aged woman was sitting in Police Headquarters being carefully guarded by several prison Matrons. A cold and defiant look was on her slim face. A grim silence was gripping the room and it seemed that several moments had passed without anyone uttering a sound.
With a slow determination, the woman turned and spoke to one of the Matrons. "Suppose the President is dead. Thousands die on a daily basis yet no one cries for them. Why should anyone shed a tear over this man?"
For her comments, all she received were blank looks of disbelief. Suddenly, a patrolman burst into the room screaming, "The flags are being lowered! The President must be dead!"
The woman sat unmoved.
A Police Matron began to curse the woman. "The President is dead! President McKinley is dead!" The Matron shook a finger at the woman.
"Well, I don't care. Why should I? There are thousands of men dying every day. No fuss is made over them. Why should any fuss be made over the President?" Another Matron started for the woman with the intent to strike her but she was held back.
"Have you no heart? You have no sorrow for the man -- his family?" the Matron screamed.
"I tell you, I don't care." The response was cold and flat.
"But as a woman you should at least show some feeling for the wife for whom he has always cared so dearly."
An icy glare left the woman's eyes and penetrated into those of the Matron's. "There are thousands of men dying every day," she repeated. "I do feel sorry for Mrs. McKinley. But there are other wives who receive no comfort."
This closed the conversation with Emma Goldman, the woman who was being held as the mastermind behind the assassination of President William McKinley. No evidence ever was found to connect her with Leon Czolgosz and the assassination of the President.