Buffalo, New York, hosted the deaths of two presidents. Long-time Buffalo resident and ex-President Millard Fillmore died there of natural causes on March 8, 1874. And on September 6, 1901, President William McKinley was shot at the Buffalo Pan American Exposition, what passed for a world fair at the time. McKinley died in Buffalo 8 days later.
President Andrew Jackson survived a knife attack. Presidents Abraham Lincoln and Charles Garfield were both assassinated within the previous 36 years of the attack on McKinley. This was the third fatal attack on a president, and the fifth time a president had died in office.
Fortunately for McKinley, there was a new X-ray machine on display at the Exposition, which could be used to find bullets for extraction. Unfortunately for McKinley, attending physicians did not use the machine. Operations to remove bullet fragments were not wholly successful. Worse, the surgeries exposed McKinley to bacteria that infected him. He died of gangrene on September 14.
Had antibiotics, modern surgical instrument sterilization, and modern surgical methods been used, McKinley might have survived to serve out his term. Would Vice President Theodore Roosevelt then have had a chance to succeed him? A great history what-if.
Here’s another. McKinley’s first Vice President, Garrett Hobart, died during the first term, of heart disease in 1899. Six months earlier, there was no Vice President to succeed McKinley.
In an election year, we may want to revisit presidential succession in tough times. Our votes may count more than we know.
- Topics in Chronicling America, at the Library of Congress’s newspaper reading room, the McKinley Assassination
- William McKinley, the Death of a President, at the Miller Center at the University of Virginia
- Pan American Exposition of 1901, at the University of Buffalo (SUNY)