Archive for September, 2011

9/11 and President McKinley

September 4, 2011
Artist's interpretation of the shooting of President William McKinley September 6, 1901

Artist’s interpretation of the shooting of President William McKinley September 6, 1901

On September 6, 1901 President William McKinley was shot in Buffalo, NY and it is for me an event that will be forever linked with what happened a century later on 9/11.

In September of 2001 I was working as an anchor in Buffalo, New York.  All summer long there were festivities marking the 100th Anniversary of the great Pan American Exposition.

The Expo was to be a celebration of all things great about the Electric City highlighted by the Electric Tower, a magnificent building lit up nightly with thousands of  colored bulbs and floodlights.  (You’ll notice the resemblance to Cleveland’s own Terminal Tower built 25-years later.)

The visit of President William McKinley in early September 1901 was to be the highlight of the Exposition but it quickly turned into a tragic event that would forever define the Expo and Buffalo.

The date was September 6, 1901, President McKinley was greeting guests at the Expo’s Temple of  Music, when he was shot twice in the abdomen by anarchist Leon Czolgosz.  McKinley was taken to the nearby home of John Milburn who was head of the Exposition board.  The  house sat on Delaware Avenue in Buffalo and was literally  just around the corner from where I was living at the time 100 years later.  (It’s now a parking lot for Canisius High School where the late Tim Russert went to school.)

McKinley would lie mortally wounded in the home for the next eight days as his cabinet assembled around him.  He appeared to be recovering before taking a turn for the worse.  He died September 14th of 1901.

I had started a nine day series of stories on September 6, 2001 which were to run through the 14th.  The pieces focused on what was happening in Buffalo 100-years ago today.

Pres. McKinley lying in state, Buffalo City Hall

Pres. McKinley lying in state, Buffalo City Hall

My goal was to try to capture the feel of what it must have been like in Buffalo back then, the panic, the shock, the concern having a President shot and later die in your town.

But as hard as I tried to understand what the city was going through the reality was I just really couldn’t, afterall I wasn’t there.

That changed on Day 6 of the series,  September 11th, 2001.

I was anchoring the morning show at WKBW-TV and learned over the ABC squawk box that there was a fire in the World Trade Center and that they were working to put up a live signal.  I looked up to see that it wasn’t up yet and at that time no network had broken in.  Seconds later the shot was up on our closed circuit feed from ABC and it was clear this wasn’t just a fire but an explosion of some sort.  Seconds after that one by one the networks broke into programming and we all know the rest.

After a long day at work my wife and I returned home that night where we remained glued to the coverage from New York.  Around 7:30 I broke away to take our dog out for a walk and as I strolled down the street  I was actually able to follow the network coverage on this warm summer night through the open windows of my neighbors who like all of us were glued to their TVs.

As I walked along eavesdropping on the neighborhood televisions it dawned on me the streets were still, there was no traffic, no one else out walking, by this time most folks were home spending the night with loved ones.

When I got to the corner of Delaware & Lafayette I looked down to where the Milburn house once stood.  It was at that very moment that it dawned on me,  100-years ago to the very hour a President of the United States lay dying there and it was only then I realized that this, what we all were feeling the night of 9/11, was what it was like to have been alive in this city 100-years ago that night.