Thursday, September 6, 2012

This Day in History: Presidential Assassination

When I began writing my current story, I had a time frame in mind - around 1900. I had a setting. North Tonawanda, New York. But I didn't have a story.

I started reading everything I could about the time and place. This led me to a world's fair held in nearby Buffalo. And yes, indeed, I found my story.

The Pan American Exposition of 1901 was spectacular in its own right.  It was historic for horrifying reasons. President McKinley spoke there and also held a reception to greet the public. An anarchist, brought a gun with him, shot the president and a week later President McKinley was dead.

I knew almost nothing about William McKinley before researching this story.  I had no intention of writing about him. But he and the Pan American Expo became a critical part of my story.  So I dug more deeply. I am largely impressed with what I've learned.
  • In the Civil War soldier, he was a Commissary Sergeant, responsible to feed his men.  During one exhausting battle when morale was low he left the safety of headquarters and went into the thick of the fighting to deliver food and coffee to his men.
  • His wife, Ida had poor health so he stayed with her whenever possible, even campaigning from the front porch of his home, rather than leaving her.  He was scheduled to attend the opening ceremonies of the Pan American Expo but cancelled his plans because his Ida was sick. His devotion to her was first and foremost.
  • He liked to meet the common person and insisted on returning to the Expo several months later to speak and to shake hands with the public.  He was too trusting!
I could get into his political policies but they aren't the point here and I don't feel that qualified anyway.

Some historians feel that his successor, Teddy Roosevelt gets the credit for too many of McKinley's accomplishments in the White House. Indeed, Roosevelt continued some of McKinley's policies, and he had more charisma. McKinley was dead.  And sadly, mostly forgotten.

Here are a few books that helped me to "find" William McKinley.  The President and the Assassin  by Scott Miller

    The William McKinley Presidential Library and Museum is on Pinterest and what a plethora of images and info. Just amazing!

    The Pan American Expo website has a load of info about the fair and also about the President's death.  I love the pocket watch link on the right which offers exposition news on This Day in 1901.  It doesn't get much better than this for a writer looking for forgotten scraps of history. 


    1. This is tremendous, Joyce! I love when a spark draws you into a situation you never would have imagined. That is magic. And you've got me curious, too. I'm all about the underdog an the unsung hero. I can't wait to learn more...

    2. Wow, McKinley! You are right, no one really knows much about him. I only know what I learned on a family vacation in 6th grade to Buffalo and Niagara Falls.
      So your book should be very interesting. I can't wait to read it. And like Mary Ann, I am all for underdogs and unsung heroes.

    3. Lucky you, Alex - going to Buffalo and the Niagara at a young age! Such a fabulous area chocked full of history. I'm so ready to go back.

    4. How fun to discover this great story as a backdrop for your story. I can't wait to read your next book.

    5. Ah Rosi Thank you! Wanna read a first draft? I'm taking critical feedback.

    6. very interesting to read that this wasn't your original part of your ms. ANd now, such a pivotal section. Great to see how the history of the time period has impacted your WIP.

    7. Carol, see why I need history to help me plot?

    8. Joyce,

      Thanks for sharing your plot process. Love it! I found I got pulled into topics I never thought of reading about while I was writing teacher guides for Cobblestone magazine. History has a way of doing that.

    9. Linda, I would sure love to have "curriculum writing for Cobblestone magazine on my resume`!

    10. This research sounds absorbing and fun. I love uncovering just a corner of something and then digging deeper. Doesn't it make you wonder just how much history has been forgotten?

    11. Oh yes, Marcia - so much forgotten history!