Execution of Leon Czolgosz
A reporter in the
September 26, 1901 Buffalo Commercial
referred to Leon Czolgosz's death warrant as a "historic document."
It is the supreme mandate of the court, commanding the death of the
anarchist assassin for the foul murder of the beloved President, William
It is not a document of vengeance, but it is the
final instrument by which the law takes the life of Leon F. Czolgosz
in return for the life which he took. But the document is not attested
until the victim has had every opportunity of a trial by a jury of
[see the article
of the State of New YorkTo the Agent and Warden of Auburn
Whereas, at a term of the supreme court of the
state of New York, held at the city of Buffalo, in the county of
Erie, state of New York, beginning on the 23d day of September,
1901, before Honorable Truman C. White, one of the justices of said
court, presiding, and a jury, Leon F. Czolgosz was convicted of
the crime of murder in the first degree, in that he wilfully and
feloneously and from a deliberate and premeditated design to effect
the death of William McKinley, did kill and murder said William
McKinley, at said city of Buffalo, on the 6th day of September,
The said Leon F. Czolgosz appeared before said
court for judgment, and having been duly asked by the clerk whether
he had any legal cause to show why judgment should not he pronounced
against him, and after due inquiry being made into the circumstances,
and there appearing no legal reason why the execution of the sentence
against said Leon F. Czolgosz should not be made, or why judgment
should not be pronounced, said supreme court of the state of New
York, holden as aforesaid, did then and there, and on the 26th day
of September, 1901, render judgment and sentence said Leon F. Czolgosz
to suffer the punishment of death to be inflicted by the application
of electricity, as provided by law, within the week commencing on
Monday, the 28th day of October, 1901, within the walls of the state
prison of the state of New York, at Auburn, New York, or in the
yard or enclosure thereto adjoining; and that in the meantime he,
the said Leon F. Czolgosz, be removed to and until the infliction
of said punishment be kept in solitary confinement in said state
Now, therefore, you are hereby ordered, commanded
and required to execute the said sentence upon said Leon F. Czolgosz
upon some day within the week commencing Monday, the 28th day of
October, 1901, the time of the execution within said week to be
left to your discretion, and within the walls of said state prison,
or within the yard or enclosure adjoining thereto, by then and there
causing to pass through the body of him, said Leon F. Czolgosz,
a current of electricity of sufficient intensity to cause death,
and that the application of said current of electricity be continued
until he, said Leon F. Czolgosz, be dead.
my hand and seal of the court this 26th day of September, 1901.
Justice of the supreme court.
his sentencing on September 26th, 1901, it was decided that Leon Czolgosz
should be removed from Buffalo as soon as possible. Later that evening,
he was placed in a special car and transported to New York Central's Exchange
Street Station. The car was then coupled to the last section of train
number 12 heading east to Rochester. Few, if any of the passengers in
the forward coaches were aware that they were traveling on the same train
as the convicted assassin of President McKinley.1
Czolgosz's car arrived at Auburn State prison in the early hours of September
27th. He would remain in solitary confinement on Auburn's death row until
October 29, 1901, the day of his execution.
newspaper accounts of the trip to Auburn describe Czolgosz as calm, but
tell of his expressing regret for his crime. To reporters from the Buffalo
the New York World
and in the presence of Jailer Mitchell, Czolgosz stated that he wished
the people to know that he was sorry for what he did. "It was a mistake
and it was wrong. If I had it to do over again, I never would do it. But
it is too late now to talk of that. I am sorry I killed the president.
I was alone in what I did and, honestly, there was no conspiracy.
No one else urged or told me to do it. I did it myself."2
[See the entire article.]
of the Death Chamber.
of the electric chair and the method of executing a criminal
chamber in which the murderer of President McKinley was executed
was not the same in which the first electrocution took place. It
is a comparatively new building, strikingly elaborate in comparison
with the very old prison structures about it. It is built of gray
stone, and is situated about half way down the prison yard on the
left hand, or south side. Entrance to it is possible either from
the prison yard or from the main south corridor, and the execution
room proper may be entered without passing the condemned cells.
From the time of his entry into the death-house,
Czolgosz was confined in the cell nearest the death chamber, so
that when he entered the execution room this morning he had only
to step a few feet through the stone arch, and as the great iron
door swung behind him he was beside the electric chair.
The execution room has seats for the witnesses
and is lighted with several windows placed high in the walls. In
one corner of the room is the closet in which the keyboard is situated
and in which Electrician Davis stood when he switched the current
on. The preliminaries were exactly like those of every other execution.
The witnesses gathered in the office of the warden on the second
floor of the prison, and were told to quietly follow the warden
and state superintendent of prisons, and after walking through the
long corridor they took their places silently beside the death chair
in the execution room. The iron door leading to the condemned cells
was closed, but behind it the warden's assistants were preparing
Czolgosz for death. The warden waited till the witnesses were seated
and then made the usual formal declaration that those present in
the room were merely there as witnesses invited to a legal execution
of a murderer, and that under no circumstances and no matter what
the provocation, none of them was to leave his seat or make any
disturbance. Electrician Davis then put upon the arms of the chair
a bank of 22 incandescent lamps and attaching the electrical wires,
passed the current through them so that the lights glowed out brightly.
An assistant, in the meantime, put the two electrodes, which were
lined with sponge, into pails of salt water, so as to get them wet
enough to prevent the current from burning the victim's flesh.
October 29, 1901. [Text reproduced here in full.]
Image source: Buffalo Courier,
October 6, 1901.
Witnesses Descibe Czolgosz's Final Moments.
Leon Czologosz was executed in the electric chair at Auburn state prison
on the morning of October 29, 1901, Sheriff Samuel Caldwell and Charles
R. Huntley were two of the fourteen witnesses who signed the statement
of death. (Ironically, Charles Huntley was a major figure in the development
of the electrical power industry in Buffalo.) Both men provided eyewitness
accounts of the execution, which appeared in the October 29, 1901 Buffalo
The text is reproduced in full below:
Caldwell and Charles R. Huntley returned from Auburn shortly after
1 o'clock this afternoon, having witnessed the execution of Leon
F. Czolgosz, the slayer of President McKinley. Asked about the execution,
Mr. Huntley said to a Commercial. reporter:
"There is really little to be said about
it. The case has been described correctly in the newspapers. I read
them on my way up from Auburn and find that they picture the proceeding
accurately. Czolgosz did not show any signs of fear and he did not
tremble or turn pale; he walked into the death room between two
men, and walked with a firm step. He stumbled as he came into the
room but did not fall, nor did his knees weaken. I was quite surprised
at his demeanor, as was everyone else, I should say. He was perfectly
strong and calm. He just slid himself into the chair exactly as
a man might who expected to enjoy a half hour's repose. The fact
that in a moment a death current was to be forced through him did
not seem to perturb him in the least.
"Yes, I heard him make the statements accredited
to him. He spoke very plainly and in a voice which did not waver
in the slightest degree. He said first that he was not sorry for
having killed the President, and, as the straps which bound his
jaws were put in place, he said that he was sorry he could not see
his father. Everyone in the room must have heard and understood
him. He had expressed a desire to speak, so it was claimed, after
getting in the presence of the witnesses. He wanted everyone to
hear him. It was supposed, therefore, that whatever talking he intended
to do he would do before getting into the chair. It was a general
surprise to hear his voice after the men had begun to affix the
electrodes. The witnesses were somewhat startled and were amazed
at the man's calmness. We all kept our eyes on him and listened
most attentively. But the men at work beside him and in front, of
him did not pause. They kept on affixing the appliances. Evidently
Czolgosz had prepared something to say and what he said was part
of his prepared piece. That is my thought of the matter. I wouldn't
say that he tried to make a hero of himself. There was no spirit
of bravado manifest at all. He said a few things just as if he felt
it his duty to say them."
"Did, he tremble or grow pale as the straps
were put in place?" was asked.
"No, not at all. He was collected and calm
every moment, to all appearances. Sheriff Caldwell, who was with
me, said he looked better and more self-possessed than he looked
during the trial here in Buffalo. His face had the normal amount
of color in it, and his hands didn't tremble a bit.
"The majesty of the law was perfectly sustained,"
continued Mr. Huntley. "There wasn't a hitch anywhere and not
an incident which could merit the faintest criticism. Czolgosz was
sentenced to die in the electric chair, and his death was effected
quickly and certainly. It was but an incredibly short time after
the murderer walked into the death chamber when the doctors in attendance
pronounced him dead. There had been no scene; no one had fainted
or grown excited. Everyone conducted himself with remarkable sang-froid.
The attendants were busy right up to the moment of turning on the
current, and had but stepped back when the body of the assassin
was in the grasp of the powerful current. As I have said, not a
thing marred the formality. Everything went off smoothly, according
to a schedule carefully planned."
Samuel Caldwell was asked by a
Commercial reporter as to his impressions of the execution
of the assassin. He replied:
"I was impressed with the idea that the assassin
was a man of great nerve. Although guards had hold of his arms,
the prisoner could have walked unaided to the chair. Aside from
the prisoner's last words, there was not a sound in the death chamber,
and the prisoner himself gave no evidence of fear.
"As soon as he had been seated in the chair
and his face covered so that his nose and month were alone exposed,
Warden Mead raised his hand and Electrician Davis turned on the
current which snuffed out the prisoner's life as with a snap of
the finger. The electrician then felt the prisoner's jugular vein.
Dr. MacDonald did the same, and was followed by Prison Physician
Gerin. The doctors then stepped back, and Warden Mead again raised
his hand. Again the current was applied and was continued about
"When the electricity was again shut off,
the physicians examined the body by the usual means, and at the
end pronounced that the man was dead. The witnesses left the death
chamber before the body was removed to the operating table in the
autopsy room. I signed the document. swearing that I saw the electrocution
of the assassin. The doctors remained for the autopsy, but I came
"The prisoner's nerve was evidenced by his
conduct from the moment he entered the death chamber. No groan escaped
him, and his lips did not even move except when he was making his
final statement to the effect that he did not repent his crime.
When the electricity entered the assassin's body it stiffened with
successive jerks, but death was so quick that he did not have time
[click to see
the pdf version
of this article.]
to the autopsy, the cause of Czolgosz's death was a "current of electricity
passed through his body in accordance with the statute in such case made
and provided."3 The December
7, 1901 issue of Western
Electrician reported that "[t]wo electrical contacts were
made, occupying in all one minute and five seconds. In the first contact,
the electromotive force was maintained at 1,800 volts for seven seconds,
then reduced to 300 volts for 23 seconds, increased to 1,800 volts for
four seconds and again reduced to 300 volts for 26 seconds, when it was
broken. The second contact was maintained at 1,800 volts for five seconds.
That conscious life was absolutely destroyed the instant the first contact
was made was conceded by all of the witnesses. The strength of the current
is not stated."4
of the autopsy, Leon Czolgosz's body was placed in a plain, black casket
and doused with sulfuric acid. His remains disintegrated within 12 hours.
a Special Car." Buffalo Express,
September 27, 1901.
2. "Regrets His Crime." Buffalo Express,
September 27, 1901.
3. "Czolgosz's Death Stated..." Buffalo
4. "Record of Czolgosz's Execution." Western
Electrician, v. 29, no. 23 (December 7, 1901) p. 375.
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