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The little train robbery / Thomas A. Edison, Inc. 1905.

[Detail] The little train robbery / Thomas A. Edison, Inc. 1905

The Assassination of President William McKinley

The Pan-American Exposition became part of the tragic history of the United States on September 6, 1901, when anarchist Leon Czolgosz approached President William McKinley in the Temple of Music and fired two shots into the president's chest and abdomen. The film, The Mob Outside the Temple of Music . . . documents the crowd's attempt to reach the assassin moments after the shooting. President McKinley died eight days later due to complications from his gunshot wounds. He was the third U.S. president to be assassinated since the Civil War.

A search on the terms, McKinley and exposition, yield images of some of the president's last public appearances reviewing U.S. infantry troops and delivering his final speech on the day before the shooting. Meanwhile, a search on McKinley and funeral produces films of the president's funeral procession in Canton, including President Roosevelt at the Canton Station and McKinley's Funeral Entering Westlawn Cemetery. This series also includes The Martyred Presidents, a tribute to Presidents Lincoln, Garfield, and McKinley that the Edison catalog promoted as "most valuable as an ending to the series of McKinley funeral pictures."

In October 1901, Leon Czolgosz was convicted of the McKinley's assassination, sentenced to death, and executed. Execution of Czolgosz features an image of the execution site, Auburn Prison, on the morning of the event, as well as a reenactment of the assassin's death in the electric chair based on details from an eyewitness account.

  • How do you think that audiences might have responded to the films documenting McKinley's last presidential actions and his funeral?
  • Why do you think that the Edison company offered The Martyred Presidents as an ending to the funeral series? What does this film suggests about President McKinley's place in U.S. history?
  • How do you think that audiences might have responded to the Execution of Czolgosz?
  • Do you think that audiences viewed documentary films of current events and reenactments in the same way? What expectations might audiences have had of each format?
  • What value does the footage of the exterior of the Auburn Prison on the morning of Czolgosz's execution add to the piece featuring the reenactment of the execution?
  • Is there a difference in filming a live event and recreating it for a camera at a later date? If so, what?
  • How are reenactments used in contemporary film and television? Are all contemporary reenactments clearly identified as reenactments? Do you think that there are any potential benefits to an audience failing to recognize footage as a reenactment?
  • Do you think that there are any potential dangers to an audience failing to recognize a reenactment?
  • Do you think that there are implications to using reenactments within a documentary-style production?
  • Do you think that reenactments should be clearly identified if they are used in news programs?