Less than four months after taking office the President was on his way to a summer retreat on the New Jersey seashore to celebrate the nations birthday. He planned to make a brief stop to give a speech at Williams College, his alma mater. The newly inaugurated President arrived at the Washington Railroad Depot at the Sixth Street Station and awaited the train.
At 9:30 a.m. he was making his way toward the platform when he barely noticed a man racing from the shadows which still darkened the corners of the early morning. The President nor anyone around him suspected impending mayhem that day as was evidenced by the fact that the crazed assailant was able to get close enough to fire two shots at point blank range; one grazing the President’s arm.
“My God, what is that?! the President cried out as he flung his arms in the air, exposing the whole of his torso. The assailant then fired the second shot into the vulnerable chief, the bullet lodging deep in his abdomen near the spine. The President collapsed.
Miraculously, no one else was killed even though Patrick Kearney, the arresting officer, being so excited that he had apprehended the assailant of the President, forgot to take away his gun until well after they arrived at the police station.
The first doctor on the scene gave the president brandy and spirits of ammonia and he promptly threw up. Dr. D.W. Bliss, the President’s chief physician arrived at the scene and immediately inserted a long metal probe into the wound, manipulating it to and fro in an attempt to locate and remove the bullet.
The attempt was unsuccessful however and when the good doctor tried desperately to extract the probe it became lodged in the numerous fragmental remains of the President’s 11th rib. Not having the benefit of anesthesia, the traumatized leader was in tremendous agony as the surgeon labored again and again to pull out the intruding instrument.
Enlarging the original wound significantly, Dr. Bliss was finally was able to dislodge the probe. Even in his state of unimaginable torment, the President could not possibly have missed the hanging irony that the man causing him so much excruciating pain was named Dr. Bliss. Having failed in every attempt to relieve his anguish on the scene, it was decided that they should move the patient to the White House.
Meanwhile, the assailant’s motives were being uncovered at a police station just a few blocks from the attack. He had tried his hand in several disciplines – the law, bill collecting, even theology of all things each ending in failure.
His interest then turned to politics. He wrote a speech intended for use in the coming presidential campaign which he never delivered. He did however manage to make several hundred copies of the peroration and distribute them. When the President won the election the deluded attacker believed himself entitled to a diplomatic post as a reward for his dedicated service. He wanted Vienna, but if need be, he would settle for Paris.
When the post did not come immediately, the shunned man visited the White House numerous times until finally he was rebuffed and personally admonished by the Secretary of State : “Never speak to me again of the Paris consulship as long as you live.”
Deeply enraged, there was nothing for him now to do but seek his revenge against the President himself. He was destitute and could not afford the necessary implement of murder so he borrowed $15 and determined to purchase a revolver.
Though he had no knowledge of weaponry, he knew he needed a large caliber gun so as to leave no doubt, but could not decide whether to buy a wooden or ivory handled gun. After a short deliberation, he decided to buy the ivory revolver as he surmised it would be a more fitting museum piece after he had used it to kill the President.
And kill him he would. The President after being moved to the White House and then ultimately the Jersey Shore, would finally succumb to his injuries. Thankfully, no one else was killed that fateful day.
But neither would the president have died but for the extraordinary “care” he was given by the legion of doctors and concerned citizens who descended upon him. One such citizen was Alexander Graham Bell, the freshly acclaimed inventor of the telephone. Anxious to try out his early version of the metal detector in so gallant an enterprise, Bell would make several attempts to locate the slug.
What the inventor didn’t know was that the metal framed bed, rare at the time, on which the suffering man lay, was distorting his instruments readings and thus preventing him from ever accurately locating the bullet. Ironically, it wasn’t the bullet that killed him.
It was the legion of caregivers – including Mr. Bell – who in their quest to cure him had poked and prodded unceasingly with unsterilized hands and equipment. So much so that they enlarged a small wound of just a few inches to more than a twenty inch gash of contaminated flesh.
The President passed away in great anguish a little over two months after being shot. The cause of death – care and concern. His name…