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The Library of Congress > Teachers > Classroom Materials > Collection Connections >  The Last Days of a President

[Detail] President McKinley and escort going to the Capitol.

Collection Overview

The 28 films in Last Days of a President: Films of McKinley, 1901, include footage of the Pan-American Exposition in Buffalo, New York; of President William McKinley at his second inauguration, at the Exposition (where he was assassinated), and of McKinley's funeral. The films were produced by the Edison Manufacturing Company which was founded by inventor Thomas Alva Edison.

Special Features

These online exhibits provide context and additional information about this collection.

Historical Eras

These historical era(s) are best represented in the collection although they may not be all-encompassing.

  • Development of the Industrial United States, 1876-1915
  • Emergence of Modern America, 1890-1930

Related Collections and Exhibits

These collections and exhibits contain thematically-related primary and secondary sources. Also browse the Collection Finder for more related material on the American Memory Web site.

Other Resources

Recommended additional sources of information.

Search Tips

Specific guidance for searching this collection

All of the films in the collection have a bibliographic record. Along with other information, each bibliographic record includes a comprehensive summary prepared by the Edison Company describing the footage in the film. You may want to review these summaries before accessing a film, since the large file sizes may cause a lengthy download time.

To find items in this collection, search by Keyword or browse by Subject Index or a List of Film Titles

For help with general search strategies, see Finding Items in American Memory.

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U.S. History

This collection contains twenty-eight films chronicling the last months of the presidency of William McKinley, marking the end of one era and the beginning of another - the Progressive Era. Produced by the Edison Manufacturing Company, the films show President McKinley's second inauguration (March 4, 1901), his visit to the Pan-American Exposition in Buffalo, New York, where he was assassinated (September 6), and the funeral processions in Buffalo, Washington, D.C., and Canton, Ohio.

The collection, although limited in scope and time, is an excellent starting point for a discussion of the ceremonial traditions associated with the presidency, the orderly transfer of power in a democracy, and the nature of politics in the 1890s. The collection can also be used to begin discussions about cultural attitudes of the period. Film footage of the Exposition provides cultural clues that give students insight into American life, values, and social patterns at the turn of the century.

1) Footage of the inauguration and funeral of President McKinley highlights the pomp and circumstance surrounding the office of President of the United States.

Search on inauguration, parade, Cabinet, Capitol, diplomats, funeral, and President Roosevelt.

For example, search on funeral cortege for films such as McKinley's Funeral Entering Westlawn Cemetery.

McKinley's body lay in state in Buffalo and in Washington, D.C. before it traveled by train to his home in Canton, Ohio, for burial in Westlawn Cemetery. A funeral cortege comprised of U.S. Army generals, Navy admirals, sailors, cavalry troops, and the Ohio National Guard accompanied the hearse and carriages of family, friends, and President Theodore Roosevelt and his Cabinet.

Visit the Teacher Page's Features Presentation, Inaugurations in American Memory to see examples of the presidential ceremony surrounding the transfer of power from one president to the next.

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2) Panoramic shots of Pan-American Exposition showcase the advanced technology of industrial America at the turn of the century. One popular feature of the Exposition was the electric illumination of the grounds at night. Purportedly the first taken at night by incandescent light, shows the buildings of the Exposition from the Temple of Music (which was the site of the McKinley assassination) to the spectacular Electric Tower.

Search on electric, photography, trade, and bridges. For example, search on electric lights for films such as Panorama of Esplanade by Night.

The Exposition, with the latest technology and grand architecture, was an indication of the wealth of the nation during the period.

Search on speech for both the film and text of President McKinley's speech at the Exposition in which he examines the "unexampled prosperity" of the United States.

3) Exhibits and entertainment at the Exposition reflect cultural values and racial attitudes at the turn of the century.

Search on Indians, Eskimos, Japanese, gypsies, and Africans. For example, search on Eskimo games for films such as Esquimaux Leap-Frog.

Eskimo leapfrog

Esquimaux Leap-Frog, Aug. 9, 1901

People dressed as Eskimos play a game of "Misheetak," or leap frog, in front of mock igloos. Other films in the series show the Alaskan/Eskimo village exhibit and depict the game of "snap-the-whip". Discuss with students why this exhibit might have been a part of the fair and why it was popular with fair visitors.

4) The collection includes a re-enactment of a battle between the U.S. Army and Native Americans. Students might be asked to research and discuss these questions: What battle is being represented in the film? Why was it an event at the Exposition.

Search on Indian to view a battle staged on Exposition grounds between 250 Native Americans in traditional dress and U.S. infantry troops stationed at Buffalo.

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Critical Thinking

Chronological Thinking

This film collection focuses on pivotal events of 1901, a year that marked the start of a new millennium. Students can use the films as a springboard to compare aspects of American life and technology at the beginning and end of the twentieth century. They can examine these films for evidence of the significance of a shift to a new century, then speculate on what life will be like in the twenty-first century. Ask students to imagine the types of buildings, exhibits and simulations that would be featured at a world's fair held in 2001 and one hundred years later, in 2101. Students might also make a time line of world's fairs and illustrate their predications for the future.

Search on exhibitions and exhibition buildings to find examples of Pan-American Exposition elements and architecture.

Historical Analysis and Interpretation

The Pan-American Exposition is a cultural artifact that illustrates values and perspectives of the era. Students can study the films to view the past from the perspective of people living at a particular time in history. For example, students can discuss why shows such as the re-enactment of a Native American battle and exhibits such as the Eskimo village were so popular with Americans in 1901.

Search on Eskimos, Indians and Japanese to find films showcasing these different groups.

Some films follow President McKinley as he and his entourage toured the Exposition. These films provide a perspective of how Americans viewed their place in the world. In the film A Trip Around the Pan-American Exposition, the President takes a boat trip on Exposition waterways to exhibits of different cultures. These exhibits were American-built and provide visual evidence of racial stereotypes, imperialism, and perceptions of America's superiority over other nations. Students can analyze what it means to put people and cultures on display and if there are right and wrong ways to exhibit a people's culture. Ask students to share their views on cultural exhibits and village tableaus they have seen at museums and theme parks. Students might then be asked to make their own exhibit focusing on a people's culture.

Students can use the films to launch a study of cause and effect relationships and the issue of historical inevitability. Because McKinley was assassinated, Vice-President Theodore Roosevelt became President. How did the two presidents differ in personality and policies? How did McKinley's assassination change the course of American history?

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Historical Research Capabilities

President McKinley was shot on September 6, 1901 and died two weeks later on September 14. In the collection, students can view films of McKinley as president and of McKinley's funeral. Who was in charge of the country during that interim period? Throughout American history, what other presidents were unable to fulfill their constitutional responsibilities? How has the U.S. government dealt with the problem of presidential disability? Students might also research the topic of presidential succession, including the Twenty-fifth Amendment ratified in 1967.

Search on speech to see films of President McKinley addressing the public and burial to see films of the rituals surrounding McKinley's death.

Historical Issue Analysis and Decision Making

The topic of assassination lends itself to an analysis of a wide range of controversial social and political issues. In the film, The Martyred Presidents, images of three assassinated presidents—Abraham Lincoln, James Garfield, and William McKinley— fade in and out of what appears to be a tombstone. After students have viewed this film, have them analyze how Americans deal with political assassination and how they honor martyred presidents and other assassinated leaders.

One film in the collection recreates the execution of Leon F. Czolgosz, the 28-year-old unemployed millworker who shot President McKinley at point-blank range. A self-avowed anarchist, Czolgosz told witnesses to his electrocution: "I killed the president because he was the enemy of the people - the good working people. I am not sorry for my crime."

This film can be used to introduce a debate on current issues such as gun control, the death penalty, and media coverage of court trials and executions.

Search on assassination to find films related to the fatal shooting of President McKinley.

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Arts & Humanities

Expository Writing

The collection lends itself to a wide range of expository writing activities. Because the films are silent, students can assume the role of TV news anchor, and research, write and narrate a report to accompany footage on President William McKinley's second inauguration, his speech at the Exposition, or his assassination and funeral. The news report can include interviews with government officials, eyewitnesses to the event, and other people "on the scene," as well as commentary. Students can also assume the role of newspaper journalist and use other resources to research and write an obituary for President McKinley, a profile of the assassin Leon Czolgosz, or an editorial on the trial and execution of Czolgosz for publication in their newspaper.

Creative Writing

After viewing footage of the Pan-American Exposition, students can record their impressions of the 1901 world's fair as journal entries or as postcards to friends and family back home. Students might use the Exposition as a unique setting for a short story, a scene in a play, or an advertising or political campaign.

Oral Presentations

Students can work in teams to prepare oral presentations relating to one of the dramatic events documented in this film. Students might select formats such as a White House press conference, TV or radio talk show, debate or town forum, news special, or film documentary. After each team selects a topic and format, members can research and write a script, then select film footage and other graphics to illustrate it. Provide time for teams to either perform or record their presentations.

Literature Connections

Students can enhance their understanding of American culture in the 1890s by reading popular novels of the era. Two of the best know fiction writers were Henry James and Edith Wharton, who portrayed upper class society, its established social positions, and emerging tensions between "old" and "new" moneyed families. In his short stories, William Sydney Porter, better known as O. Henry, painted realistic portraits of both urban and rural life. With another turn of the century approaching, students might find Edward Bellamy's Looking Backward 2000-1887 particularly timely.


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