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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.

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.


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.