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Torn-Down Tuesday: The Milburn House

Like many historical sites in the city lost to the wrecking ball, a simple marker along Delaware Avenue is all that remains of the Milburn House, where President William McKinley took his last breath. (Todd Hariaczyi/Special to The News)

On the night of April 14, 1865 — only five days after Robert E. Lee surrendered to Ulysses S. Grant, thus ending the Civil War — Abraham Lincoln was mortally wounded by an assassin’s single bullet while attending a play at Ford’s Theater in Washington, D.C. Lincoln’s lanky, lifeless body was carried across the street to a boarding house where he finally succumbed to his injuries the following morning.

The site where he died, the Petersen House, is now a part of the Ford’s Theater National Historic Site, attracting over 1 million visitors every year.

Less than forty years later, on Sept. 6, 1901, William McKinley was fatally shot in the abdomen while greeting visitors to Buffalo’s Pan-American Exposition. Like Lincoln, he was not rushed to a hospital, but rather to the home of lawyer and socialite John G. Milburn, where he lingered for eight days until finally dying on Sept. 14.

The Milburn House on Delaware Avenue quickly became a favorite haunt of curiosity seekers, who took everything from blades of grass to stone from the house as they sought keepsakes of the place where McKinley took his last breath. Despite the popularity of both the president and the house, some 50 years later the Milburn House was demolished for a parking lot.

McKinley and the first lady were guests of John G. Milburn, president of the Pan-American Exposition Co., while visiting Buffalo. It was during the second day of their two-day visit when anarchist Leon Czolgosz fatally shot the unsuspecting president as he greeted visitors at a receiving line inside the exposition’s Temple of Music.

Anarchist Leon Czolgosz shot President William McKinley at the Pan-American Exposition in Buffalo.

McKinley was initially treated at the exposition’s first aid station and later returned to the Milburn House, which was soon overrun with medical personnel who kept vigil over the ailing president. Outside the Milburn House, police officers cordoned off the street, and members of the press gathered at a vacant lot at Delaware and West Ferry, clamoring for any news of the president’s condition.

It was widely assumed the president would recover from the brazen assassination attempt, but it was gangrene — not an assassin’s bullets — that ultimately took McKinley's life.

Why doesn't Buffalo do more to commemorate President McKinley's assassination?

On Sept. 13, 1901, McKinley’s condition quickly deteriorated, and Vice President Theodore Roosevelt was summoned from a camping trip in the Adirondacks. The following day, McKinley was dead, and Roosevelt was sworn into office at the Ansley Wilcox Mansion, ushering in an era of politics the country had never seen.

By 1904, John G. Milburn had left Buffalo to become a partner of a law firm in New York City. In 1919, the house was completely renovated and turned into apartments. In 1948, the house was purchased by neighboring Canisius High School who, in 1957, demolished it for a parking lot. One has to wonder if it had been preserved all along if it, too, would be a National Historic Site and just how many people would visit it today.

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