Remembering President McKinley

110 years ago today, President McKinley was shot in the abdomen while welcoming visitors at the Pan-American Exposition in Buffalo. At the time, McKinley’s vice president Theodore Roosevelt was on an island in Lake Champlain, about to make a speech at the annual gathering of the Vermont Fish and Game League.

Upon hearing the news of the shooting, Roosevelt immediately took action and made an effort to reach the president’s side in Buffalo.

The Shapell Manuscript Foundation has on display a message scrawled in Roosevelt’s own hand, addressing the institute which treated McKinley’s injury. The note, written in the back on a railroad timetable, read:

“Director of Hospital or House at which President lies Buffalo NY.

Wire me at once full particulars to Van Ness House Burlington Vermont.

Theodore Roosevelt

Vice President.”


Another anonymous historian recorded Roosevelt’s initial reaction to the news, and later, his misplaced hope in the president’s recovery. The record quotes Roosevelt as saying:

“I am so inexpressibly shocked and horrified that I cannot say anything,” and, later, “Everything is going on most satisfactorily with the president. I feel assured not only that he will recover, but that his recovery will be so speedy that in a very short time he will be able to resume his duties.”

Sadly, Roosevelt’s prediction was proven wrong when President McKinley died on September 14th. Roosevelt was then named president, and he served in that role for eight years.

Ronald Reagan, Shapell, and General Custer

Most history buffs would find an original letter from General Armstrong Custer to be an amazing artifact.  A history buff like President Ronald Reagan would find it to be further proof of his brilliance as an officer.  Ronald Reagan, a self-confessed “Custer buff” would have loved to see the letter featured now by Shapell and penned by General Custer on June 25th, 1876.

In their most recent program entitled “Between the Lines,” Shapell is featuring documents that reflect the current date in history.  This two page letter, penned by General Custer to General John A.J. Creswell, shows Custer’s love for family and for the fight.  In it he requests that his sickly brother, Boston Custer, be made a Second Lieutenant. As he wrote in the hand-written, signed letter, “I am extremely anxious to obtain an appointment from the Secretary of War of my youngest brother Boston Custer as second lieutenant in the 7th Cavalry.”

Over a century later, in 1984, Ronald Reagan wrote to a Western historian to defend General Custer.  In his letter, Reagan wrote the he didn’t think that Custer was a swashbuckler who would knowingly have placed his own family members in harm’s way.

Certainly, the Shapell letter shows the pride that Custer had in his family members.  He described Boston as “in every respect admirably adapted to perform the duties of a cavalry officer.  He is nearly twenty four years of age, of excellent habits and character and I think would be a credit to the service.”

While thousands of pages of analysis have been written about the Battle of the Little Bighorn, Reagan’s perspective is a unique and interesting one; and one that is, perhaps, backed up with this original letter by General Custer displayed at Shapell Manuscript Foundation.


Manuscripts Bring History to Life

Historians involved in research on a unique subject, historical period or particular historical figure rely heavily on original manuscripts for their information. What better way is there to penetrate into the underlying causes, small events, and other factors that could have influenced the unfolding history, or which describe the people and events in a direct and accessible manner?

Anyone interested in American history, especially if he is focused on learning more about Abraham Lincoln, Mark Twain, or the Civil War Period, would do well to visit the Shapell Manuscript Foundation. In this ever-expanding collection a person would never tire of the discoveries made there.

One recently added item in the Shapel Manuscript Foundation collection is a letter in Abraham Lincoln’s own hand, which, in a straightforward and almost mundane way, testifies to the strength of Lincoln’s character and the degree of his honesty. The letter, penned and sent by President Lincoln to Secretary of the Treasury Salmon P. Chase, and dated April 5, 1861, corrects the mistake which the treasury had made that resulted in Lincoln receiving four days of pay on  days in which he did not actually work.

Another delightful treasure in the collection of the Shapell Manuscript Foundation is Lincoln’s second photo taken during the time when he first began to grow his beard. It is the first photo of then president–elect Lincoln with a full beard, and was taken on January 13, 1861 in Springfield, Illinois. The photo is signed by Lincoln with the date, January 26, 1861, the date on which it was given as a gift to Lincoln’s dear friend, the sculptor Thomas D. Jones.

Other manuscript collections abound. As one more example, if you wanted to learn something, or even a lot, about the growth of Jazz in Chicago, all you would need to do is turn to the Chicago Jazz Archive. This repository for manuscripts relating to the birth and early growth of Chicago Jazz began  in 1976, is housed in the Library of the University of Chicago, and has expanded to include recordings, publications, photos, posters, articles, ticket stubs and many other relevant materials which bring the world of early Jazz to life.

Anyone with a penchant for history, whether it is of the more traditional kind, or the more original, can easily turn to such valuable collections like the Shapell Manuscript Foundation or the Chicago Jazz Archive, and experience the past coming  alive.