Leon Czolgosz was born Detroit to Polish immigrants in 1873. Raised in Cleveland, he held a succession of menial jobs, including grueling employment at a bottle factory, before committing himself to anarchism. After a nervous breakdown at twenty-five, Czolgosz left home and pursued his political cause more methodically. Czolgosz frequently went by the alias of Fred C. Nieman (German for “Nobody”), as he traveled in radical circles, at one time having a brief introduction in a railway station to the American socialist activist Emma Goldman. Czolgosz shot President William McKinley at point-blank range in the Temple of Music exhibit at Buffalo’s Pan-American Exposition on September 6, 1901. Upon his arrest Czolgosz defended his crime, arguing “McKinley was going around the country shouting about prosperity when there was no prosperity for the poor man.” When pressed for further justification, Czolgosz tersely maintained, “I only done my duty.” The single word “guilty” would be all Czolgosz would say in his own person at his trial, a plea that would be ignored by the presiding judge given the context of a capital case. He was executed two months later in the electric chair at the age of twenty-eight. Just before burial, prison officials poured sulfuric acid on his body to ensure is swift decomposition.
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