Famous Death Masks President William McKinely

About the history of the plastar death mask made of President William McKinley


WILLIAM McKINLEY (1843-1901), 25th U.S. president

McKinley was almost a year into his second term when he was shot at point-blank range on Sept. 6, 1901, by Leon Czolgosz, an anarchist. Attending the Pan-American Exposition in Buffalo, N.Y., McKinley had been greeting visitors in a reception line at the Buffalo Temple of Music when he was shot. The President was taken to the home of John G. Milburn, chairman of the exposition and McKinley's official host in Buffalo. There, at 1168 Delaware Avenue, he seemed to rally for a few days, then rapidly sank. He died at 2:15 A.M. on Sept. 14, plunging the nation into deep grief for one of its most popular leaders.

At 7:20 A.M. on the following day, Edward L. A. Pausch of Hartford, Conn., took the plaster head cast. For Pausch, an experienced artisan, the opportunity was the biggest of his career. In contrast to most death masks, which represent only the facial features, the McKinley mask included almost the entire head, and the finished plaster weighed 25 lb. Pausch labored in secret for more than a month in perfecting the final mask, locking it each evening in a safety deposit vault. The finished product was then exhibited under heavy guard at the Smithsonian Institution, where it remains. Photographs were strictly prohibited while sculptors remodeled the mask in marble. According to the New York Times account, "all marble statues of President McKinley, which portray his features in accurate proportion, will necessarily have to come from this mask."

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