February 17, 2010


(President William McKinley - spoke of prosperity despite ominous signs - including an assassins bullet)

This one, I confess, is a bit of a cheat. It was touted for many years as being the actual voice of President McKinley, giving an address at a reception during the Pan-American Exhibition on September 1901. It was given great historic importance because these were purported to be his last words before his assassination during that reception and released shortly after his death as a tribute to the fallen President. Years later it was reported to be the voice of Len Spencer who "offered a faithful reproduction of McKinley's voice" - but the truth was, it probably wasn't McKinley. It's sort of like having Rich Little stand in for Richard Nixon - close, but no cigar. However, since there is doubt about whether this is President McKinley or that of Len Spencer, since Spencer was around and no doubt actually heard McKinley speak, it is probably the next best thing and one hundred and ten years later it isn't all that likely to be disputed.

William McKinley: “My fellow citizens, great statistics indicate that this country is in a state of unexampled prosperity. The figures show that we are furnishing profitable employment to the millions of working men throughout the United States.”

Whether or not the actual words were spoken by McKinley, the fact of the matter was, William McKinley was part of a world that was rapidly vanishing. There was an interesting book written about that period of time called "The Good Years" by Walter Lord. Published in 1960, Lord interviewed a number of people who were still alive at that time and offered keen insights to America in the years just prior to World War One. The Good Years did much to explode the myth that life in America at the turn of the last century was anything but idyllic. McKinley spoke of "profitable employment", it was profitable for companies who fought off unions and employed workers for slave wages. Unions were characterized as groups of grubby anarchists, tossing bombs and inciting riots. Wall Street was the domain of banking interests who influenced the economy at the drop of a whim. Panics were created to inflate values and the gap between classes took panoramic proportions. There are most likely many parallels between the world of 1901 and the world of 2010. The stakes are much higher now, the gaps are as deep and wide as ever before. The world so wistfully portrayed in the turn of the century musical homage, The Music Man did not exist for nearly everyone, much the same as the myth of conspicuous consumption and easy credit is now.

The outside parts are all bright and shiny now - but the guts are just the same.

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