top of page

The president lost his charm

For The Madera Tribune

Former U.S. President William McKinley.


In 1904, the Ohio Legislature adopted the scarlet carnation as its official state flower. There was nothing controversial about the choice, and under normal circumstances, this action by Ohio’s lawmakers would hardly have been noteworthy. However, in this case, the naming of the scarlet carnation as the state flower came about as the result of the murder of one of Ohio’s favorite sons.

The genus Dianthus made its political debut during the election of 1876. During a debate for the 18th Congressional District seat, one of the aspirants, a Dr. Lamborn, gave his opponent a lapel carnation as a goodwill gesture. When the opponent won the election, he vowed always to have a red carnation in his lapel for good luck, and so he did — right to the very end.

Through seven congressional campaigns and two gubernatorial races, the man who defeated Lamborn always sported the ubiquitous carnation in his lapel. He was certain it brought him good luck. When he was nominated for President of the United States and won, he was sure of the efficacy of the flower as a good luck charm.

Then came that day in Buffalo, New York. On September 14, 1901, the President stood in the receiving line at the Buffalo Pan-American Exposition shaking hands with visitors, and occasionally fingering his lapel flower. That’s when fate struck.

A little 12-year-old girl named Myrtle Ledger, while standing in line with her mother, asked the President, “Could I have something to show my friends?” Upon hearing this, he removed the flower from his lapel, moved over to the girl, and handed it to her. Unfortunately, it cost him his life. The move left him wide open for Leon F. Czolgosz, who was armed with a .32-caliber pistol, to take perfect aim.

Before anyone could stop him, Czolgosz shot President William McKinley, for you see, it was he who had sported a lapel flower all those years. In a bizarre twist in time, The man who carried the red carnation as a good luck charm gave it away, and in a matter of seconds he became the victim of an assassin’s bullets. One has to wonder whatever happened to the flower.

bottom of page