The above photo depicted New York City Mayor William Jay Gaynor moments after being shot in the throat by a disgruntled former City employee. On the left, moving forward to help the mayor is Robert Todd Lincoln, the only surviving son of President Lincoln. On the right is Robert Marsh, grabbing the mayor’s arm to steady him.
It was August 9, 1910, early into Gaynor’s term as mayor. He was nominated in 1893 to New York Supreme Court by the Tammany Hall political machine, but proved to be an honest reformer who broke ranks and refused to take orders from the Tammany machine. This reputation helped win him election as mayor in 1909 eventhough he had never even set foot in City Hall until the day of his inauguration. His inaugural address was refreshingly candid: “I enter upon this office with the intention of doing the very best I can for the City of New York. That will have to suffice; I can do no more.”
On the occasion of his shooting, the Evening World photographer William Warnecke was on SS Kaiser Wilhelm der Grosse to cover the mayor’s European vacation. At 9:40 am, Robert Anderson, the mayor’s secretary, shouted a warning as an unknown man (later identified as J.J. Gallagher who had been discharged as a dock night watchman a month prior) drew his pistol and pulled it six inches away from the mayor’s head. It failed to go off. The man fired two more shots (which hit Gaynor in the neck and then in the back) before being subdued.
Other photographers covering the mayor’s departure to Europe had come and gone by the time Warnecke arrived late. Warnecke was simply taking a photo of Gaynor in conversation when he captured the very moment that Gallagher shot a bullet through Gaynor’s neck. He also took another photo of the mayor being carried off the ship.
In the photo Gaynor was seen struggling to stay on his feet. According to his own account, he could not see, was unable to breathe, and heard a “metallic roar” coming and going in his head. Despite having shot twice at close range, Gaynor survived. Just two months the shooting, he returned to work at City Hall to the cheers of 10,000 citizens. But the bullet remained lodged in his throat, and left him with a chronic illness and as he was preparing for re-election in 1913, died. Bill Warnecke, as was the tradition with many newspaper photographers of the day, was uncredited when the photo appeared in newspapers the next day.