Monday, August 25, 2014

Erratum: Leon Czolgosz did NOT live in the Oneida Colony

As you might have noticed by now, I'm not perfect.  In fact, I'll wager that all investigative reporters (and the occasional SearchResearch blogger) make mistakes somewhere along the line.  It's inevitable. 

But an honest writer will try to fix their mistakes--that's what an erratum is all about.  In fact, if the web site you're using as a high-quality reference does NOT have a way to update their materials, you might consider that they're not such a great source.  Good newspapers, good reporters, good books all have some way to fix the record.  

Let me illustrate by example. 

Last week a SearchResearch reader, Joel Meltzer, a former resident of the Oneida Community Mansion House in Oneida, wrote to me to point out that: 

At some point someone misunderstood the fact that ANOTHER presidential assassin was an Oneida Community member, and drew the mistaken conclusion that Czolgosz was a member.  This was then added to the Oneida Community Wikipedia page.  (It has since been removed).  The statement repeated over and over again, is that Czolgosz was "briefly a member" of the community.  No one ever goes into more detail because there is no detail.  It just isn't true. Again, he was just a young boy when the community disbanded and he didn't live in Oneida!

The writer then correctly pointed out that I made this same error in my post on July 22, 2013 post "Answer: What's the connection between President McKinley's assassin and "free love"?"  

Well, that's an interesting claim... and I wondered what could have happened.  

Luckily, I have pretty good notes about writing that post, so I went back and reconstructed my searches and zeroed in on what went wrong. Here's my reconstruction: 

What went wrong  The question for that week was "What's the connection between President McKinley's assassin and "free love"?"  

In my post, I showed that Searching inside of the Google News Archives, it was simple enough to find multiple references to Noyes use of the phrase "free love."  And then a quick look in Google Books for [ Noyes "free love" ] lead me to Without Sin: The Life and Death of the Oneida Community, Spencer Klaw (1994) where you can find that "in the late summer of 1852, in an article in the Circular [the Colony’s newsletter]  he [Noyes] boldly included “Cultivation of Free Love” in a list of principles that the community stood for." 

So he's the guy who gave the notion of "Free Love" some currency. 

Now, when I looked for a connection to the assassin of President McKinley, I wrote:  
"Leon Czolgosz, who shot President McKinley at Pan-American Exposition reception on September 6, 1901.  Czolgosz, a native of Michigan and an avowed radical anarchist ( who hung out with people like Emma Goldman) was, for a short time, a member of the Oneida Colony. "  

Ever assertion like that needs to come from somewhere, and a good reporter tracks the origin (aka the provenance) of their facts.  A great reporter keeps his notes around for years just to be able to revisit questions of fact and inference.  

In this case, I had read Cults and Terrorism by Frank MacHovec where he writes 

"Charles Guiteau, President Garfield's assassin, was a 5 year Oneida member.  Leon Goglsz, for a shorter time, the assassin of President McKinley, was also an Oneida member. (Vowell, 2006)."    (emphasis mine)

That's where I got my information.  I should have been worried when MacHovec spelled the assassin's name incorrectly (it should be Cgoglsz, not Goglsz).  I admit that I did not check the reference to Vowell, 2006, but just assumed that MacHovec represented that information accurately. 

Prompted by Joel's question, I pulled out my notes, found the MacHovec citation quickly, and THEN checked (Vowell, 2006), which is by Sarah Vowell (and actually published in 2005 by Simon Schuster).  The Google Books link to Vowell's book.    

When I downloaded the book (which yes, I had to buy in order to scan completely), I read through every mention of Oneida and every mention of Cgoglsz... and none of them assert that Cgoglsz was a member of Oneida.  

So... I assume that MacHovec simply misread the book, or combined notes from different sources together and misplaced Cgoglsz at Oneida.  

Since I want to double-source everything, I looked up the Oneida colony history (from multiple sources) and found that they dissolved in 1881 (when Cgoglsz would have been 8 years old).  It's pretty clear from the biographies of Cgoglsz that he was working in steel mills from the age of 14, there's just not much possibility that he spent any time at the Oneida Community.   (It's also clear from reading a few bios of Cgogslz that he really didn't spend any time at Oneida.  Given how much detail these bios have, it's inconceivable that they would have omitted that detail of his life.) 

There it is:  Leon Frank Czolgosz, born in 1873, assassin of President McKinley, executed by electric chair in 1901, was never a member of the Oneida Community.  

On the other hand, Charles Guiteau was, for more than five years, in the Community (he later assassinated President James Garfield), so there is still a story line connecting the ideas.  Note that there's no causal relationship here (free love doesn't lead to becoming an assasin), but there is an interesting accident of history that these stories should cross.  

I'll go edit the original post to link to this.  Erratum duty discharged.  

Search on.  (Carefully!) 


  1. Thanks for the update Dr. Russell.

    I think you didn't make a mistake. You and everyone who did the SearchResearch Challenge found the same answer in 2012 when you posted this challenge, That was the "correct" answer at that moment.

    Joel, helped you and us to know more about this challenge with his question. I wonder if author Vowel changed the data in his book or what happened there.

    1. Well, thanks for the vote of confidence, Ramón. I don't think either Vowell or MacHoven changed their books since then. I really do think that I just accepted the assertion made in MacHoven and didn't double check that resource. As you said, Joel caught the error and we were able to fix it (both here and in the original posting).

    2. Good day DrD & Ramón -
      a surprise Tuesday prod — good reminder to check, check, check and keep a raised brow in the manner of skeptical Dan ':-7 truth has a quicksilver [Hg] quality…
      a version of truth
      Dan as a young man…
      confirmed by Morpheus, one rabbit hole after another

      (different subject - did you sense the Napatonian 6?)

      OS X Preview is handy… you still aren't close to the HS compendiumooops - like the URL: …Dan%2Boops… or doh
      no mention of Oneida here: Murderpedia‽‽ (who knew?/CZOLGOSZ)

      "His last words were "I killed the President because he was the enemy of the good people—the good working people. I am not sorry for my crime." As the prison guards strapped him into the chair, however, he did say through clenched teeth, "I am sorry I could not see my father."

      Sulfuric acid was thrown in his coffin so his body would completely dissolve within 24 hours. His letters and clothes were burned.

      …Among the personal effects found in his apartment was a U.S. quarter stamped with the date 2218. The face in profile on said quarter was not George Washington, but rather a face which has yet to be identified."

      warning: the Edison footage may be disturbing —
      one of Thom's moonshots
      revisions: apparently a "reconstruction"
      the 2218 quarter:
      "Among the personal effects found in his cell was a U.S. quarter stamped with the date 2218. The face in profile on said quarter was not George Washington, but rather a face which has yet to be identified." That's a creepypasta from the *chans. (talk) 04:34, 31 January 2008 (UTC)
      I am certain this information is garbage and should be removed. The Washington Quarter did not even go into circulation until 1932.
      Actually, that section is from Encyclopedia Dramatica, but that doesn't change the fact that it's bunk.


      a friendly competition

      now days, songage: Neil Patrick Harris, Assassins a catchy tune
      Stephen Sondheim and book by John Weidman, based on an idea by Charles Gilbert, Jr.

      all very curious in the context of current events… a whole array of dilemmas in need of Broadway remedies…
      feel free to substitute locations & characters
      non-cinema, straight M

      sent from under the wheels of the Search Bus

    3. Dr. Russell and Remmij thanks for your posts. It is true Dr. Russell, the fact that the mistake was made right is a great thing. I am sure that your site is now the only one with that answer. In wikipedia as your post mentions was removed. Joel had the advantage to be in the site. That is the amazing beauty about Internet, now we can change the reality to a better one if evidence shows. Just one Erratum with so many challenges an activities read by millions is pretty impressive :)

      Thanks Remmij for the links. Skeptical Dan is still my favorite one. Now, Erratum Dan is fantastic too.

  2. You know when you've had an ah ha moment. I was thinking about the importance of note taking when doing a search. You have mentioned this a number of times. I normally open a file called [notes] for each challenge and use that to put together my answer. It is my actual progression through the search with queries, results, urls & notes to myself about what I have found. I save both documents in Google Drive. I mentioned today in our Plants challenge (Aug 27/14) that I couldn't remember how we did a particular search. This is my point- I realized that not only could I use your blog to get info but I hadn't paid too much attention to searching my own notes. Then I thought why not (Chromebook) just go to files> Google Drive> Search. This is likely second nature to you but for me it just clicked. We will build a wealth of information as we do challenges. Not all results will get published on your blog because some don't apply to the search at hand. We can quickly search something that rings a bell.

    Your note taking process is of great interest to me. As a professional researcher you have tips & tricks that we haven't even considered. I would like to know as much as possible about effective note taking & making them useful in the future.

  3. To take issue with another statement: "Leon Czolgosz, who shot President McKinley at Pan-American Exposition reception on September 6, 1901.  Czolgosz, a native of Michigan and an avowed radical anarchist ( who hung out with people like Emma Goldman) was, for a short time, a member of the Oneida Colony. "  

    While Czolgosz attended several speeches by Emma Goldman and possibly had a short conversation with her. She didn't know who he was when later questioned about it. He cited her as an inspiration, but to say that they "hung out" is a stretch.