The Temple of Music

Written by Jonathan Lowy
Review by Susan Zabolotny

The first two pages of Jonathan Lowy’s novel describe the birth and death of Leon Czolgosz, anarchist son of Polish immigrants and assassin of William McKinley, twenty-fifth President of the United States. The rest of the novel reveals a fascinating look at the twenty-eight years in between these two events. There is a wide range of incidents leading up to that fateful September day at the Temple of Music in Buffalo, New York.

For the wealthy of that time, it is the Gilded Age, the Gay Nineties; for the masses of working poor, it is a time of hardship and despair. The Robber Barons, lucky enough to live before income tax, amassed large fortunes on the backs of the unfortunate men, women and children working without the benefit of labor laws to protect them.

So many interesting figures are brought to this story. Wealthy businessman Mark Hanna uses money and influence to secure McKinley’s election. He masterminds the first organized presidential campaign in American history. The president is a quiet man of decent character and devotion to his wife, Ida. Lowy’s portrayal of Ida’s tragic life and debilitating illness is engrossing. We also meet anarchist Emma Goldman, ruthless in her campaign for reform. Newspaper magnate William Randolph Hearst paints an unflattering portrait of the President and later experiences a sense of guilt while the President is dying. Morris Steinglitz, a condom manufacturer, clashes with Anthony Comstock, a crusader for decency.

Early on I had some problems with the flow of this novel: the author’s excessive use of dates made the beginning disjointed and scattered. I’m glad I persevered, because the book is well worth the rocky start.