On the morning of January 30, 1900, Kentucky governor William Goebel, was shot outside the Old State Capitol in Frankfort. It was one of many violent acts across Kentucky at the end of the 19th century, as lingering divisions from the Civil War led to clashes both physical and philosophical.
Goebel, a Democrat, had entered Kentucky politics in 1887, when he was elected to the state senate. He advocated for increasing regulations on railroads and banks, improving schools, and expanding rights for women and Black Americans. His reforms were popular with voters, but less so with wealthy business owners, many of whom had supported the Confederate cause during the Civil War.
In 1899, Goebel was the Democratic nominee in the gubernatorial election. Republicans nominated state Attorney General William S. Taylor. When the election results were announced, it initially appeared that Taylor had won by a slim margin. But after accusations of voting irregularities led to a number of ballots being invalidated, Goebel was declared the winner. The governor-elect had been warned of a possible assassination plot when he stepped out to walk to the State House on January 30.
According to reports, Goebel was shot five to six times, with at least one of those shots striking him in the chest. He was rushed to a doctor’s office at the Capital Hotel. The trek from the then State Capitol building to the Capital Hotel was a two-block and “was stained vividly with blood.” According to reports, Dr. Hume knew instantly that Goebel’s wound was fatal. The bullet had “entered Goebel’s right breast slightly above the nipple, shattering a rib, and piercing the lower portion of the right lung, causing immediate suspension of digestion and paralyzing the kidneys before exiting his back near his spine.”
After his initial treatment, Goebel was moved from Hume’s office to a room on the second floor. The next day the Contest Committee determined there were enough legal votes to declare Goebel the winner of the election. Later that afternoon, Goebel was sworn in as the 34th Governor of Kentucky from his deathbed.
Goebel’s first and only act as governor was to instruct the militia to disband and call for the legislature to reassemble. His term as governor of Kentucky lasted a mere four days; Goebel died at 6:44 p.m. on February 3, 1900, after his lungs filled with blood.
Today, a plaque outside the Old State Capitol marks the spot where Goebel was shot. The identity of Goebel’s assassin remains unclear. Sixteen people, including the deposed Governor Taylor, were indicted in connection with Goebel’s death. Just five of the indictments went to trial, and two of those ended with an acquittal. Governor Goebel remains the only American governor to be assassinated while in office.
Know Before You Go
The marker inside in the brick wall walking up to the Old State Capital near the fountain.