Thursday, September 17, 2015

A "new" McKinley artifact

We are thrilled to announce that a "new" McKinley artifact is now on display!

A few weeks ago, David Lyons donated a chair that had belonged to President McKinley.  It had been in his family for many decades, but he had no written documentation.

Last year his family had seen this photograph at the McKinley Grand.  They were convinced it was the same chair that they had at home:

The photo was from our collection.  Our archivist, Mark Holland, located the photo, and we examined it with a magnifying glass next to the chair, looking for small, unique details that would tell the chair's story.

We compared the placement of the screws on the rocker, a few scratches, and other minute details that proved to us that this WAS McKinley's chair!

It is now on display on the "front porch" along the exterior wall of the McKinley Gallery.  Come see it!  The photo is also displayed next to it:

Mr. Lyons donated the chair in memory of his mother Helen Janson Lyons.

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

William McKinley -- From Civil War Soldier to President of the United States

A souvenir postcard in our collection.

With the recent announcement that Mt. McKinley will be re-named Denali, William McKinley has become part of a national conversation!

On Monday I spoke to several reporters, from such prestigious news organizations as The New York Times, the NBC Nightly News with Lester Holt, the Associated Press, and Ohio Public Radio, just to name a few.  I did no less than 15 interviews for TV, radio, and print.

As the buzz dies down about the name change itself, we are seeing an increase in stories focusing on McKinley's legacy, which is far greater than his name on a mountain.We hope that people will take the time to learn more about our 25th president, who, quite frankly, is often (unjustly) overlooked in American history.

I wanted to use this blog to post a brief biography of President McKinley from the Civil War through his Presidency, excerpted from Christopher Kenney's book The McKinley Monument:  A Tribute to a Fallen President. In his first chapter, Chris summarizes McKinley's life before digging into the history of the Monument itself:

Private William McKinley
In 1861 the Civil War broke out and McKinley decided to continue the family tradition of military service: both grandfathers had served in the War of 1812.  In June of 1861, at the age of 18, he enlisted as a private in Company E of the 23rd regiment of the Ohio Volunteer Infantry (OVI).  He served under Rutherford B. Hayes, who would also become President of the United States.  After McKinley’s first taste of warfare he wrote in his diary, “It may be that I will never see the light of another day.  Should this be my fate, I fall in a good cause and hope to fall in the arms of my Blessed Redeemer.”  McKinley would serve for all fours years of the Civil War and participated in some of the fiercest battles, including South Mountain and Antietam.  Miraculously, he was never wounded.

McKinley was well-liked by both the officers and the enlisted men.  As a result, he was promoted several times during his four-year military career.  He earned the rank of Commissary Sergeant on April 15, 1862; Lieutenant in September 1862; First Lieutenant in February 1863; Captain in July 1864; and finally Major in March 1865.  When the war ended he was discharged on July 26, 1865 with the rank of Brevet Major.  For the rest of his life close friends and family would often refer to him as “The Major.”

McKinley around the time he entered law school
Following his military service, McKinley enrolled at the Albany Law School in 1865.  He spent two years there and graduated in 1867, the same year he was admitted to the Ohio Bar and moved to Canton.  His sister Anna was already living in Canton and encouraged her brother to join her in the growing city, where there were many opportunities available for a young, energetic lawyer.  Shortly after moving to Canton, McKinley formed a partnership—Belden & McKinley—with Judge George W. Belden.

Apart from his successful law career, William McKinley also became actively involved in local politics and community organizations, most notably the YMCA and the local Masonic Temple, which today is named for William McKinley.

Shortly after arriving in Canton he caught the eye of young Ida Saxton, the belle of Canton.  Her grandfather, John Saxton, was the founder of The Repository, and her father James owned one of the local banks.  It was in her father’s bank that the two first met.  They attended church and social functions together and eventually where married on January 25, 1871 in the newly constructed Presbyterian Church.  The church was so new that a portion of it was not completed at the time.  Over 700 guests attended the wedding, including then Governor of Ohio, Rutherford B. Hayes.

Baby Ida and Katie were originally buried in West Lawn Cemetery.
Almost a year later the McKinleys welcomed their first child, a daughter named Katherine, who was born on Christmas Day 1871. Two years later another daughter, Ida was born.  Sadly neither of the little girls would survive.  Baby Ida passed away on August 22, 1873 at the four months and twenty-two days.  Two years later on June 25, 1875 Katherine also died at the age of 3 ½.  Katherine’s death certificate listed heart failure as the cause of death.  The two girls were buried in the family plot in West Lawn Cemetery.  Later they would be moved to the Monument. Around the same time Ida McKinley also suffered the loss of her grandfather, John Saxton, and her mother, with whom she was very close.  All of these tragedies in such a short time span took a toll on Ida’s health.  She began suffering from various health problems including seizures.  These problems would plague her for the rest of her life.

Despite personal tragedies, William McKinley’s professional life flourished.  He served as Stark County Prosecutor, arguing cases in the same courthouse that stands in downtown Canton today.  He worked on Rutherford B. Hayes’ campaign for Governor, meeting many influential people along the way.  When he was 33, he ran for Congress in 1876.  He based his platform on his belief in protective tariffs and sound money, two issues that continued to be a driving force throughout the rest of his political career.  He won the election and spent the next 14 years in Washington, serving the 45th-51st Congress.  He enjoyed tremendous success throughout his years in Congress and made many powerful friends who would help his career in the years to come.  Although he became a strong leader for the Republican Party, he lost the 1890 re-election mainly due to redistricting and gerrymandering by the Democratic Party.

He was out of public politics, but not for long.  In 1891 he was encouraged to run for Governor of Ohio, a position he held from 1892-1896.  In 1895 he accepted the Republican nomination for President.  His opponent was William Jennings Bryan, a gifted speaker and campaigner who criss-crossed the country gathering votes.  Meanwhile, President McKinley remained in Canton, and with the advice and guidance of Cleveland businessman Marcus Hanna, conducted one of the most successful “Front Porch” campaigns ever.

McKinley delivering a speech on the famous Front Porch
Thousands upon thousands of delegates arrived in Canton from all over the country.  They would come into the train station located on Market Avenue South and literally form a parade that would march north on Market to the McKinley home.  Hanna organized these delegations so McKinley knew exactly when each group was coming and what issues were important to them.  Every delegation speaker was required to submit the text of his speech.  As a result McKinley was able to tailor his speeches to the needs of each group.  He greeted thousands from his front porch this way and made a point of shaking hands with everyone who made the trip.  A newspaper reporter of the time, Murat Halstead, describes the experience of shaking McKinley’s hand:

“It allures the caller, holds him an instant, and then quietly and deliberately “shakes him.”  The hand goes out straight for you, there is a warm pressure of the palm, a quick drop, a jerk forward, and the thing is over.  There is something besides the extended palm to allure you, and that is Mr. McKinley’s beaming countenance.   When greeting the public he never ceases to smile, it invites you forward and compels your own smile in spite of yourself.”

McKinley ran on the same platform he used in his Congressional campaign—protective tariffs and sound money.  He defeated Bryan and won the election of 1896.  His first term in office was marked by several notable events:  the death of his first Vice-President, Garrett Hobart, from a heart attack; the Boxer Rebellion in China; and, of course, the Spanish-American War.  McKinley led the country through these difficult moments and in 1900 the people elected him for a second term.  He again defeated William Jennings Bryan, but this time by an even larger margin.  President McKinley and his new Vice President, Theodore Roosevelt, were now poised to lead the country into the 20th century.

On Wednesday September 4, 1901, just a few months into his second term, President and Mrs. McKinley left for the Pan-American Exposition in Buffalo, New York.  Thursday September 5 was “President’s Day” at the Exposition and McKinley delivered what many thought was the greatest speech of his career.  In this speech he made the famous quote that is now inscribed inside the McKinley National Memorial:

“Let us ever remember that our interest is in concord, not conflict,
and that our real eminence rests in the victories of peace, not those of war.”

McKinley arriving at the Exposition
The next day, September 6, President and Mrs. McKinley arrived on the grounds of the Exposition at 3:30 PM.  Mrs. McKinley continued on by carriage to the Milburn Home.  President McKinley, accompanied by his secretary George Cortelyou and John G. Milburn, went to the Temple of Music.  Security was heavy inside the Temple, and all on guard were instructed to pay close attention to everyone who stood in line to meet the President.  As was his habit, the President shook hands with everyone who passed by.  Then, according to eyewitnesses, a man shook hands longer than many thought necessary.  He drew attention to himself and guards quickly moved him along.  During this commotion, however, they failed to notice the next man in line with a bandage around his hand.  The man was Leon Czolgosz, an anarchist who viewed the office of Presidency as a threat to the workingman.  Czolgosz had been stalking the President for some time, even following him to Meyers Lake in Canton.  The bandage that was wrapped around Czolgosz’s hand concealed a .32 caliber pistol.  At 4:07 PM, as President McKinley reached out to shake hands with Czolgosz, two shots were fired. 

An artist's rendering of the assassination
Security quickly jumped on Czolgosz and began hitting and kicking him.  Reportedly McKinley urged them to stop, and not to hurt him.  The President then said to his secretary George Cortelyou, “my wife—be careful, Cortelyou, how you tell her—oh be careful.”

An electric ambulance arrived at the Temple of Music and rushed the President to an emergency hospital on the fairgrounds.  Eleven minutes had passed since the two shots were fired.  When doctors attended to the President they discovered he had been shot twice.  The first bullet entered just to the right of the sternum and was easily removed.  The second shot was far more serious, striking the President in the abdomen and piercing the stomach walls twice.  Doctors tried in vain to locate the second bullet.  The President’s wounds were closed and he was taken to the Milburn home while he was still unconscious.

Vice-President Theodore Roosevelt boarded a train in the Adirondack Mountains of New York to come to Buffalo. Early reports indicated the President would make a full recovery, so Roosevelt returned to his vacation home.  However, on Friday September 13, 1901 his health took a turn for the worse.  His wounds had developed gangrene.  By Friday afternoon he called his surgeons to the bedside and told them, “It is useless gentlemen.  I think that we ought to have prayer.”  Mrs. McKinley was led to his bedside where he kissed her for a final time and said “Good-bye—good-bye all, it is God’s way. His will, not ours, be done.”  At 2:15 AM on Saturday September 14, 1901 the 25th President of the United States was gone.

President McKinley lying in state in Washington, DC