Detail from McKinley campaign poster (1900).
Detail from McKinley campaign poster (1900).

A Mountain of McKinley Sights

For nearly six decades William McKinley lived a charmed life. He survived four years of combat in the Civil War -- including Antietam, the bloodiest single day on American soil -- and emerged without a scratch. He married into wealth, to "the belle of Canton," a woman he genuinely loved. He was elected the 25th President of the United States, twice, without having to leave his front porch.

The martyred presidents - Lincoln, Garfield and McKinley (1902)
The martyred presidents - Lincoln, Garfield and McKinley (1902)

Bad things happened to others around him: his two daughters died young, his first Vice President died while in office, his wife became an invalid. But McKinley seemed personally immune to misfortune, and that probably influenced his decision to mingle and shake hands with the public at the Pan-American Exposition in Buffalo, New York, on September 6, 1901. His aides, concerned for his safety, urged McKinley to cancel, but he supposedly responded, "Why should I? No one would wish to hurt me."

And then his luck ran out.

The assassination of President McKinley triggered years of public mourning. Some in Washington even suggested renaming the Philippines The McKinley Archipelago in his honor. That didn't happen, but his death did spur the creation of dozens of odd monuments and statues -- and one immense mausoleum -- for the enlightenment of future generations.

Unfortunately for McKinley, his Vice-President and successor, Teddy Roosevelt, quickly eclipsed him in everything presidential that mattered: personality, catchphrases, suitability for comic caricatures. But McKinley had been popular, too. He led America to victory over foreign perils such as cheap imports and the queen of Hawaii. His punitive tariffs earned him recognition in his day as the Father of the American Tin Plate Industry.

  • He was the first clean-shaven President in 30 years.
  • His military intervention in Cuba led to the sinking of the U.S.S. Maine, which led to the Spanish-American War, and still more odd public monuments and statues.
  • His wife, Ida, spent much of her time as First Lady crocheting thousands of slippers, auctioned to raise money for charity. She sent a pair to former President Rutherford B. Hayes, who wore them as bedroom slippers until he died (They're now displayed in his presidential museum).
  • Despite an alphabet soup of a name, McKinley's assassin Leon Czolgosz (CHOLE-goash) was an American, born outside of Detroit. As he was being strapped into the electric chair, Czolgosz said he'd killed McKinley for "the good people" and that he wasn't sorry.
  • Authorities poured sulfuric acid into Czolgosz's coffin, officially so that his body would disintegrate before it could be stolen, but also because they really hated the guy -- and because they loved William McKinley.

Canton, Ohio - McKinley Museum and Tomb.
Canton, Ohio - McKinley Museum and Tomb.

The Roadside America McKinley Map pinpoints some of our favorite President McKinley tributes. More can be found with the help of the Roadside Presidents App for iPhone.

A Mountain of McKinleys

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August 12, 2020

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