William McKinley, our nation’s 25th United States President, was the first commander-in-chief to enter the 20th century…and our third President to be assassinated. Unlike James Garfield, the other Ohio President who was killed in office, McKinley actually served an entire term and was re-elected to a second. He served in office from 1897 until 1901, at which time he was murdered by Leon Czolgosz while in Buffalo, New York.
Significant events to occur during his admistration (besides the turn of the century) included the Boxer Rebellion, the Gold Standard Act, the annexation of Hawaii, and the U.S. victory in the Spanish-American War – led by the President who would succeed McKinley, Teddy Roosevelt and his Rough Riders. McKinley is also important in our state’s history as one of only two Ohio Governors to become President (along with Hayes).
I have twice visited most of the major locations of William McKinley’s life, first on a road trip in 1998, and the second during a repeat road trip in 2008. The only additional major location that I still need to visit is McKinley’s assassination site in Buffalo, New York.
Monday, August 24, 1998 / Tuesday, July 29, 2008 – William McKinley birthplace – One of the most interesting things about visiting the Presidential birthplaces is the diversity that you will find among them. They come in a variety of sizes and shapes including signs, rocks, gas stations, original homes, reproduced homes, hospitals, and banks…just for example. McKinley’s birthsite located in Niles, Ohio, was the one that changed the most dramatically between my visits.
Official sign at the entrance to Niles
The first time Bob and I visited (along with my trusty wife Lisa), there was a bank sitting on the location, the McKinley Federal Savings and Loan no less. Actually, the bank was no longer open and what stood there was the building that once housed the bank, sitting on the site of McKinley’s birth. Therefore, since the building was then abandoned, we missed seeing the plaque in the foyer signifying that this was the McKinley birthsite – except through the window.
The former bank and McKinley birthplace location in 1998
We were considerably luckier during our second visit. The bank had been leveled and in its place was a reproduction of the actual McKinley birthsite home. But again, we arrived on a day during which it was closed. But have no fear! As we were scouting the area, a maintenance man happened upon us and asked if we would be interested in seeing the inside of the place. We began to beam and responded in the affirmative. He made a phone call over to the nearby McKinley Memorial Library and a very nice lady named Carrie Kibby came over and let us in.
The new house reproduction in 2008
State Historical Marker sign
She was exceptionally nice to show us around and share the history of the house replica with us. We saw a video on the life of President McKinley, toured the home, saw the orginal plaque that used to hang in the bank, touched a piece of the original foundations, and saw some nice memorablia from the life of President McKinley.
The tablet that used to hang in the bank, now located inside the house
Standing where the room would have been in which President McKinley was born
Beautiful giant original campaign poster hanging in the museum area of the birth home
Bob and me with a piece of the original home foundation
Monday, August 24, 1998 / Tuesday, July 29, 2008 – The McKinley Historical Museum and Library – Of the two major McKinley ‘museums,’ this one comes the closest to being a true Presidential Library. Bob, Lisa, and I first visited this interesting site in 1998. It is located just a block away from the birthplace of William McKinley in Niles, Ohio. The building has two wings, the left wing serving as the McKinley Memorial Library – which is just your typical check-out-books library (although it does have a very nice interior design complete with glass floors on upper levels).
Outside the museum in Niles
The right wing serves as a both an auditorium and a museum, with the perimeter chock full of McKinleyana. It was odd when we first visited because someone from the library simply came over and let us roam the place on our own…despite the fact that there were many priceless and valuable piece of memorabila strewn about. I’ll never for the life of me forget Lisa casually looking through some photo albums in an endtable and finding some campaign flyers that were legitimately signed by Dwight D. Eisenhower and Harry S Truman. Talk about putting Bob and me in a moral dilemma! We did the right thing though and warned the library that folks not as honest as us might be inclined to take these home as souvenirs or eBay fodder.
Between the two wings is a Birthplace Memorial statue of William McKinley surrounded by busts of many other Ohio Presidents, heroes, and members of the McKinley cabinet.
The McKinley Memorial Library on the left and the McKinley Historical Museum on the right. In between is the statuary. I took this photo in 1998.
Lisa and me in front of the statue 1998
Unfortunately, during our second visit the museum was under renovation. But our new friend and host Carrie allowed us to go in and look around for a bit, but since most of the displays were covered, we really couldn’t see much. The hospitality of Carrie and the other Niles folks was much appreciated and won’t be forgotten. Why, she even gave us a free magnet and tote bag!
The Library and Museum under construction in 2008
The McKinley bust inside the museum
Lecturing the swarms of people visiting the museum that day
Wednesday, August 26, 1998 / Tuesday, July 29, 2008 – The First Ladies Museum / Saxton-McKinley house – Although President and Mrs. McKinley actually owned their own home in Canton, Ohio, the Saxton house now serves as the only existing home in Canton with direct ties to the McKinleys. The house was actually First Lady Ida Saxton McKinley’s family home. However, future-President William and Ida McKinley lived in the home from 1878-1891 during McKinley’s time as Ohio delegate to the House of Representatives.
During our first visit in 1998, we found that the house was both well-preserved and authentically restored to the time of McKinley’s residence, but portions of it had been transformed into a First Ladies Museum. We had a goofy tour guide take us around during our first visit and we ran into First Ladies guru Craig Shermer, who not long afterward I would see on The Daily Show in drag portraying Florence Kling Harding (“most people call me the duchess”)
Bob and me at the Saxton house / First Ladies Museum in 1998
During our second visit in 2008, the Saxton house remained pretty much as I remembered it, but now the foundation had purchased another building nearby and this building was now serving as the official First Ladies Museum – although some of the artifacts still remained in the house.
Me at the Saxton house 2008
While in Canton, we never did locate the sign where the other McKinley house was located before it was destroyed, but we did drive past the First Methodist Episcopal Church where the McKinleys worshipped.
Wednesday, August 26, 1998 / Tuesday, July 29, 2008 – William McKinley Presidential Library and Museum – The first time I visited this location in Canton, Ohio – which is just a stone’s throw from the McKinley Memorial and grave – it carried the more banal title of the McKinley Museum of History, Science, and Industry. And that’s exactly what it was – a relatively simple museum with displays all over the board, from dinosaurs to the roaring twenties to Hoover vacuum cleaners to a model train set.
A name change for the new millenium
The museum hadn’t changed much since my first visit, but now carried the more glamourous title signifying that it was now a ‘Presidential Library’ – when in fact it was anything but. Well technically, there is a research library on the premisis but the place is actually just a nice little museum for the whole family, with friendly tour guides taking classes of kids around and showing them the various displays.
Getting ready to enter the other Library and Museum
McKinley must have been a good head taller than me
Tons of McKinley sites or bust!
With some ghastly display in the museum in 1998
Lisa bellies up to the bar display in the museum in 1998
I recreate her scene ten year later…sans the bartender. Fired for absenteeism.
One room was dedicated solely to the McKinleys as you might guess. It even had an animatronic that talks. It doesn’t actually move much, but if the voice suddenly booms out when you’re not expecting it, you might do a little ‘moving’ yourself. There were some displays in the room dedicated to McKinley, with the most interesting one being the supposed nightshirt that he wore while doctors attempted to remove the bullet from his back.
The McKinley animatronics. Yikes.
They scare the crap out of me
The nightshirt believed to be one of the duds McKinley wore while he was operated on
Thursday, June 6, and Friday June 7, 2013 – William McKinley Assassination Sites in Buffalo, New York – Buffalo has several Presidential connections but the one I’m sure that the one of which they are least proud is that President William McKinley was assassinated there. The date was September 6, 1901, and McKinley was in town for the Pan-American Exposition (World’s Fair), greeting the public in the Temple of Music when anarchist Leon Czolgosz fired two bullets at the President while seemingly approaching him to shake hands.
McKinley was operated on at the Exposition hospital, but the doctor could not locate the bullet. He was then taken to the home of John G. Milburn, the President of the Exposition, where he and his wife Ida had been staying while in Buffalo. It seemed that the President was going to recover, but then got gradually worse, dying on September 14.
The Temple of Music, like the other buildings that were part of the Pan-American Expo, were disassembled after the Expo was concluded. The area where it sat is now a residential neighborhood. A stone plaque was placed in the boulevard a residential street at the approximate spot where President McKinley was shot.
Decorative sign near the entrance of the neighborhood indicating the site of the Pan-American Expo, and noting the Memorial Site to President McKinley
Overview of the boulevard where the plaque is located
Close-up of the plaque
On the approximate site of the assassination attempt
The Milburn house in which the President died was converted into apartments in 1919, and the building was fully demolished in 1957 in order to expand the campus of the Canisius High School. Only a plaque now remains indicating the site.
All that’s left of the Milburn House
The gun that Leon Czolgosz used is on display in the History Musuem and Library of the Buffalo and Erie County Historical Society.
The gun that was used to kill William McKinley, along with its bullets, the handkerchief that Czolgosz used to conceal it, and the handcuffs in which the assassin was held
Me and the killer’s items
In the downtown Buffalo area near City Hall, amidst statues of Millard Fillmore and Grover Cleveland, is a giant monument commemorating his assassination in Buffalo in the center of Niagara Square is a memorial to President McKinley.
Inscription on the monument in Niagara Square
Me and the McKinley Monument
The city of Buffalo unwittingly had another historic moment take place as a result of the assassination when Vice President Theodore Roosevelt was sworn into office in the Ansley Wilcox home, which can be seen here.
Wednesday, August 26, 1998 / Tuesday, July 29, 2008 – William McKinley Grave – The McKinley National Memorial in Canton, Ohio is a huge structure that was dedicated to our fallen President by the American people and President Teddy Roosevelt some six years after McKinley’s passing. During its construction, the President was interred in the nearby West Lawn Cemetery in the Werts Receiving Vault.
Sign on the Werts Vault in West Lawn
McKinley’s body spent six years in here
The mammoth building contains the caskets of President William and Ida McKinley and the rear wall contains the remains of their infant daughters Katherine and Ida. Bob and I forgot to take photos of the daughter’s graves when we first went up there, so we had to go back again after our visit to the Werts Vault. Rather than walking all the way back to the top of the stoop, we figured out that you could actually drive around to the back and take the easy way in.
Lisa waves from the monument steps in 1998
My photo of the caskets in 1998
Me exiting the memorial in 1998
The statue and monument in 2008
The Historical Marker sign for the National Memorial
The view from the top. Until 1951, a long cascading waterfall ran from the monument across the plaza
The daughters are interred in the wall behind the caskets
William McKinley and me
Continue to the next President…
Return to Monday in Ohio 1998… (under construction)
Return to Wednesday in Ohio 1998… (under construction)
Return to Tuesday in Ohio 2008…