th President of the United States

Born: January 29, 1843 in Niles, Ohio
Served: March 4, 1897 - September 14, 1901
Died: September 14, 1901 in Buffalo, New York
Buried: in the McKinley National Memorial and Museum in Canton, Ohio

            We picked up James Garfield on a weekend trip to Northeastern Ohio. Debbie and I, along with our nephew Damian, were there August 8-11, 2002. We were there to see our nephew Justin in a hockey tournament at Kent State University. We got to go to our first Cleveland Indian game in Jacob's Field when we arrived on Thursday night. Unfortunately, the tribe lost. On Friday morning we visited Garfield's memorial in Cleveland. On Saturday morning, after our nephew's hockey game, we drove south toward Canton. The McKinley National Memorial and Museum and not very far from the National Football League's Hall of Fame (I visited there back in 1998). One thing is for sure; you can't miss the memorial. As soon as you drive in the park, it is there. You drive along what was once a reflecting pool (now drained and landscaped). After parking, you have to climb 108 steps to the mausoleum. There is a granite statue of McKinley half way up. The memorial itself is 95 feet high and 75 feet across. When you walk inside, William and Ida are directly in front of you. They are in two sarcophaguses made out of Windsor green granite on top of a base of black Berlin granite. It is quite impressive.

            Born in Niles, Ohio in 1843, McKinley was a teacher when the Civil war began. He enlisted in the Union Army as a private in the 23rd Ohio Regiment, which was commanded by Colonel William S. Rosecrans (future Union general). Later it would be commanded by Rutherford B. Hayes (future 19th president). Sergeant McKinley fought at the Battle of Antietam near Burnside's Bridge. Today, there is a monument to him on the battlefield. McKinley ended the war as a major. After the war, he studied law and entered politics. A Republican, he campaigned for his former commanding officer, Rutherford B. Hayes. After being elected prosecuting Attorney, he was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives in 1877. With the exception of 1884-85, where he lost a contested election, McKinley served in the Congress until 1891. After he lost his bid for re-election in 1891, he successfully ran for Governor of Ohio in 1893. As governor, he supported tax reforms and was seen as a friend of the workingman.

            McKinley resigned as governor to pursue the Republican nomination for president in 1896. With the help of Cleveland industrialist Marcus Hannah, McKinley was nominated. Using his famous "front porch campaign", supporting tariff protection, he easily defeated democrat William Jennings Bryan (271 to 176 electoral votes). As president, his administration was dominated with the crises in Cuba. McKinley wanted Spain to leave Cuba and hoped that military intervention would not be necessary. On February 15, 1898, when the battleship U.S.S. Maine exploded in Havana's harbor, Spain was blamed for the incident (future investigations would find that Spain was not at fault). In a little over two months, Congress declared war on Spain.

            The Spanish-American War lasted only four months and ended with a one-sided victory over Spain. In the peace, the United States acquired the Philippines. Later, McKinley was forced to send troops to China during the Boxer Rebellion. He also pushed through a higher tariff and set gold as the standard for U.S. currency. In the Election of 1900, McKinley replaced his vice-president and close friend, Garret Hobart of New Jersey, who had died, with a young hero of the Spanish-American War, Teddy Roosevelt. In the election, McKinley again defeated Jennings by an even wider margin (292 to 155 electoral votes).

William McKinley            Six months after his inauguration, McKinley attended the Pan-American Exposition in Buffalo. It was here that an anarchist named Leon Czolgosz shot him in the Temple of Music on September 6, 1901. McKinley was rushed to a nearby hospital where doctors operated on him. McKinley seemed stable enough to be released and was sent to a private home. He seemed to improve and requested food and a cigar (he wasn't allowed to have the cigar). after eating, he took a turn for the worse. Gangrene had settled in and McKinley died at 2:15 the following morning, eight days after being shot.

            After a private service at the house in Buffalo, McKinley was brought through the streets to the sounds of his favorite hymn, "Nearer, My God, to thee" to Buffalo's City Hall. The next day, a funeral train brought the body back to the White House. From there, it went to the Capitol where it laid in state beneath the Capitol dome. After that, McKinley's body was taken back by train to Canton, Ohio. He was placed in a vault in Westlawn Cemetery until his Mausoleum could be finished. In 1907, he was moved to the Memorial and was joined by his wife who died earlier that year. Presidential assassin was tried, convicted and electrocuted within two months of the shooting.

            Ida Saxton was born in Canton, Ohio in 1847, the daughter of a prominent banker. After finishing school she toured Europe. Working in her father's bank as a cashier, she met Major McKinley shortly after the Civil War. The two married on January 25, 1871. After the birth of her second baby, Ida was very seriously ill. She suffered from Phlebitis and epileptic seizures which made her an invalid. Her second daughter, died four months after her birth and the first daughter died five years later. McKinley always cared for his wife who remained at home in rocking chairs. In the White House, the McKinley's tried to carry on as if nothing was wrong. At social affairs, McKinley was always prepared to act if she had a seizure. He even broke White House protocol by seating her by his side at State dinners. When McKinley was shot, his first concern was for his wife. When she died six years after her husband; she was buried by his side. Their two young daughters, Katherine and Ida, are buried in the back wall of their Memorial.

            Final observations: I visited Garfield's and McKinley's Monuments in one weekend. Garfield's is much more ornate, both inside and outside. McKinley's Monument reminds me of the U.S. Capitol Building while Garfield's Monument reminds me of an Italian cathedral.

Here are some webpages of interest:

McKinley Memorial Library & Museum
23rd Ohio Regiment
The Battle of Antietam (NPS)
White House Biography of William McKinley
The Internet Public Library Biography
The American President Biography

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