On the day of President William McKinley’s funeral, friends and colleagues began planning a fitting memorial to the fallen leader.
On September 19, 1901, Secretary of State William R. Day, who was a close personal friend of William McKinley, met with a few friends to consider what should be done in the way of a memorial for the assassinated President. They visited two sites in McKinley’s adopted hometown of Canton, Ohio. They immediately chose the hill where the McKinley National Memorial is now located. Ironically, McKinley had often remarked that the hill would make an ideal spot for a memorial tribute to Stark County’s war veterans.
The McKinley National Memorial Association was formally organized on September 26, 1901 for the sole purpose of erecting and maintaining a memorial to the 25th President of the United States, William McKinley. The Association issued an appeal for funds on October 10, 1901. Ohio Governor George K. Nash issued a proclamation asking January 29, 1902, the President’s birthday, be observed by school children, and that every child should be given an opportunity to contribute to the Memorial Fund. So it was that thousands of dollars were raised from the “pennies of schoolchildren.”
The Association acquired 26 acres of land from the Canton Cemetery Association and adjacent property owners. By June 1903, $500,000 had been raised, so the Association began taking design submissions. They received over 60. New Yorker Harold Van Buren Magonigle’s design was chosen.
Symbolism of the Memorial
From the air, the design combines the cross of a martyred President with the sword of the Commander-in-Chief during a time of war. The Monument itself is at the center of the cross, and forms the handle of the sword. The reflecting pool known as the Long Water, which was removed in the 1950s, forms the blade of the sword.
The original Long Water was made up of five levels, each 20 inches higher than the one before it, forming four cascades. It was 575 feet long. Maintenance of the Long Water proved to be both time consuming and never-ending. Instead of peacefully cascading, the water was often stagnant. So it was filled in, forming the grassy basin it is today.
The dedication of the Memorial was scheduled for September 30, 1907. Sadly, Mrs. McKinley died earlier that year, so she was not able to see the ceremonies honoring her fallen husband. President Theodore Roosevelt, who had been McKinley’s Vice President, gave the keynote address, and presided over the reviewing stand for the parade through Public Square. There were seats for 3000 along the steps of the Memorial, with some seats reserved for the 23rd OVI (Ohio Volunteer Infantry), McKinley’s Civil War regiment.
What the public did not know on the day of the dedication was the bodies had not yet been placed in the mausoleum. They were moved from the Werts Receiving Vault in West Lawn Cemetery on October 10, 1907. The bodies of the children were exhumed and moved on the same day.
The Memorial Today
Today the Stark County Historical Society (now the Wm. McKinley Presidential Library & Museum) owns and operates the McKinley National Memorial. Unlike modern presidential libraries, the museum is a private nonprofit. Income for repairs and maintenance is generated from federal grants for specific projects, and through income from an endowment.
For over a century, the Memorial has remained a testament to the life and career of William McKinley, Canton’s favorite son and America’s 25th President.