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Over 100 years ago, communities across the nation donated their pennies and dimes to build a spectacular monument to President McKinley. That monument is located on McKinley Monument Drive Northwest on the grounds of West Lawn Cemetery on a hill that became known as Monument Hill. Twenty-six acres of the cemetery were purchased to create the national landmark dedicated to President William McKinley, who is entombed here along with his wife Ida and his two children, Katherine (who died at 4 from typhoid) and Ida (died during her first year).
President William McKinley was shot by an assassin on September 6, 1901 while McKinley was attending the much anticipated Pan American Exposition in Buffalo, New York. The president died on September 14 and two days later the funeral train returned to Washington, D.C. Following services at the United States Capitol, the President’s body was placed back on the train for his final trip to Canton. On September 19 President McKinley’s body was interred at the Werts Receiving Vault in Canton’s West Lawn Cemetery. Almost six years later and a few several months before the official dedication of the McKinley Memorial, Ida Saxton McKinley died.After the memorial services were held for the President, several of his closest advisors met to discuss the location of a proper memorial to serve as a final resting place. The site chosen was often visited by McKinley. At one time, he had suggested that a monument to soldiers and sailors from Stark County be placed at the site that became known as Monument Hill in West Lawn Cemetery.
When the monument was officially dedicated in September 1907, more than 100,000 arrived in Canton, mostly by train, from across the country. Only 3,000 of those arriving had secured tickets. So large was the crowd that another stand was built the day before the ceremonies to accommodate another 1,000 guests which was filled hours before the ceremonies were set to begin. Most of those that arrived, were unaware that there would be a limited audience. President Theodore "Teddy" Roosevelt (McKinley's Vice President served the balance of McKinley's second term, and was then elected president in 1904) arrived in Canton that morning and reviewed a massive parade that included McKinley's 23 Ohio Volunteer Infantry from his days in the Civil War. All totalled there were almost 10,000 veterans of the Civil War and the Spanish American War.
More than 60 designs for the memorial were submitted when the design committee requested submissions. From those designs in a blind jury selected Harold Van Buren Magonigle's design. Magonigle was an American architect, artist and author and became known for his memorials. The statue was designed by Charles Henry Niehaus, who was born and educated in Cincinnati. For the McKinley statue Niehaus used one of the last photographs taken of McKinley while he was delivering a speech at the Pan American Exposition the day before he was assassinated.
Following the review and a luncheon, President Roosevelt was driven to the monument. Here the new bronze statue of William McKinley was unveiled by McKinley's sister, Miss Helen McKinley of Cleveland. The large statue is located about halfway up the grand stairway.
Today the Residents of Canton pass by the Monument or run up and down the 108 steps everyday or run the quarter mile around the double drive stretching out in front of the memorial. Traveling on Interstate 77, the Monument towers above the trees. But some may wonder: Why is such a magnificent building in Canton? The answer is quite simple. William McKinley was and is Canton’s favorite son. While the President was born in Niles, Ohio, he called Canton home. After his death, it was fitting that the President be laid to rest in the city where his career began, the place where he found his true love and ran for the highest office in the land.
On September 26, 1901 just 12 days after the death of William McKinley, the McKinley National Memorial Association was formed and President Theodore Roosevelt named the original Board of Trustees for that association. Their first order of business was to purchase a suitable site where a fitting memorial could be constructed. It was decided that Monument Hill located in the West Lawn Cemetery, be purchased as the ideal location for the monument. By October 10 of that same year, the National Memorial Association issued a public appeal for $600,000 in contributions to cover the cost of construction, statues, and an endowment to insure the perpetuity of the memorial. Ohio Governor George K. Nash supported the effort by proclaiming McKinley’s birthday in 1902 a special day of observance by the state’s schools. As a result of this large numbers of school children contributed to the memorial fund. By the time the memorial was completed, 1,500,000 people had contributed $540,000 to not only purchase the land but build a structure.
Construction of the memorial began on June 6, 1905 when Mr. Magonigle removed the first shovel of soil from the site. By November 16 the cornerstone was laid in an official ceremony attended by Mrs. McKinley and other family members.
The interior dome measures 50' in diameter and 77' from the floor to the highest point. At the top of the dome is a red, white and blue skylight. The skylight has 45 stars in its design representing the 45 states in the Union at the time of President McKinley’s death. The skylight was part of the original design, but for some reason was never installed. There was a clear glass skylight in its place. Using Magonigle’s plans, and the Canton glass specialists White Associates, the 12' diameter skylight was installed during a restoration project in 1976.
The inscription below the cornice in the interior reads: "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." This was a line given by McKinley while at the Pan American Expo in Buffalo.
By September 1907 the Monument and the 26 acres surrounding it were finished. Nine states had contributed material for the memorial. Ohio supplied the concrete, all of the brick, and much of the labor. Massachusetts provided the exterior granite and Tennessee the marble walls and pedestal and part of the marble floor. New York, Pennsylvania, Vermont, Wisconsin, Illinois and Rhode Island also contributed material for the project.
After the dedication the McKinley National Memorial Association continued to administer the site. Eventually, it became difficult for the Association to maintain the structure and the grounds. In early 1941 the federal government was approached about taking over the site. With the war underway in Europe, it was clear that the United States might become involved and the government did not want to take on additional financial responsibilities. In 1943, the property was transferred to the Ohio State Archaeological and Historical Society, today known as the Ohio Historical Society. In 1951 on the 50th anniversary of McKinley’s death the memorial was rededicated by the state.
The memorial returned to local control in 1973 when the property was transferred to the Stark County Historical Society, owners and operators of the William McKinley Presidential Library & Museum. In 1975, the pink Milford granite structure was designated a National Historic Landmark.
On September 29, 1992, after years of restoration work and enhancement of the grounds, the McKinley National Memorial was rededicated yet again. This rededication recognized the partnership undertaken by the Federal Government, local foundations and private citizens to honor the memory of President William McKinley.
The William McKinley Presidential Library is also located just south of the McKinley Memorial. Besides housing many of the documents associated with William McKinley and his presidency, it also looks at the 25th President's life and legacy in photographs, documents and artifacts.
More than 100 years after McKinley's assassination during his second term in office, new light has been shed on the decisions he made while in office and it turns out that he was a much better president than many of his contemporary critics gave him credit for being. The man was much beloved in Ohio and it was a dark time across the state after his untimely death. The presidential library helps shed light on these details and why William McKinley was an important political figure not only in Ohio, but also for the country.
Inside the building is also the Stark County Museum that features exhibits that date the history of Stark County and the area dating back more than 200 years. Also included is the Hoover Price Planetarium that gives visitors a birds-eye view of the universe without ever leaving Canton. More down to earth is the Street of Shops, which is a life-size replica of a 19th Century town which also includes a replica of one of downtown Canton's train stations.