Most people know that Ohio's official state flower is the carnation and those that can remember seeing a picture of the state flower would say it's a "red" carnation. It is one of the oldest symbols adopted by the state legislature. For those keeping track the oldest symbol is the state seal which was adopted in the early 1800s. We didn't get a state flag until 1902 and then we found out years later that it's really not a flag, but it's a burgee. The state flower came a couple years after the flag.
Three years after President McKinley's assassination, the Ohio General Assembly voted to make the Lamborn Carnation, or more commonly called the "scarlet carnation" the official state flower as a "token of love and reverence to the memory of William McKinley".
Image of William McKinley with a Lamborn Carnation in his lapel.
So the carnation became the state flower in 1904, but as anyone that has any experience buying flowers, they know carnations come in rainbow of colors, but Ohio's carnation is special, very special. The color of the carnation is actually "scarlet" but it's not just any scarlet, it's a Lamborn Scarlet Carnation. The adoption of the Lamborn Carnation came about because of a sequence events that lasted over a lifetime of two individuals that began their professional careers as political opponents.
Dr. Levi Lamborn and his Red Carnation
Back in 1866 an Alliance Ohio doctor was also an avid horticulturist (meaning: he liked plants). So much so that he had his own greenhouse. In 1886 Dr. Lamborn purchased 6 potted carnation plants. From these plants he propagated them. The results were a new variety of carnation. He named the new carnation the "Lamborn Red." At the time there were very few carnations being grown in the United States, so this was special.
Besides being a doctor for Alliance and being an avid horticulturist, Dr. Lamborn was also interested in politics. In 1876, Lamborn decided to run against his friend, William McKinley, for the 18th Congressional District. Politics in a small town were somewhat different than they are today. As the election neared, a series of debates between McKinley and Lamborn were held. Before each debate, Dr. Lamborn gave McKinley one of his Lamborn Red carnations. Perhaps Lamborn was hoping to put a jinx on McKinley by giving him one of his own creations. Or perhaps Lamborn was just being a good friend. The result was that McKinley won the election. McKinley thought the Lamborn Red carnation may have been a good luck charm.
After winning that election, he won several more terms in Congress, and then later was elected to 2 terms as governor of Ohio. He then ran and won the Presidency in 1893. As his political fortunes grew, McKinley often spoke of his Lamborn Carnation he wore in his lapel as being his good luck charm. When he first took office, Dr. Lamborn sent him a large bouquet of Lamborn Reds for the Oval Office.
Now, on September 14, 1901, President McKinley was at the Buffalo Pan-American Expo. McKinley stood in a receiving line shaking hands with visitors. A 12 year old girl named Myrtle Ledger along with her mother, asked McKinley a favor: "Could I have something to show my friends? They'll never believe I spoke to you." At hearing this, he removed the red carnation from his lapel, and handed it over to the little girl. A few seconds later Leon F. Czolgosz, an unhappy anarchist with a 32 caliber pistol wrapped in a bandage around his hand shot President McKinley twice. The President died of this wound 8 days later, even though doctors at the time thought he would make a full recovery.
Three years after President McKinley's assassination, the Ohio General Assembly voted to make the Lamborn Carnation, or more commonly called the red carnation the official state flower as a "token of love and reverence to the memory of William McKinley".
Dr. Levi Lamborn's hometown of Alliance, Ohio each year has a carnation festival to celebrate the doctor's contribution not only to horticulture, but also to Ohio's traditions.