Introduction to Every Leader
Being There: Encountering America's Presidents
25th President of the United States, 1897- September 1901
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William McKinley Tomb

William McKinley Tomb at night
William McKinley Tomb at night
William McKinley Presidential Library & Museum

This large circular, domed mausoleum is the final resting place of William McKinley, the 25th president of the United States.  McKinley was born in Niles, Ohio but he called Canton home throughout his adult life. He began his career in this city, met his beloved wife, and ran for the highest office of the nation here.  His election in 1896 launched an era of Republican dominance that continued until 1910.  McKinley governed during a period of intense American expansionism.  Domestically, he supported policies that benefitted American business, including high protective tariffs and deflationary fiscal policies.

The seventh of nine children of an iron maker, McKinley received his education at local schools in Ohio. He attended college briefly but withdrew because of illness and financial troubles.  In 1861, McKinley enlisted as a private in an Ohio infantry regiment and participated in several battles.  He was the last Civil War veteran elected president.  He studied the law after the war, first in Ohio and then in Albany, New York.  He returned to Ohio in 1867.  Admitted to the bar later that year, he established his law practice in Canton.  In 1871, he married Ida Saxton, daughter of a local banker.  It was a long and loving marriage, but following the early deaths of two daughters, Ida, who suffered from epilepsy after 1873, became a semi-invalid and remained so for the rest of her life.

From 1871 to 1875, McKinley practiced law and worked for the Republican Party.  He served in the United States House of Representatives from 1877 to 1884 and again from 1885 to 1891.  He eventually rose to the leadership of the powerful Ways and Means Committee, where he worked to pass the McKinley Tariff of 1890.  At the Republican National Convention in 1888, McKinley met Marcus A. Hanna, a wealthy Cleveland businessman, who would become his lifelong friend, political mentor, and manager. McKinley lost his seat in the House in 1890, but won election as governor of Ohio in 1892.  He served two terms.

In 1896, McKinley easily gained the Republican nomination. He addressed selected delegations at his home in Canton in a "front porch" campaign. Mark Hanna capably handled the national campaign.  Running against Democrat William Jennings Bryan, whose platform called for inflationary coinage of silver, McKinley defended the gold standard.  The Democratic Party split on the silver issue, and many anti-silver Democrats, including retiring President Cleveland, refused to support Bryan.  Bryan lost, in spite of his strength in the West and the South. McKinley’s majority in the popular vote was the first of such presidential wins, since President Grant’s second term in 1872.

McKinley called Congress into special session to pass the Dingley Tariff Act of 1897 as one his first actions as president.  The Dingley Tariff raised import duties even higher than the already highly protectionist McKinley Tariff.  In 1900, he approved the fiscally conservative Gold Standard Act, which based the currency firmly on gold.  Although he personally disapproved of trusts, he did little to restrict their formation.  The number of these monopolistic business conglomerates increased markedly during his presidency.

Dedication Day September 30, 1907
Dedication Day September 30, 1907
William McKinley Presidential Library & Museum

Foreign policy dominated McKinley’s administration.  In 1895, Cuba revolted against Spanish repression.  Fueled by sensationalized reporting and the still-unexplained explosion of the American battleship Maine in Havana Harbor, public outcry against Spain created irresistible pressure to liberate Cuba.  McKinley tried to reach a peaceful resolution, but in April 1898, Congress declared war.  During the course of the 100-day Spanish American War, the United States destroyed the Spanish fleet, won the Battle of Manila Bay in the Philippines, and occupied Puerto Rico.  Cuba gained her independence, but with her sovereignty restricted by an American right of intervention.  The United States took possession of Puerto Rico, Guam, and the Philippines.  McKinley justified these controversial actions with economic, military, and humanitarian arguments.

In 1898, the United States annexed Hawaii and extended the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882, which prevented Chinese immigration to the United States mainland. The following year America and Germany partitioned the Samoan Islands in the Pacific.  Secretary of State John Hay gained an “Open Door” trading policy with China, but in 1900 McKinley sent 5,000 American troops to China to help put down the nationalistic Boxer Rebellion.

In the 1900 election, McKinley beat Bryan by an even larger margin.  He began his second term by encouraging Secretary of State Hay's negotiations with Great Britain to modify the Clayton-Bulwer Treaty to permit construction of a canal in Central America.  On September 6, 1901, an anarchist shot McKinley at the Pan-American Exposition in Buffalo, New York.  He died eight days later.

After lying in state at the United States Capitol, McKinley’s body returned to Canton.  Mark Hanna and some of McKinley’s friends immediately began planning a suitable memorial.  They chose a site in Canton’s Westlawn Cemetery that McKinley once suggested would be an appropriate location for a soldiers’ and sailors’ memorial.  The McKinley National Memorial Association, organized in 1901, purchased the site, and appealed to the public for the $600,000 needed to create the memorial.  Construction began in 1905.  Nine different States donated materials used in the memorial, completed in 1907.  Ida McKinley died that year; she lies next to her husband in the memorial chamber. William McKinley Presidential Library and Museum, a private nonprofit organization under the umbrella of the Stark County Historical Society, administers the memorial and its grounds.

The McKinley Memorial that contains the tomb stands on a grass-covered hill overlooking the city of Canton.  Designed by architect H. Van Buren Magonigle, the circular, domed pink granite building rises 96 feet above ground and measures 79 feet in diameter.  The double bronze doors of the entrance were the largest in the nation at the time of installation.  Originally a long, narrow reflecting pool stretched out from the base of the hill in front of the memorial. This feature, together with the 108 stone steps that lead up to the mausoleum, symbolized the President's sword in time of war.  In 1951, a depressed lawn replaced the pool, but the sword effect remains. Midway up the steps is a large bronze statue by Charles Henry Niehaus of President McKinley delivering his last speech in Buffalo.

Colored marble laid in a cross pattern forms the floor of the mausoleum.  The bodies of McKinley and his wife lie side by side in two polished, dark-green, granite sarcophagi, resting atop a ten-foot-square of polished dark maroon granite in the center of the space. Their two young daughters are also laid to rest here.   Three semi-circular arched bays encircle the central chamber.  The entablature and frieze extending around the bottom of the dome contain words from McKinley's last speech.

Plan your visit

The William McKinley Tomb is located at 800 McKinley Monument Dr. NW, Canton, OH and can be viewed Monday-Saturday, 9:00am to 4:00pm; Sundays, 12:00pm to 4:00pm; closed major holidays. The monument may be closed December 1-April.  It has been designated a National Historic Landmark. Click here for the National Historic Landmark registration file: text and photos. The McKinley Presidential Library and Museum is located near the McKinley Tomb at 800 McKinley Monument Dr. NW and administers the memorial. The museum is open 9:00am to 4:00pm Monday-Saturday, and 12:00pm to 4:00pm Sunday. An admission fee is charged. For more information, visit the William McKinley Presidential Library &  Museum website or call 330-455-7043.

Visitors to the memorial may also be interested in the First Ladies National Historic Site, which is located in the Saxton House, where William McKinley and his wife, Ida Saxton McKinley, spent many years of their married lives.  The Saxton House is located at 331 S.Market Ave. in Canton, OH.

The William McKinley Tomb is featured in the National Park Service Ohio and Erie Canal National Heritage Corridor Travel Itinerary.

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