McKinley and His Monuments Head into the Sunset of History

September 4, 2015
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It’s tough being William McKinley these days.

One of only four U.S. presidents to be assassinated – who some 100 years ago had a flurry of monuments, schools and roadside memorials named after him – has recently seemed to fall out of favor and fade in the memory of America.

As we here in Revere get ready to retire the William McKinley Elementary School on Yeamans Street this month – with students now attending the Hill School one block away – we follow the national trend that has been steering away from McKinley for years.

Poor William McKinley lost much more than Revere in August – having his named stripped from the iconic Mt. McKinley in Alaska after more than 100 years.

That was announced on Sunday by President Barack Obama and represented the culmination of some 50 years of fighting by native Alaskans to name it Mt. Danali. The mountain was named after him in the late 1800s, long before his 1901 assassination in Buffalo. A gold prospector in Alaska, ticked off by all the silver miners, hit gold on the mountain and said it should be named after McKinley – who supported the gold standard-back U.S. currency. A news editor got ahold of the story, and it went viral – 1890s style. Until this week, it’s been Mt. McKinley.

So far, a lot of Ohioans are angry about the change, but the voices of his ardent supporters – many of them rank-and-file laborers and immigrants – have long gone to the grave.

McKinley was from Ohio and they take him pretty seriously there.

However, even in his native city of Canton, Ohio, he hasn’t gone without disrespect in recent times.

Just two years ago in Canton, a story went wild as paid exercise classes were being conducted on the McKinley Monument. Since the monument includes his tomb, many were incensed that hordes of Cantonites were paying good money to Zumba on the grave of the dead president.

They’re not alone, though.

In our own Springfield, Massachusetts, the monument to McKinley – paid for by the contributions of the people of that City 100 years ago – had it’s own sad life that was finally put to rest in the 1990s.

After being paid for by donations, the statue took a long time to complete, and by the time it debuted several years later, not too many people cared as much about McKinley. So, being denied a home in downtown Springfield in the early 1900s, the statue was put on a private estate for many years. In the 1920s, it was moved to Springfield City Hall, but in a very hidden spot. One Park Commissioner said the best place for the “miserable” monument would be the Connecticut River. The monument was moved again in the 1960s to a park, but it was hidden from view by trees and undergrowth for decades. In the 1990s, it was brought back downtown by some well-meaning folks, where it stands now.

In Philadelphia, a monument to McKinley has been ridiculed for years due to some unfortunate symbolism that hasn’t weathered the years very well. While McKinley looks stately on top of the pedestal, the artist chose to use a buxom woman and a fully nude little boy at his feet. They are supposed to represent high ideals of justice and fairness, but in today’s world a naked little boy and young woman sitting at the feet of a grown man only elicits bad jokes from wise guys and uncomfortable questions from young tourists.

In California, McKinley hasn’t faired well either.

A monument to him in Arcata, California (a college town) has routinely been denigrated due to McKinley’s imperialist beliefs – a very common political position in the early 1900s. The most recent indignation was when his nose was filled with cheese.

In San Francisco, graffiti vandals have routinely tagged McKinley’s face in Golden Gate Park with obscene messages. A proposal has been floated a few years ago to imprison poor old William McKinley with bars – so as to keep the vandals away.

So it is now, Revere’s connection to William McKinley with its long-time elementary school is also fading – and quickly. Few know why it was named for him or who pushed the idea, but we here at the Journal will still give this martyred American a tip of our hat before he marches out of the City’s lexicon.

We hope, for goodness sake, good old James Garfield (another assassinated president and another namesake of a Revere school) fares better than his fellow fallen friend.

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