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The McKinley Monument, a landmark in the City of Canton, is the final resting place for the 25th President of the United States, William McKinley. Residents of Canton pass by the Monument or run up and down the 108 steps everyday. 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 16, 1901 the funeral train left Buffalo, New York for 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.
After the services, several of the President’s closest advisors, including William R. Day and Ohio Senator Marcus Hanna, 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 even had suggested that a monument to soldiers and sailors from Stark County be placed there.
On September 26, 1901 the McKinley National Memorial Association was formed and President Theodore Roosevelt named the original Board of Trustees. The first order of business was to purchase the site, owned at the time by the West Lawn Cemetery. By October 10, the Association issued a public appeal for $600,000 in contributions for the construction project. 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. Large numbers of school children contributed to the memorial fund, and the Association was able to purchase the proposed site.
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 feet in diameter and is 77 feet 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-foot diameter skylight was installed during a restoration project in 1976.
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 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 Wm. McKinley Presidential Library & Museum. 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.