William McKinley (1843-1901), the 25th president of the United States, was born on January 29, 1843, in Niles, Ohio. At the age of 58, shortly after being re-elected to his second presidential term, he was shot in the chest twice at close range while attending the Buffalo Pan-American Exposition. Gangrene set into his wound and he died eight days later on September 14th, 1901, in Buffalo, New York. McKinley is one of four presidents assassinated in our country’s history.
The Scottish Rite Masonic Museum & Library owns several interesting artifacts related to the death and memory of William McKinley. McKinley was a Freemason like many presidents before him. He received the first three degrees at Hiram Lodge No. 21 in Winchester, Virginia, in 1865, during his Civil War service. According to a story recounted by General Horatio C. King (1837-1918) at a New York banquet in 1906, McKinley witnessed a friendly exchange between a Union doctor and some wounded Confederate soldiers. When the doctor imparted to McKinley that the soldiers were “Brother Masons,” McKinley is quoted as stating “...if that is Masonry, I will take some of it myself.” He returned to Ohio and affiliated with Canton Lodge No. 60 and Eagle Lodge No. 431, later renamed William McKinley lodge No. 431. Fellow Mason Horatio C. King's story about McKinley's interest in Freemasonry was allegedly rooted in a conversation he had with McKinley in Washington, D.C., just months before his assassination.
McKinley could be described as a fraternity man due to his active involvement in local fraternal groups including: Sigma Alpha Epsilon, Grand Army of the Republic, Military Order of the Loyal Legion, Knights Templar, Royal Arch Masonry and Knights of Pythias. In a 1959 biography by Margaret Leech (1893-1974) McKinley is described as a "great joiner with a keen sense of group loyalty." McKinley went on to have a storied political career serving as an Ohio state Congressman from 1877 to 1891 and as Ohio's Governor from 1892 to 1896. One hundred and twenty years ago this year, he won his 1896 presidential bid with Garret Hobart (1844-1899) as Vice President.
Before his assassination in 1901, McKinley was invited to a Templar reception hosted by California Commandery No.1, Knights Templar, in San Francisco, California. He accepted the invitation and included a visit to the reception as part of a previously planned national tour with his ailing wife Ida (1847-1907). He made stops in El Paso, Denver and Los Angeles on his way to San Francisco. On May 22nd he addressed a crowd of twelve thousand people including fourteen hundred Knights Templar. He thanked his "Brother Masons" and spoke about brotherhood in the context of American citizenship and the preservation of liberty. He and his wife returned to the White House on May 30, 1901, and he died three months later.
A national mourning period for McKinley produced many commemorative memorial artifacts like the mourning poster above and these stereocards. The images in these stereocards show the Knights Templar marching in McKinley’s funeral procession in Canton, Ohio, on September 19, 1901, and floral wreaths for his funeral service at the Church of the Savior United Methodist Church. To learn more about another McKinley mourning object, a 1901 commemorative glass platter, see our previous blog post here.
To see political textiles from William McKinley’s presidential campaign visit the museum to view the exhibition Who Would You Vote For? – Campaign Banners from the Robert A. Frank Collection, which is on view through December 10, 2016.
We Mourn Our Loss, ca.1901, unidentified maker, United States, Museum Purchase, A76/023/7.
President McKinley Memorial, 1901, B.W. Kilburn, Littleton, New Hampshire, Gift of Michael T. Heitke, 2013.036.49.
Knights Templar at President McKinley's Funeral, 1901, The Whiting View Company, Cincinnati, Ohio, Gift of Michael T. Heitke, 2013.036.48.
Ray V. Denslow, William McKinley: Soldier, Statesman, Freemason, President, 1949, Trenton, MO: reprinted from Proceedings of the Grand Commandery Knights Templar of Missouri, 1949.
Margaret Leech, In the Days of McKinley, New York: Harper & Brothers, 1959.