William McKinley

Recent Acquisitions: A Spanish-American War Commemorative Fan

Fan, ca.1898. United States. Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Gregory L. McKinley, 2019.006.9. Julia Featheringill Photography.

Manufacturers made a variety of political and military memorabilia in the late 1800s and early 1900s commemorating William Mckinley’s (1843-1901) presidency and the Spanish-American war (April 1898-August 1898). This 1900 fabric and wood fan featured black and white photographs of President William McKinley, Assistant Secretary of the Navy Theodore Roosevelt (1858-1919), and seven U.S. naval military leaders who participated in the Spanish-American war, including Admiral George Dewey (1837-1917) and William Rufus Shafter (1835-1906), also known as “Pecos Bill.”

The United States won the brief conflict and effectively ended Spanish rule in the Americas. Their victory produced a peace treaty, in which Spain ceded control of Cuba and relinquished control of Guam and Puerto Rico to the United States. In this same treaty Spain also agreed to sell the Philippines to the United States for $20 million. The U.S. Senate ratified the treaty on February 6, 1899, by only one vote. Author Cynthia Fendel noted that these popular patriotic photographic fans also sometimes featured McKinley’s presidential cabinet or the American and Cuban flags. 

This recently donated fan is part of a collection of nearly fifty campaign and memorial items related to President and Freemason William McKinley. Many of these items are currently on display at the Museum & Library. Visit our website to learn more about these items. 


Cynthia Fendel, Novelty Hand Fans, Fashionable Functional Fun Accessories of the Past, (Dallas, TX: Hand Fan Productions, 2006).

William McKinley's Gold Bug


McKinley gold pin1
Gold Bug Pin, 1896-1900. United States. Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Gregory L. McKinley, 2019.006.10.

The Scottish Rite Masonic Museum & Library recently acquired a collection of nearly fifty campaign and memorial items related to President and Freemason William McKinley (1843-1901). These items add to the many objects already in the collection associated to McKinley’s involvement in Freemasonry, his campaigns, and his unexpected death. 

Several of these items will be displayed in our upcoming recent acquisitions exhibition, including this “gold bug” pin, pictured at left. The pin, a campaign item from McKinley’s first 1896 presidential campaign, signified McKinley’s support for the gold standard platform. Advocates for McKinley and the gold standard, sometimes referred to as “gold bugs,” believed that the country’s monetary system should be backed only by gold. McKinley’s presidential opponent, William Jennings Bryan (1860-1925), and his supporters, sometimes called “Silverites,”  advocated against the gold standard, and believed that currency should be redeemable in silver as well as gold. 

As debates about the gold standard consumed the election campaign, McKinley supporters began to wear “gold bug” pins, buttons, and ribbons. The pins were often in the shape of a large scarab beetle, sometimes made with wings. Bryant supporters wore similar silver bug pins to show support for their candidate. Ultimately, McKinley won the 1896 election with Garret Hobart (1844-1899) as his Vice President and signed the Gold Standard Act into law on March 14, 1900. The act established gold as the sole basis for redeeming paper currency.

The pin and other McKinley items will be on display at the Museum & Library beginning in October 2019. 

"In McKinley We Trust, In Bryan We Bust": Presidential Campaign Memorabilia from the Collection

It's election season! As political parties78_35_2DP1DB prepare for their respective conventions, we decided to spotlight a couple of the wonderful presidential campaign items in the Scottish Rite Masonic Museum & Library collection.

Glassware, pins, canes, flags, and bobble heads are just some of the types of campaign materials made and sold over the past one-hundred and fifty years. Campaign memorabilia and ephemera present a graphic record of past political climates, personalities, societal concerns, and political slogans. Although the way in which candidates campaign has changed, the goal of rallying support and winning the highest seat in American politics is the same.  The memorabilia, some whimsical, some tongue-in-cheek, echoes some of the same concerns steeped in present day politics.

Grover Cleveland (1837-1908), who served as the 22nd and 24th President of the United States, is the only president to date who served two nonconsecutive terms. This 1884 whiskey bottle in the form of presidential candidate Grover Cleveland’s bust was one of the many political souvenirs from his 1884 bid for the white house against Republican James G. Blaine. The bottle was a souvenir from a political dinner in California during the campaign.

Political campaign canes, also 77_29_2DP2DB referred to as walking sticks, were once popular campaign items and often used during political torchlight parades. In 1977, Henry S. Kuhn (1895-1984) donated a William McKinley political campaign cane to the Museum & Library. Family history relates that Samuel Kuhn (1866-1920), Henry’s father, received this cane during the aforementioned presidential stop in Cleveland, one day before McKinley’s assassination in Buffalo. The words “preferred choice” are inscribed on the cane. This phrase was one of the slogans for the 1899 McKinley/Roosevelt campaign. The cane was one of the many McKinley artifacts and campaign materials sold to supporters and visitors.

Want to learn more about our political campaign collections?  Or, which presidents were Freemasons? Visit our online exhibition “Who Would you Vote For? Campaigning for President” to explore the collection and learn more about past presidential campaigns. 




Grover Cleveland Figural Whiskey Bottle, ca. 1884, unidentified maker, United States, Gift of Dr. Sanford Moses, 78.35.2. Photograph by David Bohl.

William McKinley Political Campaign Cane, 1890-1900, unidentified maker, United States, Gift of Mr. Henry S. Kuhn, 77.29.2. Photograph by David Bohl.














President William McKinley: Fraternity Man and "Idol of Ohio"

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. 2013_036_49DS1

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.2013_036_48DS1

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.


New to the Collection: Mourning McKinley

2008_021_5DP1 Commemorative glass and ceramic platters, mugs and pitchers were popular during the late 1800s and early 1900s – particularly those bearing the likeness of one of our presidents.  But, this glass platter, which was donated to the National Heritage Museum in 2008, the gift of Robert and Edith Zucker, seemed somewhat eerie to me given its inscription, “It is God’s way / His will be done.”

A quick search of the life dates on the platter, “Born 1843 / Died 1901,” confirmed that the man depicted is William McKinley, 25th president of the United States.  McKinley was assassinated while attending the Pan-American Exposition in Buffalo, New York.  So, I initially attributed the rather severe verse to vestiges of somber Puritanism or to Victorian mourning ideals.

However, additional research turned up a far more pertinent explanation for the words on this commemorative platter.  According to the New York Times on September 14, 1901, McKinley’s last words as he died that day were “Good bye.  All good bye.  It is God’s way.  His will be done, not ours.”

Born in 1843 in Niles, Ohio, McKinley became a teacher until the Civil War broke out.  He enlisted in the Union Army, eventually achieving the rank of brevet major.  After the war, he became a lawyer in Canton, Ohio.  He also served in the U.S. House of Representatives and held two terms as governor of Ohio.  In 1896, McKinley was elected president of the United States, and was elected to a second term in 1900.  Unfortunately, his life was cut short on September 6, 1901.  On that day, despite the presence of Secret Service agents, anarchist Leon F. Czolgosz shot McKinley while he was shaking hands at a public reception at the Pan-American Exposition.  Despite quick medical attention, gangrene set in around McKinley’s wounds and he died on September 14, 1901.

In addition to his distinguished political career, William McKinley was a Freemason.  He received the first three degrees from Hiram Lodge No. 21 in Winchester, Virginia, during his Civil War service.  After the war, McKinley affiliated with Canton Lodge No. 90, Canton, Ohio, later becoming a charter member of Eagle Lodge No. 431 in Canton, Ohio.  He was also active in Royal Arch Masonry and the Knights Templar.

President William McKinley Commemorative Platter, ca. 1901, collection of the National Heritage Museum, gift of Robert and Edith Zucker, 2008.021.5.  Photograph by David Bohl.