The McKinley National Memorial in Canton (photo by Ohio Images)
Ohio Life

Visit the William McKinley National Memorial in Canton

Our nation's 25th president is honored with an ornate monument that serves as his final resting place. An adjacent museum tells the story of his presidency and Stark County.

William McKinley occupies an interesting place in American history as the president who bridged the 19th and 20th centuries. He was the last Civil War veteran to win the White House, while also being the first president to ride in a car and appear in a motion picture.

“He was the last of his era but also the first modern president,” says Kim Kenney, curator at the William McKinley Presidential Library & Museum in Canton.

McKinley was born in Niles and grew up in Poland, Ohio, but he’s most closely associated with Canton. After serving in the Civil War and passing the bar exam, he moved to the city in 1868. It was his home for the rest of his life, which was cut short by an assassin’s bullet as McKinley greeted visitors at the Pan-American Exposition in Buffalo in 1901 — six months into his second term as president.

On the day of his funeral, McKinley’s friends gathered to plan a suitable memorial for him. The result speaks to how well regarded the 25th president of the United States was by not only his friends, but also the general public who donated the money to build it.        

That memorial — one of the largest for a U.S. president — today rests at the top of 108 steps and looks down over a museum that bears McKinley’s name. The cornerstone for the memorial was laid in 1905, and it was dedicated two years later at a ceremony that included a speech by McKinley’s successor, Theodore Roosevelt. During it, he remarked that McKinley “was not only a leader of men; but pre-eminently a helper of men.” 

The monument, which was constructed with granite from Massachusetts, Vermont and Wisconsin and marble from Tennessee, serves as the final resting place of McKinley and his wife, Ida. They are entombed in an elevated pair of sarcophagi that rest under a neoclassical dome 50 feet in diameter. 

“We believe he’d think it was a bit much,” says Kenney, explaining that McKinley was by all accounts a humble man.

The Stark County Historical Society operates the William McKinley Presidential Library & Museum, which includes a planetarium and traces the history of Canton and Stark County. But its primary focus is the life and times of McKinley and his wife. 

A multimedia kiosk features film of McKinley as well as footage from his funeral and the construction of the monument. There are life-size animatronic figures of William and Ida McKinley, as well as around 3,500 artifacts, including one of McKinley’s walking sticks and Ida’s sewing bag (with a picture of her husband in the bottom). 

Although the monument was opened in 1907, the museum didn’t come along for another 40 years, which made the gathering of so many genuine artifacts a difficult task. 

“It can be like finding a needle in a haystack,” Kenney says, “but everything on display has been authenticated.” 

The artifacts tell a story not just of McKinley the president, but McKinley the man. Before he held the nation’s highest office, he was a Civil War veteran, a husband and briefly a father. (William and Ida had two daughters, but both died as children.)

“We want to represent all aspects of his life,” Kenney says. “It’s easy for a president to seem distant. We try to personalize him.” 

Visit website for up-to-date times and prices; 800 McKinley Monument Dr. NW, Canton 44708, 330/455-7043,


More McKinley: William McKinley attended a one-room schoolhouse in Niles, Ohio, the city in which he was born. Among his classmates was Joseph G. Butler Jr., who later wrote McKinley’s biography and was instrumental in building a monument to him on the site of the schoolhouse. The National McKinley Birthplace Memorial was dedicated in 1917. It features a 12-foot statue of McKinley in its Court of Honor as well as an auditorium, a museum and a lending library. Free; Visit website for up-to-date times; 40 Main St., Niles 44446, 330/652-4273,