Day 37, Tuesday, August 21, 2018
After I left Cuyahoga Valley National Park, I went down to Canton, Ohio and spent a little bit of time there.
Canton is where the family home of Ida Saxton McKinley is located, the wife of President William McKinley. The home is beautiful! It was built in 1841 by Ida’s grandfather and modified in 1865; and remained in the family until 1919. Although Ida and William McKinley didn’t own the home themselves, as her father purchased a home for them a few blocks south, the President and his wife spent a considerable amount of time living here with Ida’s sister and her family, 13 years in total.
This historic site is unique, because although the home is tied to a US President, it focuses on the story of Ida McKinley, his wife. She was born in 1847; the daughter of a wealthy banker, and enjoyed a privileged upbringing. She and William McKinley were married in 1871, and had two daughters together; sadly, both died in early childhood. Ida was grief-stricken over the loss of her daughters and the death of her mother, which had occurred two weeks before the birth of her first daughter. She believed that the deaths were God’s punishment of her, and developed epilepsy, which severely hindered her ability to participate in society. Despite her health issues, McKinley was devoted to her and made accommodations for her seizures and ailments in his schedule and public appearances.
Of course, you probably know that during a Presidential trip to Buffalo, New York, President McKinley was shot on September 6, 1901 by anarchist Leon Czolgosz; he died of his wounds on September 14, after gangrene set in. Ida had accompanied her husband on the trip, but was not present at the shooting. She held up well while McKinley fought to survive, but her health suffered even more afterwards. She went back to the home in Canton where her sister Mary Barber and Mary’s family lived, and her sister cared for her until Ida’s death in 1907. During that period, Ida largely spent her time in a rocking chair, crocheting slippers to give to her friends as gifts. President McKinley, Ida and their two daughters are now interred in McKinley’s memorial monument in a nearby cemetery – an upcoming post!
The First Ladies National Historic Site is operated as a partnership between the National First Ladies Library, and the National Park Service. There is a small visitor’s center in a nearby historic bank building and the home, which is open to the public on a tour. The historic site has a movie about Ida Saxton McKinley and the role of First Ladies in general. There was also an interesting exhibit on First Lady fashion, with featured dresses of several different first ladies in history. It was interesting to see a perspective dedicated to the women who supported their husbands in their First Lady roles, as well as the women who took on their role for other family members, as not all First Ladies were spouses.
What a unique historic site! I hope we will have a woman as President too, so we can see our first First Man!