McKinley’s 1897 vacation activities

The month of September 1897 began with President William McKinley in attendance at the reunion of his old Civil War regiment, the 23rd Ohio Volunteer Infantry, at Fremont, the hometown of the late President Rutherford B. Hayes, who had commanded the regiment during the war.

On Thursday, Sept. 2, 1897, the veterans of the 23rd OVI gathered at Oakwood Cemetery. With heads uncovered, the men conducted a brief service. McKinley was visibly affected as he made a few touching remarks regarding his former commander.

In the afternoon, a campfire program was held at Hayes’ 24-acre homestead, known as Speigel Grove. An estimated 30,000 people attended this public event. McKinley served as “president of the day” and introduced the speakers and music to the crowd. A military drill review with fireworks ended the program.

The Hayes Presidential Center is one of Ohio’s premier historical sites. The nation’s first presidential library is here and open to the public Tuesday through Sunday. A museum and the Hayes mansion are also featured.

Next on the schedule for the president and Mrs. McKinley was a visit to the Ohio State Fair in Columbus. An estimated 75,000 to 100,000 people were on the exposition grounds to greet the president.

It was Children’s Day at the fair, with about 40,000 young people in attendance. The president addressed these remarks directly to them … “God bless the school children of Ohio, God bless the school children of America, and give them intelligence, morality, and patriotism, and with these elements dominating our citizenship, our institutions are safe and our Republic may be glorious forever.”

After driving in a carriage over the fairgrounds, the president and Mrs. McKinley returned to their hotel, the new Great Southern Hotel on South High Street, a short distance south of the state capitol building. Visitors today in Columbus will find this historic hotel, beautifully restored, bearing the name, The Westin Columbus.

Leaving Columbus on Saturday, Sept. 4, 1897, the presidential party arrived in Akron in the afternoon. While most of the group traveled on to Cleveland, the McKinleys traveled to Canton.

On Sunday, the president went to church, accompanied by his aged mother and her sister. The trio occupied the old family pew at First Methodist Episcopal Church. They had dinner at the home of Mrs. McKinley’s sister. Late in the afternoon, McKinley went to his mother’s home and chatted with a few neighbors who called to visit.

In the early forenoon on Monday, the McKinleys went for a short drive to West Lawn Cemetery. They carried some flowers, which were laid on the little graves of their daughters, Katherine, born in 1871, who died in 1875, and Ida, born in 1873, who died the same year.

The McKinleys left Canton during the late evening hours by a special train car bound for Somerset, Pa., where the president’s brother, Abner McKinley, had a summer home. They arrived in Somerset at 8 a.m. Tuesday morning, Sept. 7, 1897. A reception committee of 20 prominent citizens in carriages met the distinguished visitors at the train station and escorted them over the principal streets of the town to Abner McKinley’s home. The rest of the morning was spent in making social calls and in the afternoon, the McKinley brothers attended a baseball game between Somerset and Rockport, Pa. A two-hour public reception at the Abner McKinley home completed the president’s day.

The president left Somerset for Washington, D.C., on Monday morning. A Cabinet meeting was scheduled for Tuesday, Sept. 14, 1897. It was reported that the president would not remain in Washington, D.C., for more than a day or two. He would continue his vacation, returning to the White House by the end of the month. A short visit to Massachusetts was planned.

Wendell Lauth of Bristol is a Trumbull County historian.

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