McKinley one of many tree-planting presidents

Editor’s note: This is part of a weekly series marking the 120th anniversary of Niles native William McKinley’s U.S. presidency.

On March 19, 1898, The Washington Post reported President William McKinley planted a tree the day before, “a sapling of the scarlet leaf oak variety, and the work of shoveling out the dirt and replacing it was performed by the President. The site selected is in a triangle, formed by two walks, one of which goes to the State, War, and Navy Department building, and the other leading out of the grounds on the north. On the opposite side of the White House is a large oak tree, which was planted by President Hayes.”

According to the News-Herald in Hillsboro on March 24, 1898, “The McKinley tree was planted in front of the conservatory, no one being present but the president, a policeman and a gardener. The sapling is ten feet high.”

The first president to plant a tree on White House grounds was Thomas Jefferson, who planted a grove of trees. James Monroe used architectural plans as a basis for tree plantings while the White House was being rebuilt after the fire of 1814.

Andrew Jackson is credited with planting a magnolia tree in 1835 as a memorial to his wife that would become an iconic part of the White House grounds until being taken down in December 2017, due to its ailing condition despite multiple efforts to save it.

A sapling propagated from the Jackson Magnolia will take the place of the most famous tree on White House grounds. This is not the first tree planted by a president to have to be taken down.

According to Matthew Costello, senior historian at The White House Historical Association, an American elm planted by John Quincy Adams in 1826 had to be taken down in 1991 when it became diseased and died. First Lady Barbara Bush planted a sapling propagated from the Adams elm.

The White House grounds are maintained by the National Park Service, and in 2009, the grounds boasted more 40 commemorative plantings from presidents and first ladies.

After planting the scarlet oak on March 18, 1898, McKinley returned to a holding pattern for several days. He was awaiting the report from the naval board that he appointed to investigate the explosion and sinking of the USS Maine on Feb. 15, 1898.

On March 22, 1898, McKinley held a cabinet meeting. All members were present for this meeting that lasted over an hour. Because the naval report had not yet arrived, discussions focused on the United States providing humanitarian relief to starving Cubans.

Afterward, McKinley met with Republican Sen. William B. Allison and Democratic Sen. Arthur P. Gorman in his private library at the White House to further discuss the situation with Spain and Cuba.

McKinley stated the “point had been reached where party lines must be forgotten and the nation stand united.”

After waiting two more days, McKinley returned to his private library in the White House on March 25, 1898, to formally receive the report on the Maine. A Cabinet session that lasted until nearly 5:30 p.m. was held to read and discuss the report. No statement was made regarding the contents of the report. The report was scheduled to be transmitted to Congress on March 28.

Michelle Alleman is library director at the McKinley Memorial Library in Niles.

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