President McKinley returns to Ohio in 1897

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

President William McKinley, looking fit and well-rested, according to newspaper accounts, boarded a train Aug. 22, 1897, in upstate New York near Lake Champlain to end the first part of his vacation.

The president was continuing his vacation by spending five days in Buffalo, N.Y., to attend the national convention of the Civil War veteran organization the Grand Army of the Republic.

Ohio Senator Marc Hanna — a Cleveland businessman with interests in iron ore and coal and a personal friend of McKinley who raised money and managed McKinley’s 1896 presidential campaign — met the president in Buffalo and accompanied him back to Ohio.

McKinley was undecided on how he was going to make his way to Cleveland. The train was available, and Hanna offered the president a ride via Lake Erie on his yacht. The president made a last-minute decision to take Hanna up on his offer and travel to Cleveland by boat.

The presidential traveling party left Buffalo the evening of Aug. 27 and made excellent time because of good weather, arriving at the harbor in Cleveland at 2:30 a.m.

McKinley did not know a surprise welcome for him was planned in Cleveland. Organizers planned a parade around downtown that was to end with McKinley giving a speech at Public Square. Afterward, there was to be a 21-gun salute from a U.S. Navy ship.

The mayor of Cleveland and other dignitaries went to the boat dock at 8 a.m. to meet the president’s yacht as it docked, but to their surprise and chagrin, the yacht had already docked and McKinley had left for Hanna’s house. The parade was ready to begin when word was received it was to be canceled because the McKinley party already had arrived. The parade participants and the crowd left, disappointed.

McKinley soon learned about the mixup. Hanna explained to the residents of Cleveland and the press there was a miscommunication between himself and the civic leaders of Cleveland.

The president quickly agreed to participate in a parade on Sunday afternoon and to shake hands at a hastily arranged reception at a hotel in the city. The navy ship, meanwhile, left the harbor and steamed offshore of where McKinley was staying and gave him a belated 21-gun welcoming salute.

The McKinleys departed Sept. 1 for Fremont and the wedding of Fannie Hayes, daughter of the late Rutherford B. Hayes, the 19th president of the United States. Hayes was McKinley’s commanding officer in the Civil War. He was also a political mentor and close friend.

The following day, McKinley attended a reunion of the 23rd Ohio Regiment in Fremont. McKinley had proudly served in the 23rd.

The last public appearance the president made in Ohio was at the Ohio State Fair in Columbus on Sept. 3. He toured the fair under tight security after Columbus authorities received a written note threatening the life of the president over an office appointment he made, but McKinley seemed unconcerned about the threat as he toured the fair and greeted fairgoers.

His next stop was in Canton, where he visited his mother and old friends and attended his home church for Sunday services.

McKinley left Canton on Monday, Sept. 7 for Somerset, Pa., to visit with his brother Abner. While there, he spoke to the Somerset Lions Club and attended a reception in his honor. McKinley left Somerset on Sept. 14 to return to Washington, D.C., from which he had been away nearly two months.

Patrick Finan of Cortland is the retired former library director of the McKinley Memorial Library in Niles.