McKinley’s presidency will be recounted

Saturday marked the 120th anniversary of the presidential inauguration of our very own William McKinley.

I call him that because, of course, he was born right here in Niles, was raised just down the street in Poland, Ohio, and as an adult, called nearby Canton his home.

Now, it may seem odd that the inaugural event was held March 4, 1897, but presidential inaugurations weren’t moved to the present-day Jan. 20 date until 32nd President Franklin D. Roosevelt took his oath of office in 1937 to start the second term of his 12-year presidency.

According to my research, the several-month gap between the election and the formal taking of office in March was initially created for a few reasons.

According to the Constitutional Accountability Center’s 2009 post, collecting and tallying election ballots used to take much longer than it does today because numbers had to be carried across the country via horse and buggy. Then, there was the extra time needed for relocating into the White House — again by horse and buggy. Plus, if you think it’s taking Donald Trump a long time to get his Cabinet seated, just think of the nightmare of doing it without email, cellphones and air travel.

A four-month transition period wasn’t always beneficial, though, and historians point out that it dangerously left a “lame duck” president in office for way too long.

The U.S. Constitution’s 20th Amendment, passed in 1932, put an end to all that. The amendment spelled out that terms of the president and vice president end precisely at noon Jan. 20.

These are just a few snippets of how much amazing history exists about the office of president.

I, personally, think it’s amazing that out of only 45 people to ever serve as leader of the free world since 1789, one of them hailed from Niles.

Because I was born, raised and schooled in Pennsylvania, my history classes never focused on all the presidents that hailed from Ohio, including McKinley. In fact, I’m ashamed to admit that much of what I know about McKinley I learned through my kids’ history lessons. My youngest son, who is now 14, in fact, chose to portray McKinley for his third-grade “famous Ohioans” presentation.

At that time, he and I spent a Saturday afternoon researching McKinley by touring the Birthplace Home and the neighboring McKinley Birthplace Museum operated by the National McKinley Birthplace Memorial Association, both in downtown Niles.

We were lucky that day to find Trumbull County’s Mike Wilson, who has become well-known for portraying McKinley for more than 20 years, on hand, sporting his usual top hat, white gloves and red carnation.

As I recall, my son’s interview with “William McKinley” and subsequent report had his third-grade teacher doing backflips.

But I digress.

With all the hype over the recent election, inauguration and presidency of Donald Trump as number 45, we thought our readers would enjoy reading more about the presidency of our William McKinley.

Regular readers of this newspaper probably recall the very popular weekly history column we published for many years recounting the 150th anniversary of the Civil War. Since that column ended, I’ve been thinking hard about ways to replace it.

We think we found an answer.

I’ve been working hard to coordinate a column written by several local history and McKinley experts. I’m happy to report we’ve come up with quite a lineup of folks eager to share their knowledge of McKinley’s presidency with you in a weekly column beginning Monday.

First out of the gate is Michelle Alleman, director of the McKinley Memorial Library. Other rotating columnists will include local historian Wendell Lauth; former McKinley Memorial Library director Pat Finan; and, of course, Mike Wilson.

I am very much looking forward to the columns. I hope you will, too.