Traveling with McKinley, 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 was extended an invitation to visit the Tennessee Centennial Exposition by its organizers after taking office in 1897. The exposition was to celebrate the 100th anniversary of Tennessee’s admission to the United States in 1796. It was to take place from May 1 to Oct. 30, 1897.

Once McKinley put this on his agenda, his staff spent the month of May planning. Traveling with the president and his entourage by rail required some attention to logistics particular to the late 19th century. The party would consist of the president, Mrs. McKinley, Mrs. McKinley’s aunt, members of the president’s cabinet, his staff and members of the press.

This was to be McKinley’s longest trip away from Washington, D.C., after taking office — more than 1,700 miles. In addition to traveling with a large group, other considerations had to be taken into account. For example, the weather would be getting warm and — before air conditioning existed — there would be a need for the president to have ample time to rest.

Since June 12 was Cincinnati Day at the exposition, plans were made to visit the fair on June 11 and 12th. The president was to give a speech on the 11th, and then stroll the grounds.

Cincinnati Day gave McKinley the opportunity to visit and greet fellow Ohioans in attendance. The staff then planned for the president to visit the various buildings on the grounds, allowing time to shake hands with the public.

In order to arrive at the destination, the entourage would ride on the Chesapeake and Ohio Railroad, leaving the capitol June 9th and arriving in Nashville, Tenn., on June 11th on a route taking them through Virginia, West Virginia and Kentucky.

On the return trip, the Southern Railroad would leave Nashville on June 12, taking McKinley and company back through Tennessee, North Carolina and Virginia, reaching Washington by June 15th.

The McKinley presidential train would have a pullman car for the president’s cabinet and staff, a pullman car for the 12 to 15 members of the press, a dining car, a smoking car, a baggage car and an observation car in order to view the scenery as the train passed through the Appalachian Mountains.

The staff secured for McKinley the private pullman railroad car of the president of the Chesapeake and Ohio Railroad. This car had deluxe accommodations, including upholstered furniture and decorative wall coverings. Telegraph operators would be available on the entire train route to relay any communications between Washington and the president.

McKinley’s staff determined that because of the June heat, with the exception of one night in Nashville, the traveling party would sleep on the train. They determined that a train moving through the countryside with the windows open and breezes blowing in would be preferable to sleeping in a warm hotel room.

The itinerary for the trip was announced to the public on May 27. The next step was for the trip to take place and hopefully without any misfortunes.

McKinley, a Niles native, served 120 years ago, beginning with his August 1897 inauguration.

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