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100 years since memorial built to honor McKinley

NILES – Nearly 10,000 people met Oct. 5, 1917, to observe the dedication of the then-new National McKinley Birthplace Memorial. Today, officials at the tribute to Niles native William McKinley, the 25th president of the United States, are gearing up for the 100th anniversary with special events happening through the year.

“In Europe, historical buildings are honored and celebrated, but here in the U.S., we are often tearing down. So, we’re excited to celebrate the memorial, which represents such rich local history,” said Patricia Scarmuzzi, curator of collections for the memorial.

Some of the events happening at the memorial to celebrate the anniversary include:

“The Rise of American Imperialism: The Spanish-American War” at 1 p.m. July 15. The program will be presented by Kevin Kern, associate professor of history at The University of Akron and co-author of “Ohio: A History of the Buckeye State.”

– On Sept. 30, Darlene Gage will portray Mary Ann Bickerdyke, an Ohio native praised by Generals Ulysses S. Grant and William Tecumseh Sherman for her work with wounded soldiers during the Civil War. The program, â29th Ohio Volunteer Infantry and Mary Ann Bickerdyke,” will be at 1 p.m.

Plans for the memorial started with McKinley’s lifelong friend, Joseph Green Butler Jr., who also drove fundraising efforts that would later bring the idea to fruition.

In 1914, National McKinley Birthplace Memorial Association, which was established by Congress and still oversees the operation of the memorial, offered a $1,000 prize for the best architectural proposal. A firm was picked the next year and construction began on Sept. 9 at a site where McKinley once attended a one-room schoolhouse.

Marble for the memorial, the design for which was inspired by classical Greek architecture, was shipped by rail from Georgia to Niles. The monument, 232 feet by 136 feet, has two wings, one that houses the McKinley Memorial Library and the other that contains the McKinley Museum and an auditorium.

The memorial’s center court features 28 columns, a statue of McKinley and busts of politicians, industrialists and financiers who were instrumental in the development of the Mahoning Valley.

“For the memorial’s original dedication, local businesses and schools were closed to celebrate the event. Butler, (William Howard) Taft and other politicians were present as well as 10,000 members of the public. In fact, such heavy attendance had been predicted that troops scheduled to deploy that day for battle in World War I left one day earlier instead,” Scarmuzzi said.

The event culminating the celebration will be Oct. 14 and include a re-enactment and recitation of speeches given by Taft and Butler, whose great-great-granddaughter, Dorothy, will be in attendance.

Also, a time capsule buried on Nov. 20, 1915 – the day memorial’s cornerstone was laid – will be accessed and a new time capsule will be buried in its place.

“We’re not sure what will be included in the new time capsule, but I’m thinking there will definitely be a smartphone,” Scarmuzzi said.

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