McKinley: Trip gives hint of presidential life

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

The early September trip to Paterson, N.J., offered a glimpse into the various elements of presidential life. While the trip was a welcome respite to the pressures of Washington, D.C., President William McKinley found himself working the crowds and politicking.

The president and his wife, Ida, accompanied Vice President Garret Hobart and Mrs. Hobart to the Church of the Redeemer. According to The Washington Post’s Sept. 5, 1898, edition, “The church was well-filled, and after the service the president shook hands with the minister and a large number of members of the congregation” just as he normally could have.

The paper reported, “Owing to the intense heat of the afternoon, the President remained quietly at the home of Vice President Hobart until 5 o’clock, when he went for a drive with Vice President and Mrs. Hobart. As the carriage containing the President and Vice President was driven through East Side Park it encountered an immense crowd, assembled there to hear the concert of the Second Regiment Band.

The Presidential party was immediately recognized, the band struck up the President’s march, and the crowd made a rush for the side of the drive. Park rules were forgotten, and the crowd trampled down grass and flower beds alike in their anxiety to get a glimpse of the Executive. The carriage was forced to such a slow pace that a number of persons were enabled to grasp the President’s hand. Leaving the park, followed by cheers from the people, the President was taken to the North Jersey Country Club and shown over the house and grounds. This evening is being spent quietly at the Vice President’s residence.”

The next day’s reporting by The Washington Post tells us in the morning they rode again and that “Mrs. McKinley appeared to be well, and at Mr. Hobart’s house it denied that she had been ill.” It was another slow ride through town as “a procession of labor societies was forming. The President was greeted with cheers as the carriage was slowly passed through the crowd. Mr. McKinley shook hands with as many of the men as he could among the multitude of extended hands.”

Another quiet afternoon was had before Attorney General John W. Griggs, who “tendered a dinner to the President and Vice President and Mrs. McKinley and Mrs. Hobart. A few personal friends of the Vice President and the Attorney General were present.” By 11:42 p.m. the party was on a “special train for Washington via Jersey City” to arrive by 7:30 a.m.

Upon return to the Capitol, McKinley quickly got back to work dealing with wrapping up the details of the war. The New York Times Sept. 7 edition explained McKinley gathered his cabinet, as many as was available, and that “the principal matters discussed informally related to the closing of the war.”

Also part of the discussion was the idea “Spain should not be allowed to send any gunboats to the Philippines.” Another issue still at hand was Ramon Blanco, who was “still in command in the capital of Cuba” and denying “Americans the right of landing supplies there for starving Cubans.”

The president was scheduled to take another vacation around Sept. 15, but now planned to remain in Washington, D.C., to “confer with the Peace Commission, and also see Secretary of State Hay upon his arrival.”

Farris is director of the National McKinley Birthplace Museum in Niles.