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McKinley’s lone visit as president

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

It was 120 years ago on Oct. 18, 1899, that President William McKinley visited the Mahoning Valley.

This is a followup to Wendell Lauth’s piece from last week where he focused on McKinley’s only visit to the Mahoning Valley during his presidency with his first stop and speech in Warren.

McKinley then traveled five miles southeast by carriage to Niles. School children were dismissed from classes early in order to stand along the route holding and waving flags for their own school’s alumnus who would rise to the highest office in the land.

McKinley would speak on the front porch of what is now known as the Ward-Thomas house on the south side of town. I gave his speech from that historic day and be filmed as part of the C-SPAN series on the president 100 years later in 1999.

The president only delivered eight sentences to address residents that day.

“It is to me a matter of extreme pleasure to be able to come back to the old town in which I was born. I need not tell you that many cherished memories crowd my mind as I stand in this presence. The old frame school house and church have disappeared, and in their places splendid structures have been built. This town has had its ups and downs. I am glad to know that it is enjoying the upward rise at this time, and that prosperity is in your shops and factories, and happiness and contentment in your homes. I know my fellow citizens that you will be certain of this high appreciation I feel to have the school-children of my native town here in such vast numbers waving the flag we love. There were never so many people devoted to it, willing to sacrifice life for it, so there are in the United States today. And wherever that flag is raised by the soldiers of the United States, it represents just what it represents here, the highest privileges, the broadest opportunities, and the widest liberty to the people beneath it.”

The president and his entourage then traveled to Youngstown to see an old childhood friend and familiar name to valley residents, even now 120 years later, Mr. Joseph Butler. The Butler name is known for the wonderful art museum, but most don’t know that upon McKinley’s assassination, Butler led the efforts to build the McKinley Memorial in downtown Niles.

The business recovery was much improved even a year after McKinley’s election. Once the Spanish-American War began, many local citizens enlisted and made up Company H to fight in Cuba. Once the war was over and the unit mustered out at the end of 1898, they came home to a boom of jobs that led to the opportunity for McKinley to speak in positive terms about the economy in the Mahoning Valley when he traveled in October 1899.

Mike Wilson is the Director of SCOPE Senior Services of Trumbull County and has traveled around the nation performing as William McKinley for the past 28 years.

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