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McKinley’s birthday celebrated

NILES — As Bob Callow of Liberty stopped at the McDonald’s on North Road in Niles, he came across a family visiting the area.

As Callow and the patriarch began talking, the McKinley Memorial Library came up in conversation.

“I brought them as a treat,” Callow said with a laugh, about attending a birthday celebration Saturday at the McKinley Birthplace Home.

During a half-hour presentation, Mike Wilson spoke to about a dozen people while dressed as President William McKinley.

Each year for the president’s birthday, Wilson dresses up as the leader, whose birthday is Jan. 29. This year for McKinley’s 177th birthday, Wilson spoke about the president’s relationship with his mother, Nancy Allison McKinley.

Reading letters, Wilson said “McKinley adored his mother” who was affectionately known as “Mother McKinley.”

The former president, who was assassinated on Sept. 14, 1901, just six months into his second term in office, sent either a letter or a telegraph every day they didn’t see each other.

“He even had a telegraph machine installed in her house in Canton” while he was in Washington, D.C., Wilson said. Often times, the notes were quick, but sometimes the letters were longer, much like present day text messages, Wilson said.

Each year for McKinley’s birthday celebration, Wilson said he and library staff try to come up with new topics to discuss.

Wilson began his impersonation three decades ago at the McKinley Memorial Library.

A 9-year-old boy saw Wilson standing next to the McKinley statue, when he paused.

“He stands there, looks at me then looks at the statue, and he goes, ‘Hey, mister? Is that you?'” Wilson said.

“That’s how it began, 30 years ago, by accident,” he added.

Traveling around the country as McKinley, Wilson said he tracks what he says to groups he talks to throughout the year, and researches specific topics involving McKinley to present.

“It takes time. As I get closer to an event, I focus on it,” Wilson said.

afox@tribtoday.com

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