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President McKinley’s body made final trip home to Canton

The tragic assassination of President William McKinley shocked and saddened the nation. McKinley was shot at the Pan American Exposition in Buffalo, New York, on Sept. 6, 1901. He died eight days later from his injuries.

The world mourned and the public was given the opportunity to pay their final respects. McKinley’s body was transported by train, which made several stops before arriving at his final resting place in Canton. The heavy drizzle of Sept. 17, 1901, set the somber tone for the funeral procession as it traveled along Pennsylvania Avenue. A massive crowd of mourners gathered near and around the Capitol Building where the president’s body was to lie in state.

The Marine band played “Nearer My God to Thee,” which became known as “the president’s hymn,” during the funeral procession through Washington and at the end of the funeral service. (Olcott, Charles S. “The Tragedy at Buffalo”) This 19th-century Christian hymn by Sarah Flower Adams retells the story of Jacob’s dream as found in Genesis 28:11-12: “So he came to a certain place and stayed there all night, because the sun had set. And he took one of the stones of that place and put it at his head, and he lay down in that place to sleep. Then he dreamed, and behold, a ladder was set up on the earth, and its top reached to heaven; and there the angels of God were ascending and descending on it.”

Before his death, McKinley was moved by the spiritual lyrics of the hymn, and it became one of his personal favorites. With struggling breaths, barely audible, his dying words are quoted as being the first few lines of the hymn. McKinley added, “It is God’s way. His will be done.” These words often can be found on postcards, plates, coins, and other items that were produced to memorialize the president. Known for his deep faith, McKinley was a devout Christian and practicing Methodist. It is often said that McKinley’s mother had encouraged him to become a Methodist bishop and was quite disappointed initially when her son entered the world of politics.

The president’s flag-draped coffin was transported by train from Washington, D.C., to Ohio. Crowds waited for hours for the train to pass just to get a glimpse. Along the route, mourners placed trinkets such as coins, spoons and other metal items on the rails. After the trains passed, the onlookers collected the keepsakes. As the funeral train progressed along the route, church bells tolled. Crowds gathered where music played, including “taps” and “Nearer My God to Thee:”

Nearer, my God, to thee, nearer to thee!

E’en though it be a cross that raiseth me,

Still all my song shall be,

Nearer, my God, to thee;

Nearer, my God, to thee, nearer to thee!

Though like the wanderer,

The sun gone down,

Darkness be over me, my rest a stone;

Yet in my dreams I’d be

Nearer, my God, to thee;

Nearer, my God, to thee, nearer to thee!

There let the way appear,

Steps unto heaven;

All that thou sendest me, in mercy given;

Angels to beckon me

Nearer, my God, to thee;

Nearer, my God, to thee, nearer to thee!

Then, with my waking thoughts bright with thy praise,

Out of my stony griefs Bethel I’ll raise;

So by my woes to be

Nearer, my God, to thee; Nearer, my God, to thee, nearer to thee!

Or if, on joyful wing cleaving the sky,

Sun, moon, and stars forgot, upward I fly,

Still all my song shall be,

Nearer, my God, to thee;

Nearer, my God, to thee, nearer to thee!

Songwriters: L. Mason / S.f. Adams

Nearer My God to Thee lyrics, Warner-tamerlane Publishing Corp., Doctor Brass Music, B Lion Music, Wonderland Music Company Inc, Works By Stone Angel Music

A digitized recording from The Library of Congress is available by visiting http://www.loc.gov/jukebox/recordings/detail/id/8745.

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