Why is there a William McKinley statue at Archer and Western?

August 3, 2011

Unless you're a historian or a pigeon, you might not pay much attention to the statues that decorate our city and suburbs. But like our street names, each one has a story to tell.

The William McKinley statue stands near the southeast corner of Archer and Western. The statue is located in McKinley Park. The surrounding community is also known as McKinley Park. The only thing missing is a McKinley Boulevard.

William McKinley was born in Ohio in 1843. He fought in the Civil War, then went into Republican politics. After serving in Congress and as governor of Ohio, he was elected our 25th president in 1896. He was re-elected in 1900.

McKinley was a popular president. But what really made him popular was his death. In 1901 he was in Buffalo, shaking hands with the public at the world's fair, when an anarchist stepped up and shot him in the chest. The president died a week later.

The nation went into an orgy of grief. Publishers rushed into print with special McKinley memorial books, artists painted portraits, orators made speeches, parents named their newborns after the fallen leader. The funeral was captured on Mr. Edison's new moving picture camera and became a popular mass entertainment.

In Chicago the South Park Commissioners acquired the vacant site of the old Brighton Park Race Track for the new McKinley Park. The centerpiece statue was designed by Charles J. Mulligan, and dedicated in 1905. The statue itself is an early example of recycling--the bronze came from an earlier statue of Columbus that nobody liked.

McKinley's reputation has been in decline ever since 1901. He was succeeded in office by his vice president, Theodore Roosevelt. By the time Roosevelt left the presidency, the McKinley administration looked like nothing more than an opening act.

Most historians have rated McKinley as an "average" president. That's still quite a compliment. And his tomb in Canton is fantastic.