One of the advantages of being a volunteer researcher at the McKinley Presidential Library and Museum is that I learn about fascinating aspects of our rich Stark County History.
We recently received a request from a person who emailed our Ramsayer Research Library to identify a photograph of President William McKinley giving a speech from the back of a train. He told us this photograph could have been taken by his great-great grandfather while attending Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois or in his hometown of Lancaster, Wisconsin between 1896-1900. I set out to find an answer.
I tried to trace some campaign stops in either 1896 or 1900 that McKinley may have made by train. In the course of reviewing Stark County historian, Edward T. Heald’s unpublished and unfinished, McKinley Biography 1967, regarding possible train stops for McKinley during his presidential years. I had no luck, though, in finding a connection between McKinley and Evanston, Illinois or Lancaster, Wisconsin.
So, as it happens frequently in the research business, you don’t always get what you want (as the song goes). Sometimes, though, you find other completely unrelated historical tidbits peeking their little heads out of their hiding places….which leads me to “Cannon Day”.
While I couldn’t help the great-great grandchild with the McKinley picture, I did uncover some interesting facts about a big celebration that happened in Canton on July 4th, 1900.
President McKinley returned to Canton with Ida, the First Lady, from Washington, D.C. after being successfully renominated in June in Philadelphia at the Republican National Convention. According to our Stark County Historian, Edward T. Heald’s unpublished manuscripts for which, The Canton Repository is a major source, which tells the story of McKinley’s 1900 presidential campaign. President McKinley would stay at his North Market House most of that summer (now the location of the Stark County District Library.) Canton was a very active city at that time as McKinley received many visiting delegations of dignitaries from all over the country.
One of the events during this late June/early July period would be the dedication by McKinley on July 4th of a newly procured Spanish-American War souvenir for the City of Canton….a brass cannon that was captured at Santiago Harbor, Cuba. Canton’s cannon was made possible with the help of Canton native, William R. Day, U. S. Secretary of State during the Spanish-American War (and later named a Supreme Court Justice by President Theodore Roosevelt).
This Spanish cannon was cast in France in 1748 by King Louis XV and, at some point, made its way to Spanish-owned Cuba. This cannon stood at the Estrella Battery on the east side of Santiago Harbor.
Dedication of the cannon that July 4th occurred on the lawn at the southwest corner of the old Canton City Hall building on South Cleveland Avenue (where the newer City Hall now stands). William R. Day, and other dignitaries from Washington, D.C. gave speeches that day at City Hall.
There was a huge parade that day represented by recent Spanish-American War Veterans, Civil War Veterans and many workers from various companies throughout the state. The people of Canton were treated to a daytime fireworks display after the parade at public square and fireworks were displayed that night from the area at the intersection of Shorb Avenue and West Tuscarawas Street.
On July 6th, 1900 thousands of people descended on the McKinley home and were treated to rousing speeches by President William McKinley and (soon-to-be Vice President), Governor of New York, Theodore Roosevelt. Roosevelt had just arrived in Canton that day after returning from a vacation in Arizona with his Rough Riders. Cannons situated on Dueber Heights boomed their salutes upon arrival by train of Roosevelt. Factory whistles were also heard throughout the city proclaiming TR’s arrival.
The brass cannon along with another mortar and a metal piece of the conning tower from the Battleship, Maine, that was sunk in the Havana (Cuba) harbor all stood on the grounds of the old City Hall until 1938. These items were then moved to Canton City’s Waterworks Park. These relics of the Spanish-American War were finally moved to the recently erected Stark County Veterans Memorial at Westbrook Park around the year 2000.
Here’s some of the decorative elements still visible on the 1748 brass cannon at the Veterans Memorial:
Decorative fleur de lis and other designs:
Such is the day in the life of a historical researcher. Always challenging, frequently frustrating, but always a treasure hunt.
Send us your questions…
- Tom Haas, Library Volunteer