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Wedded to the Sea… (The Christening of the Battleship Ohio)

12:20 pm Pacific Time Mary Barber of Canton, Ohio daughter of Mary Saxton Barber stood by the apparatus that gave the signal to release the Battleship Ohio down the ways and into San Francisco Bay. Uncle William known to the world as President McKinley was nearby silently overseeing the entire celebration.

The trip of a lifetime for many began in Washington D.C. President McKinley was embarking on a Tour to the Pacific Coast. The train of the Southern Railway pulled away from the Washington station at 10:30 am Eastern time on Monday April 29th, carrying the President and First Lady, most of the President’s Cabinet, and their spouses or relatives. The original plan was to cover over ten thousand miles out to California and back to Washington, during the greater part of fifty days. The official trip roster contained forty people. The trip would have to alter and history would turn out different than planned because of the health of Mrs. Ida Saxton McKinley. The most important objective was to witness the christening of the Battleship Ohio, named in honor of William McKinley’s home state. 

On Saturday May 18th the President would rise in the home of Mr. Irving Scott, President of the Union Iron Works. He left his beloved wife the First Lady, Ida McKinley at the Scott residence where she was recovering from her, most accounts say “near to death” episode. Mrs. McKinley had a felon on her finger caused by an infection to a severe point. Now she was recovering and well enough for the President to leave her to attend the christening ceremonies.

President McKinley departed the Scott residence at 9:42 am for the transport dock where he would board the Slocum. He was joined by Ohio Governor Nash and a close family friend of the governor’s, Miss Helen Deshler. The Slocum made its way up the San Francisco Bay toward the Union Iron Works where the launching would take place. As the Slocum passed other ships in the bay they saluted President McKinley with cheers, and six inch guns thundering the twenty-one gun salute. Every boat, tug, and ship in the bay area was out to greet the President.

President McKinley boarding the Slocum May 18, 1901

Upon arrival at 11:15 am to the dry dock opposite the ways where the massive haul of the Ohio sat, President McKinley was greeted by the workers of the Union Iron Works. Several ships where either in dry dock or in the bay waiting to be completed including; the cruiser Tacoma, the torpedo destroyer Paul Jones and the Alaska. At precisely 12:22 pm with shouts of joy, countless national flags fluttering in the wind, the Chief Executive and his party, and the Governors of seven states and territories the mighty Battleship Ohio slipped into the waters of the San Francisco Bay “Wedded to the Sea.”

Mary Barber of Canton, Ohio Niece of the President and the First Lady pushes the button

Miss Mary Barber, of Canton, Ohio Niece of the President and First Lady pressed the button that activated the guillotine severing the rope restraining the ship to the ways.  As the ship made its way to the water Miss Helen Deshler of Columbus, Ohio released the ribbons and the net that held the bottle that christened the ship crushing the glass bottle on the iron. With a voice that was lost to the din of the crowd Miss Deshler shouted “I Christen Thee Ohio!” According to the Riverside Daily Press of Riverside, California, no other war ship’s launching has ever been so honored as the Buckeye State’s namesake. One hundred and twenty years ago today at the hour of this writing was launch the mighty Battleship Ohio.

Miss Helen Deshler of Columbus, Ohio “I Christen Thee

May 18, 2021

Mark G. Holland

Archivist

McKinley Presidential Library & Museum