National McKinley Birthplace Memorial

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National McKinley Birthplace Memorial
The National McKinley Birthplace Memorial Library and Museum is the national memorial to President William McKinley located in Niles, Ohio. Also known as the McKinley Memorial Library, Museum & Birthplace Home, the Memorial is a 232 foot by 136 foot by 38 foot marble monument with two wings. One houses the McKinley Memorial Library, which is a public library. The second wing features the McKinley Museum with exhibits about President McKinley, and an auditorium. The McKinley Birthplace Home and Research Center is located near the Memorial at 40 South Main Street in Niles. The historic house museum has been furnished for the period when President McKinley was in office.

History

Planning
On March 4, 1909, President William Howard Taft signed his first act as Commander-in-Chief, authorizing Congressional funding for a national memorial to be located in the town of McKinley’s birth: Niles, Ohio. The same act of Congress had also officially established the National McKinley Birthplace Association. Association President Joseph G. Butler, Jr., who had been a childhood friend and schoolmate of McKinley, began a $100,000 local campaign to raise funds for the Memorial in 1912. After securing nearly $200,000 for the Memorial without utilizing taxpayer funding, Butler and the Association sought public donations of $1 each to establish a permanent endowment. “Subscribers” (as the donors were called) would receive a book autographed by Butler “describing the work of the Memorial” that also contained a reproduction portrait of McKinley and “a facsimile of the act of Congress authorizing and commending the construction of the Birthplace Memorial.”

Competition and design
The Association had its own ideas for the Memorial’s general design when they announced plans to offer a prize for the best architectural proposal in 1914. The city of Niles had already set aside a five-acre park as a location for the Memorial (purchased with municipal funds), and the Association stipulated that the design would be for a granite two-story structure with a basement, and that the structure must include a 1,000-seat auditorium (the “main feature”), a public library, a “relic room” for display of assorted effects, “an assembly hall for meetings of the veterans of the Grand Army of the Republic, where State encampments may be held, and for Spanish-American War Veterans, and a room for the meetings of officials of the city.” Additionally, the Association specified that the Memorial would house not only a statue of McKinley, but also “bronze busts of men associated with him in the affairs of the nation,” like Theodore Roosevelt, Marcus Hanna, Butler, and Andrew Carnegie and Henry Clay Frick, the latter two of whom were large contributors to the Memorial’s fund. Upon publication of the Association’s announcement, a competition commenced within the American Institute of Architects. Edgerton Swartout (who was once an architect at McKim, Mead and White), Charles A. Platt (American landscape architect), and Edward Brodhead Green ( Albright-Knox Art Gallery)served as judges for the competition, which comprised entries from Cass Gilbert (architect of the Woolworth Building), Henry Bacon (designer of the Lincoln Memorial), Harold Van Buren Magonigle (architect of the McKinley National Memorial and Mausoleum), Palmer, Hornbostel and Jones (a partner of which worked on the Queensboro Bridge), J. L. Decker (a local architect in Niles), and Zantzinger, Borie and Medary (designers of the Detroit Institute of Arts). In 1915, the competition was concluded, and the $1,000 prize was awarded to McKim, Mead, and White. Their design, somewhat typical of their other Beaux-Arts work, reflected Greek and Roman themes in all aspects, from architectural elements to the lettering on tablets and statuary. Indeed, the entire Memorial was described not unlike a temple of antiquity, with McKinley assuming the role of “household god”: “Seen from the approach on Main Street, the building will be dominated by its central feature, a colonnade or propylaea leading into a court of honor. It is this court, the atrium of the old Roman palaces where the statue of the household god stood, which is to be the climax of the entire structure.” The library was divided into two stories, with space for open stacks and meeting rooms, including one reserved for McKinley memorabilia. The auditorium, notably, was originally designed with 200 fewer seats than originally called for, and was expressly not to be for “theatrical entertainments.” McKinley’s statue, originally conceived as a bronze monument, was carved from a single thirty-five ton piece of marble by J. Massey Rhind.

Construction
The cornerstone of the Memorial was laid on November 20, 1915, and an inscribed plaque on it read “Erected 1915. To Perpetuate the Name and Achievements of William McKinley, Twenty-fifth President of the United States of America. Born January 29, 1843. Died September 14, 1901.” The United States Marine Band played “On the Beautiful Blue Danube” (a favorite of Mrs. McKinley’s) and “Lead Kindly Light” (reportedly a hymn sung at McKinley’s deathbed) after a parade of organizations to which McKinley belonged proceeded down Niles’ Main Street. John H. Parker Co. of New York oversaw the site’s construction. Despite the Memorial Association’s specification for a granite structure, Georgia marble was used instead.

Dedication
Former President Taft (also an Ohio native), in a warmongering speech encouraging entry into World War I, praised McKinley at the Memorial’s dedication ceremonies on October 5, 1917. McKinley’s sister was on hand to unveil her brother’s twelve-foot statue, and Myron T. Herrick, George B. Cortelyou, and Butler also spoke for the program.

Current status
The National McKinley Birthplace Memorial Library is open to the public seven days a week and closed on certain holidays. The McKinley Museum is also open to the public, with no admission fee.

Rehabilitation
As of July 2008, the Memorial is currently undergoing renovation to clean and repair the marble façade.