I realize these chapters have been rather spaced apart and there’ve been so many of them, but we’re technically in the home stretch now. After a quick lunch stop in West Virginia, only one state stood between us and home. We’d already paid respects to one American President from Ohio, Rutherford B. Hayes, back on Day One. Two more Presidential gravesites lay ahead on the trail before we would cross the final state border.
Previously on Midlife Crisis Crossover:
Every year since 1999 my wife Anne and I have taken a trip to a different part of the United States and visited attractions, wonders, and events we didn’t have back home in Indianapolis. From 1999 to 2003 we did so as best friends; from 2004 to the present, as husband and wife. Normally we’ll choose one major locale as our primary objective, drive that-a-way, and concentrate on exploring the vicinity for a few days before retreating.
We crafted this year’s itinerary with a different approach. Instead of choosing one city as a hub, we focused on one of the motifs that’s recurred through several of our trips: grave sites of Presidents of the United States of America. Our 2018 road trip would effectively have the format and feel of a video game side quest — collecting nine American Presidents across ten presidencies, four states, seven days, and 2000 miles…
Two hours northwest-ish of Pittsburgh is the city of Canton, Ohio. To the average traveler it’s the revered home of the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Anne and I aren’t into sports and had a different destination in mind: the William McKinley National Memorial, a 77-foot-tall marble dome that serves as the final resting place for President McKinley, his wife Ida, and their two daughters.
Quite a few McKinley statues have popped up in our previous travels. The year before at Antietam National Battlefield, we learned about that time he served in the Civil War as a Union commissary sergeant with distinction, running rations to the troops under fire. McKinley statues also stood on the grounds of the Ohio State Capitol; in front of Buffalo’s City Hall back on Day Two; and outside Philadelphia’s City Hall, where we’d walked on the evening of Day Five. Naturally his Memorial has one as well.
American highlights during McKinley’s full term and several bonus months in office:
- Won the Spanish-American War, whose fabulous prizes included Puerto Rico, Guam, and the Philippines
- Annexed the Republic of Hawaii before Japan or other nations could get to it
- Sent troops to China without asking Congress first when the Boxer Rebellion began to threaten the lives of Americans who got in the way
- Ensuing debates about imperialist expansionism, in which McKinley felt that other nations were pushy bullies about it, so maybe we freedom-loving all-stars (or as other, older countries called us, “those meddling kids”) should show them how it’s done
- Passed the Gold Standard Act, which changed the way we approach wealth or lack thereof, and made fans of silver cry
Today McKinley is chiefly remembered as one among several answers to the popular trivia question, “Which American Presidents were assassinated?” On September 5, 1901, while in Buffalo for the Pan American Exposition, McKinley was shot twice by an anarchist who waited in a long handshake line for his opportunity. McKinley died from his wounds eight days later. Legend has it his last words included a bit of his favorite hymn “Nearer My God to Thee”, sung with his dying breath to the wife he loved very much.
Ida McKinley died seven years later. McKinley’s assassin was executed 45 days after McKinley died, which sounds like a pretty speed-metal trial process compared to today’s Death Row cases, which can linger for years and even decades. Back in the day, if you murdered someone that important, they wasted no time sending a message to other wannabe villains.
McKinley took an even farther back seat in Presidential history as in many ways he would be overshadowed by the Vice President who succeeded him: Teddy Roosevelt, who probably would’ve punched the assassin into submission, made him eat his own gun, and then ejected the bullets from his body through sheer willpower. Alas, if only McKinley had shared his superpowers.
Inside that dome, there they were, William and Ida, side by side and eight feet above the floor.
Our visit wasn’t quite done yet. We descended the 108 steps, caught our breath again, turned to our right, and decided to go see what else McKinley’s fans had built in his name.
To be continued!
* * * * *
[Link enclosed here to handy checklist for other chapters and for our complete road trip history to date. Follow us on Facebook or via email sign-up for new-entry alerts, or over on Twitter if you want to track my TV live-tweeting and other signs of life between entries. Thanks for reading!]