McKinley’s Librarian in Niles Figured It Was ‘Inevitable’

NILES, Ohio — Patrick Finan knew when he watched The Daily Show July 2 that Mount McKinley’s days were numbered.

Finan, the director of the McKinley Memorial Library here, says he watched as the fake-news program satirized William McKinley as Ohio’s “mediocre son,” and the effort by Ohio politicians to thwart native Alaskans’ attempt to take the name of the nation’s 25th president off the tallest mountain in North America.

Yesterday it became official – and today Finan fielded inquiries from the public and the press about McKinley losing his mountain.

“It was inevitable and kind of sad,” he said. “President McKinley doesn’t have many things named after him in this country and it was a monument to him.”

The  20,237-foot peak was renamed Mount Denali under an order signed Aug. 28 by Interior Secretary Sally Jewell, and announced Sunday during President Obama’s trip to Alaska. The mountain sits in the Denali National Park, and  Alaska changed the state’s official name from McKinley to Denali in 1975.

But the federal government held fast to the McKinley name, thanks to the political pull of Ohio politicians such as Ralph Regula, the retired longtime congressman from Canton.

The name Denali comes from the language of Alaska natives, according to published reports, and means “the great one” or “the high one.” In 1896 the mountain was named for McKinley by a prospector – or so the story goes – who hoped McKinley would become a great one in his quest for higher office. At the time, McKinley, a Republican from Canton who was born in Niles and educated in Poland, was the governor of Ohio.

The official designation of Mount McKinley did not come until 1917 – 16 years after McKinley was assassinated in Buffalo, N.Y. “He had the misfortune of having Teddy Roosevelt follow him,” Finan remarked. “I think McKinley just got forgotten.”

Still, political reaction to McKinley losing his mountain was emphatic.

The Canton Repository reported that an “infuriated” Regula told a Canton TV station he thinks, “President Obama is confused. He thinks he’s a dictator, and he’s not.”

Renaming the mountain was a “congressional overreach,” said U.S. Rep. Bob Gibbs, R-Ohio. “This political stunt is insulting to all Ohioans.”

U.S. Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, described it as a “yet another example of the president going around Congress.”

Even U.S. Rep. Tim Ryan, a Democrat from Howland, found reason to criticize Obama. According to Fox News, Ryan said in a statement, “We must retain this national landmark’s name in order to honor the legacy of this great American president and patriot.

And Karl Rove, the Republican strategist who has written a book about McKinley, said Obama should be “more gracious” to McKinley, who annexed Hawaii, where Obama was born.

In Alaska, the reaction was one of gratitude. In that state, the mountain holds great cultural and religious significance for the Athabasca tribe, and politicians of all stripes advocated for decades that for the Denali name.

McKinley is buried in Canton alongside his wife, Ida Saxton McKinley, and the William McKinley Presidential Library & Museum is also there.

Every year about 3,000 people visit the Niles McKinley library, the nearby structure that replicates his birthplace and the National McKinley Birthplace Memorial, Finan says.

“People who come here are on presidential pilgrimages. They like to visit all the presidential sites. Some just come upon it, or see our sign on Interstate 80,” he observes.

“How many towns in the United States can say a president was born there? That’s our claim to fame.”

Pictured: National McKinley Birthplace Memorial.

Copyright 2021 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.