So. . . You Don’t Know Who William McKinley Is? Past Daily Reference Room


It isn't Mount McKinley anymore.
It isn’t Mount McKinley anymore.

Purported last recording of President William McKinley – September 5, 1901 – Gordon Skene Sound Collection

When the highest mountain in North America was recently given back its old name; one that was around long before President McKinley was around, the big question was; Who was President McKinley?

William McKinley was the 25th President of the United States. He was in office from 1897 until 1901 when he was cut down by an assassins bullet while visiting the Pan-American Exhibit in Buffalo New York in September of year. His successor was Theodore Roosevelt, who was his vice-President at the time.

McKinley was regarded by some at the time of his assassination as the most beloved President the U.S. ever had – however, his popularity was eclipsed when his Teddy Roosevelt assumed The Oval Office in 1901. By the time the 1920’s rolled around. McKinley had taken a distant backseat in popularity and the general consensus since then was McKinley did not live up to expectations. The most controversial aspect of his presidency was the expansionism and the question of Imperialism – our possession of The Philippines as the result of the Spanish-American War was up for scrutiny.

The McKinley Years were regarded by many historians as something of a last-gasp; a Golden Age of a life about the change, as technology was evolving and social values were about to be questioned. During McKinley’s Presidency there were still the robber-barons, no taxes, the union movement was in its infancy, there were no health or safety standards for food or the workplace and politics were run by those with deep-pockets and bought connections.

But when McKinley died, a wave of mourning and re-naming monuments after the fallen President began, and the highest Mountain in Alaska, the one originally name Denali, was re-christened Mt. McKinley in 1917. Over the years, movements have struggled to get the mountain re-named for its Native heritage. And in 1975 the movement gathered steam. In 1980 an awkward deal was struck, where the National Park at the foot of Mt. McKinley was named Denali. But finally, in 2008 a move to rename the mountain itself took hold and President Obama signed legislation giving the mountain back its original name, after a little under 100 years.

As a reminder, although not an accurate one, since it came to pass, that this was a speech purported to be the last delivered by William McKinley just prior to his assassination – given at the Pan-American Exhibit, which was in-fact a re-creation by one of the popular actors of the day, and the recordings were used as a sort of memorial to the memory of the assassinated President. The words are McKinley’s, the voice is believed to be Len Spencer, a popular voice impressionist of the day.

So now you know – and when people ask you . . . . .

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