William McKinley

Stacy Conradt
Stacy Conradt / Stacy Conradt

Every time we so much as touch a toe out of state, I’ve put cemeteries on our travel itinerary. From garden-like expanses to overgrown boot hills, whether they’re the final resting places of the well-known but not that important or the important but not that well-known, I love them all. After realizing that there are a lot of taphophiles out there, I’m finally putting my archive of interesting tombstones to good use.

If you’re the superstitious sort, you may chalk up our 25th president’s untimely death to the fact that he was missing his ever-present good luck piece.

On September 6, 1901, William McKinley was greeting visitors in the Temple of Music at the Pan-American Exposition in Buffalo. One of them was 12-year-old Myrtle Ledger from Springbrook, New York. Though many reports say Ledger asked McKinley for the red carnation in his lapel, she told the story a bit differently. When she met the president, she remembered 70 years later, he asked her for her name. “Myrtle,” she responded, and he said, “In that case, I must give this flower to another little flower.” McKinley removed his trademark crimson flower, the one he always wore for luck, and presented it to Ledger.

Not far in line behind Myrtle was an anarchist by the name of Leon Czolgosz. Though protocol mandated that people wishing to meet the president do so with empty hands, it was an exceptionally hot day, so many people walked up clutching handkerchiefs. Czolgosz was one of them; he had his wrapped around his hand as if protecting an injury. When McKinley reached out to shake the uninjured hand, Czolgosz shot him twice in the torso with a gun that had been concealed in the handkerchief.

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One of the bullets bounced off of a button. Doctors believed the other one was lodged somewhere in McKinley’s back muscles, having passed clean through his stomach. Instead of locating and removing the missing bullet, McKinley’s stomach was simply sewn back up. “A bullet after it ceases to move does little harm,” the doctor said. He was, of course, wrong. McKinley died on September 14. According to the coroner, the cause was gangrene of the stomach.

Stacy Conradt

The day after his funeral, some of the president’s closest friends and advisors picked a location for his memorial in Canton, Ohio. It had been recommended by McKinley’s wife, Ida, who said her husband was fond of the hilltop spot. She attended when the cornerstone was laid on November 16, 1905, but wouldn’t live to see the completion of the project. Ida McKinley died on May 26, 1907.

Stacy Conradt

From James Garfield’s 180-foot-tall memorial in Cleveland to Warren G. Harding’s “simple” outdoor burial under a tree in Marion, Ohio really likes its massive presidential monuments. William McKinley’s tomb in Canton is no exception. The pink granite building rises 96 feet above the ground; halfway up the 108 steps to the entrance you'll meet a 9.5-foot-tall bronze statue of McKinley sculpted from a photograph of McKinley giving a speech the day before he was shot.

The bronze double doors at the entrance were the largest in the nation at the time they were made.There was once a reflecting pool at the base of the 108 stone steps; together, they were meant to represent McKinley's sword. In 1951, the pool was replaced by a lush green lawn.

Peruse all the entries in our Grave Sightings series here.