Homes, museums of presidents Garfield, Hayes and McKinley in Ohio recall their era

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Hundreds of people visit the grounds of the William McKinley Presidential Library and Memorial each day. Few of them, however, are there to pay their respects to the nation's 25th president.

Many are runners who come to climb up and down the 108 steps in front of the mausoleum in which the remains of McKinley and his wife Ida rest. Most of the others are there to jog around the oval in front of the memorial. A sign helpfully notes: "4 loops = 1 mile."

The McKinley Memorial in Canton, Ohio, is one of three historic sites linked to Ohio-born presidents that can be reached from Pittsburgh on a journey that requires just about a tank of gas. Rutherford B. Hayes, James Garfield and William McKinley all served as Union Army officers during the Civil War. Each then went on to become the nation's chief executive. They are in a select group of five natives of the Buckeye State with similar backgrounds in war and politics who became presidents after the Civil War. The other two, Ulysses S. Grant and Benjamin Harrison, however, were born much farther from Pittsburgh in southwestern Ohio.

Homes of three U.S. presidents a short drive away in Ohio

The PG's Len Barcousky visits the homes of three U.S. presidents, all nearby in Ohio. (Video by Len Barcousky; edited by Melissa Tkach; 6/24/2012)

The homes or burial sites of Garfield, Hayes and McKinley are managed by different organizations. Each offers a different way at looking at their lives and deaths. None is likely to be crowded with visitors.

Spiegel Grove (Rutherford B. Hayes, Fremont, Ohio)

Rutherford B. Hayes was a pack rat. His compulsive record keeping has made life easier for the historians and designers who are completing an effort to restore his home to how it looked when he and his wife Lucy lived there. "This family didn't throw anything away," guide Jean Wegert explained during a tour of the Victorian-era house. "They had a sense of history."

The home, the presidential gravesite, library and museum comprise the Rutherford B. Hayes Presidential Center, in Fremont, Ohio.

Counting the president's uncle and guardian, Sardis Birchard, five generations of the Hayes' family lived at Spiegel Grove. What began as "a large porch with a small farmhouse attached" grew to a 31-room mansion by the time the president died in 1889. It remained a family residence until 1965, and the home's furnishings are almost all original.

Hayes, a Republican, took office in 1877 following a disputed election even more divisive than the contest of 2000 between George W. Bush and Al Gore. Hayes' opponent, Democrat Samuel J. Tilden, got a majority of the popular vote, but he ultimately lost by one vote in the Electoral College. Hayes' close win in the Electoral College resulted from a Congressional Commission, dominated by Republicans, giving the GOP candidate all 20 disputed electors' votes from Louisiana, South Carolina, and -- where else? -- Florida.

Hayes was, in effect, inaugurated twice. He was sworn in as President Grant's successor in the White House in a private ceremony on Saturday, March 3, and then publicly on Monday, March 5. Many Democrats thereafter referred to him as "Rutherfraud" B. Hayes.

Tom Culbertson, the executive director of the Hayes Center, said the nation's 19th president deserves to be remembered for more than the "funny way he was elected."

Hayes helped rebalance the relationship between the executive and legislative branches, Mr. Culbertson said. He offered one example of the president's independent spirit: When Hayes selected his cabinet, he included both a Democrat and a political enemy of the still influential Grant.

Willing, even eager, to butt heads with his own party leaders, he took steps to overturn the political "spoils system" when he barred federal civil servants from working on political campaigns.

"Hayes was a good middle-of-the-pack president," Mr. Culbertson said.

Hayes was the first U.S. president to have a presidential library open to researchers and the public. Just as Thomas Jefferson's personal book collection provided a start for the Library of Congress, the 12,000 volumes Hayes owned formed the nucleus of the collection at Spiegel Grove devoted to his life, times and four years in office.

In retirement, he continued to lobby for and speak in favor of veterans' pensions and prison reform. "He often would go by train, traveling by himself and carrying his own luggage," Mr. Culbertson said.

Hayes and his wife are buried just a few hundred yards from the home where they lived after he left office in 1881.

Lawnfield (James Garfield, Mentor, Ohio)

U.S. Rep. James Garfield bought a farm in Mentor, Ohio, in 1876, as a place to raise his children while he continued his successful career in Congress. After he became the compromise Republican candidate for president in 1880, he ran his campaign from a small office next to his house.

The outbuilding is one of several structures on the six-acre property restored to its 19th century appearance by the National Park Service. The campaign office is furnished with oil lamps, a copying press, a telegraph key, a couch for visitors and spittoons. If Garfield's secretary is to be believed, the latter items saw little use. "The office is filled with vile men smoking and spitting all over our nice floor," his aide, Joseph Stanley Brown, wrote during the campaign. "You can cut the smoke with a knife."

Garfield, sadly, got to spend little time in the house. Inaugurated in March 1881, he was shot by a crazed political foe named Charles Guiteau on July 2 and died Sept. 19.

Garfield's widow, Lucretia, and his mother, Elizabeth Balou Garfield, returned to Mentor after his death. While presidents at that time received no pensions, a public campaign raised $350,000 for the Garfield family. That amount is equal to about $7.8 million, and Mrs. Garfield used the money to expand Lawnfield, adding a library and walk-in vault for her husband's papers. She later arranged for the drilling of a gas well and construction of a storage tank, tapping a deposit of natural gas on the property to supply fuel for cooking, heating and lighting. She also built a tall stone windmill. It provided power to pump well water up to a tank at the top of the house, supplying all floors of the building with running water.

Portraits, photographs and stained-glass images of Garfield, the second U.S. president to be killed in office, fill the walls of the home. They were placed there in part to provide some comfort to his elderly mother. "She wanted his image to be the first thing she saw in the morning and the last thing she saw at night," park ranger T.J. Todd said during a recent tour of the home.

Lucretia Garfield outlived her murdered husband by almost 37 years, and the Garfield house remained a family residence until 1936. About 80 percent of the furnishings now in the house belonged to the family.

McKinley National Memorial (William McKinley, Canton, Ohio)

In 1901, while he was visiting a world's fair in Buffalo, William McKinley was shot by an anarchist named Leon Czolgosz. He had been a popular president, less than a year into his second term when he died.

Within two weeks of his death, a McKinley National Memorial Association had formed, and it soon acquired a hilltop site from nearby West Lawn Cemetery in McKinley's home city of Canton. The memorial was dedicated on Sept. 30, 1907, at a ceremony attended by McKinley's successor, Theodore Roosevelt.

Nearby is the McKinley Presidential Library and a multifaceted museum. While one large gallery is devoted to McKinley's career and family, other displays cover everything from Ohio geology to astronomy to local history.

The "Street of Shops" on the museum's second floor lets visitors walk through full-size re-creations of stores in which the McKinleys and their Stark County neighbors would have shopped.

While the grounds around the monument often are crowded with lunchtime athletes, visitors to McKinley's tomb are likely to find themselves alone with the president and his wife. The couple are interred in separate granite sarcophagi, each set on a base of black granite. The main source of natural light is the red, white and blue skylight at the top of the mausoleum's seven-story dome.

While serving with the Union Army, McKinley had been promoted for his bravery during the Battle of Antietam, which was the bloodiest single day of the Civil War. He was president during the brief Spanish-American War, which saw the U.S. take control of the Philippines from Spain. He also oversaw the annexation of the Hawaiian Islands.

Some of McKinley's final words as president, which have been carved into the marble walls of his memorial, however, are in praise of negotiations and compromise: "Let us ever remember that our interest is in concord, not conflict, and that our real eminence is in the victories of peace, not those of war."

That sentence was part of a speech he gave on Sept. 5, 1901, the day before he was fatally wounded at the Pan-American Exposition in Buffalo.


Len Barcousky: or 412-263-1159. First Published June 24, 2012 4:00 AM


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