In 2007 the McKinley National Memorial in Canton, Ohio celebrated its 100th anniversary with a year of special events. In this special series of articles we will explore the planning that went into an exhibition, behind-the scenes tours, an anniversary dinner, a penny campaign and a major special event – a 100 Hours Celebration where the museum stayed open for 100 consecutive hours.
As part of our year long celebration of the McKinley National Memorial’s 100th anniversary, we opened an exhibition in our temporary gallery exploring its history. It was called “Celebrating 100 Years! Building the McKinley National Memorial.”
The exhibit was based on the book The McKinley Monument: A Tribute to a Fallen President by Christopher Kenney, the museum’s director of education. Chris had done extensive research, even traveling to the New York Public Library to look through the architect’s papers.
We had many photos of the construction process and dedication ceremonies. But we didn’t have many artifacts for the exhibition. There were a few souvenirs that had been sold in a small gift shop inside the Monument for the first few decades – a chip of original marble and granite, commemorative coins, miniature vases. There were also several ribbons worn by committees on the dedication day in 1907. But everything was small. Not much to build an exhibition.
So we got creative and had a series of contests to get people excited about the upcoming 100th anniversary. We had a coloring contest for younger kids. Frank Page, an artist friend of mine, drew a cartoon version of the Monument which we distributed to all of our teachers who brought students on field trips. We also had a drawing contest broken into age groups.
The 3D model building contest really helped us fill those exhibit cases! We were so impressed with the enthusiasm of the students. Their models were amazing. We also had an essay contest, for the non-artistically inclined kids. And a photo contest for adults.
All of the winners were featured in the exhibition. The essay winners were invited to read their work at the exhibit opening.
When you get kids involved, you can count on increased attendance from parents, grandparents, brother and sisters. We had one of our largest exhibit openings ever that night! They were lined up outside waiting for the doors to open.
The Monument is unique in our community because it truly is an icon. Prom and wedding pictures are always taken on the 108 steps leading up to the Monument, in spite of the fact that it is a presidential grave. We wanted the exhibit to include the community as much as possible, so we also did a call for photos with the Monument in the background. This worked two-fold. Not only were we able to get more people involved and expand the exhibit, we were also able to build our archival collection with images that we didn’t have before.
With today’s technology, I was able to scan photos while people waited, which meant they could keep their originals and we could produce a high quality copy in-house.
The exhibit provided a retrospective look at a century of local history, with a focus on community pride. It was well-received, and was the perfect backdrop for the series of events that followed.
The next articles in this series will document more ways that my museum celebrated the 100th anniversary of the McKinley National Memorial in 2007.