Ohio is sometimes referred to as “Mother of Presidents,” because it has been the birthplace of more presidents than any other state in the union. To date, eight of the forty-four chief executives have hailed from the Buckeye State. What is not spoken of quite as often is the fact that four of those eight died in office, and among them are not one, but two assassinated leaders.
I wrote in a previous post about Ohio-born James A. Garfield and his connections to Wellington. He visited the village on at least two occasions, namely at a church dedication ca. 1860 and a speaking event in 1879. After publishing that post, I located a brief notice describing Garfield’s later visit: “Gen [sic] Garfield was in town a short time Monday morning, on his way to Sullivan, where he addressed the mass meeting. There is a great need of voters hearing these able expositions of the questions at issue in the coming election. Such men as Garfield, Monroe and Blaine do not make random assertions, but know whereof they affirm” (The Wellington Enterprise, 10-2-1879, pg. 3).
Garfield was the second U. S. president to be assassinated, following Abraham Lincoln’s murder in 1865. Both men were shot from behind and suffered lingering and painful deaths. Garfield lasted some eighty days in agony before passing away on September 19, 1881.
Less than three years after that tragic event stunned the nation, another politician visited little Wellington. This “rising young statesman” was running for Congress in 1884 from the Canton, Ohio district. “Major” William McKinley, as the Enterprise called him, spoke at the (second) Town Hall to a large crowd. The reporter observed “patient, eager attention, sympathetic endorsement in many countenances, frequent hearty responses and at times emphatic applause, particularly when tender and appreciative reference was made to the martyred Garfield” (7-23-1884, pg. 8). It was evident, the piece concluded, that McKinley had “a brilliant future before him.”
What the audience that night could not know is that McKinley’s brilliant future would, in fact, carry him into the White House in 1897. Nor could they foresee that just six months into his second term, he would become the third American president to be assassinated, when he was shot in Buffalo, New York on September 6, 1901. McKinley would die eight days later of gangrene associated with his bullet wounds.
There is one final Wellington connection to this story. William McKinley was close personal friends with Huntington-born Myron T. Herrick, later Governor of Ohio and Ambassador to France. Herrick was in Buffalo with the president that tragic afternoon, and the two were scheduled to travel to Herrick’s home in Cleveland the following day.
Myron T. Herrick had been considered as a vice-presidential candidate under both William McKinley and his successor, Theodore Roosevelt. Had he secured his party’s nomination to that office, Wellington’s Herrick Memorial Library would have an even more august pedigree.