William McKinley

Presidents’ Day Compilation

Presidential history is one of my favourite topics, so in honour of Presidents’ Day, and in case anyone is interested in learning about a few presidential sites for the holiday, I thought I’d throw an updated version of this post up again!

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FDR is one of my favourites, and visiting Hyde Park made for one of the best days I’ve had since I started blogging. The museum is huge, and you get to see the actual office FDR worked in when he was back home (not to mention three of his custom wheelchairs). Highly recommended!

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Not far from FDR’s home and museum, you’ll find Lindenwald, former home of the often-overlooked Martin Van Buren.  Though his presidency wasn’t particularly memorable, his house was lovely, and I’ll always treasure the picture I took with his statue.

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My parents live less than an hour away from Canton, Ohio, so I’ve spent a lot of time visiting the presidential sites around there.  There’s the William McKinley museum with an animatronic William and Ida, and even the Canton Classic Car Museum has a large display case devoted to this famous former local.

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And, the National First Ladies Museum is also in Canton, in Ida Saxton McKinley’s old mansion. Though the guided tour wasn’t my favourite, the museum itself has some interesting objects.

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Also quite near to my parents’ home (though in the opposite direction) is Lawnfield, James A Garfield’s former home, which I visited for the first time last year.  I think Garfield’s story is one of the most poignant of all the presidents, and this National Parks site is definitely worth a visit.

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Though FDR will always be my favourite Roosevelt, I know there are those who are partial to TR.  If you’re looking for a presidential site smack in the middle of New York City, then the Theodore Roosevelt Birthplace Museum is a good bet.  The entire house is a reconstruction, but it contains many of the Roosevelt’s original furnishings, and the museum has the shirt Teddy was shot in whilst giving a campaign speech, amongst many other treasures.



Hope this inspires you to visit some presidential sites yourself (I know I’m planning on seeing more the next time I’m back in America!).  Of course, if you happen to be in London, like I am, never fear, as you can visit the excellent statue of FDR and Churchill on Bond Street (though you might not want to get quite as flirty with FDR as I did)! There’s a couple more presidential statues scattered throughout the British capital, so you could make a scavenger hunt of it and try to find them all, or head out to the Kennedy Memorial in Runnymede, which is technically American soil, if you’re really feeling homesick!  Happy Presidents’ Day!



Canton, Ohio: Canton Classic Car Museum

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If you think I typically enjoy car museums, you’d be wrong; however, if you think the Classic Car Museum in Canton is anything like a normal car museum, you’d also be wrong.  I’ve been to a lot of museums in Canton, and they all seem to share a delightful sense of quirkiness; looking at the above photos, you can quickly see their car museum is no exception.  I was greeted at the door by Norm, who I later found out was having his 86th birthday that day.  He was just an exceptionally sweet and lovely guy who was eager to help with any questions (plus I have a total soft spot for old people because of my awesome (now deceased) grandparents).  Admission was $7.50, which I initially thought (anticipating the museum would be quite small) was a bit spendy, however, after actually experiencing all the museum had to offer, I think it was a fair price.

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Now, I’ve been to a lot of museums in my time that were essentially just random collections of crap, but right from the start, this was one of the most extensive and eclectic (and in a nicer building than most).  On their website, they essentially promise something for everyone, and they weren’t lying.  The first room was large and open, but the walls were covered in old signs, and there were cases everywhere filled with old toys, hood ornaments, and pretty much every other kind of old, random junk you could think of (in fact, they had a case of “mystery items,”of which you were supposed to guess their use).  There’s even a scavenger hunt that you can do, which was surprisingly hard given the number of objects to be found.

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Since it is close to Christmas, they’d put up a few trees, and draped boas and Santa hats over their collection of cardboard cutouts of old movie stars.  I jumped a little when a mini-Bruce the Talking Spruce who was evidently motion activated starting suddenly singing at me (is Bruce the Talking Spruce just a Cleveland thing, or do other cities have similar anthropomorphic trees?  I’m not counting that creepy-ass talking oak tree In London’s Winter Wonderland because Bruce was adorable but that oak tree freaks me out).  Speaking of creepy things, there was a clown who looked like his face was melting stood in one corner, amongst other, slightly less frightening clowns.  Coulrophobes beware!

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The next room was the “Canton History Room,” with the usual sorts of things about local businesses and local history, but of course, William McKinley lived in Canton, and you must all know by now how much I adore presidential history.  (Also, everyone please take note of the McKinley and Hanna political cartoon above, apparently drawn by a William Jennings Bryan supporter.)  Thus, the McKinley display case was an absorbing find.

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It was only one small case, but there was a lot crammed into it.  You can see his top hat above, but I’m including a few more highlights below…

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The picture on the left is of Katie McKinley’s baby bracelet.  Both the McKinley daughters died in childhood; little Ida as an infant, and Katie at the age of 4, from typhoid fever, thus the bracelet was probably a poignant reminder for Ida (Sr.) and William.  In the back of the photo on the right, you can see a sort of assemble-it-yourself paper doll of President McKinley.  That’s the kind of paper doll I would have loved as a child (though those historical American Girl ones weren’t too bad either!).

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Above you’ll see some kind of odd attempt to make the largest flag in the world, which appears to have taken place outside the McKinley memorial, and finally, a memorial plaque made for McKinley.  I was already super excited about all of this, but the next room had a hat rack full of old fashioned hats that you could put on for a photo op.  I’d just watched the film Laura, with Gene Tierney and Clifton Webb, and so my choice was inspired by one of the chapeaux Laura donned in the film, though I am sadly nowhere near as attractive as Gene Tierney, especially with my chin wodged on a wooden cutout and making a stupid face.

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Like the rooms that preceded it, this one was also full of curiosities.  Judging solely by the plaid “invalid style” blanket next to him, I believe there was a life sized cartoonish FDR mannequin, but he could have equally been George Bush the younger.  You’ll probably already have spotted the Frankenstein racer and the mummy at the start of the post, and there were a lot of hatters’ head mannequins modelling the styles of yesteryear congregated in one corner.

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Being a fan of the grim and morbid, I was pleasantly surprised to see a small mock-up of a funeral home set up, I suppose, because there was an antique hearse next to it (I should mention that there were cars throughout this whole gallery, but there was so much other stuff I could effectively just ignore them.  But if like a normal person, you have come to a car museum expecting cars, then don’t fear, you will see plenty of them!).

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I kind of love the picture on the right, a dark reminder to “Drive Carefully.” I almost hate to tell you, for fear of putting you off visiting, but there were more clowns in here, in the form of a puppet show that jangled around when you pressed a button.  I don’t like clowns myself, but I promise that except for the melting face one I described earlier, most of the ones here were really not that scary, and none of them are real, so please don’t let them deter you!

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I was amazed to find that there were still more rooms after this; like the TARDIS, the museum was bigger on the inside.  The next room was mostly cars, but I didn’t care because they had Neil Zurcher’s car.  For those of you who aren’t from Northeast Ohio (or over the age of 50, probably), Neil Zurcher was this old guy on a local news channel who drove around in a snazzy car on “One Tank Trips;” basically a segment on slightly offbeat places in the local area that you could get to and back from on one tank of gas.  I think largely because I spent a tonne of time over my grandparents’ house, and often watched TV with them or read whatever books they had laying around, I am very familiar with his work (and in fact, have discovered quite a lot of places around Ohio myself through his books), so it was kind of neat to see his car.

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(That picture on the right is of Bobby Kennedy, before and after airbrushing.  Just thought it was kind of interesting).

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I apologise for the even crappier than normal quality of the above photos, but seriously, aren’t those the ugliest Beatles dolls you’ve ever seen?  Paul is straight-up scary, not to mention Ringo, who wasn’t attractive under the best of circumstances!  And I have an FDR doll that I dearly love, but I think I’d also love to have the one on the right.  Still no wheelchair, but he is wearing a hat, and that is a splendid suit!

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(And yes, that is a guitar made out of a toilet seat behind Elvis’s antler-bedecked head).  As you can see, I had at last wandered into a gallery that was mostly cars, but still with touches of whimsy throughout.  A close-up of the balcony (and part of my finger) is below , and you might spot some familiar faces…

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I found a children’s mechanical reindeer ride, with dimes already laid out for my convenience, so I had to try it, but it felt unfortunately like riding some weird vibrating machine (if you get my drift), and left me with very itchy thighs.   It may have been part of the memorabilia from a long defunct local amusement park called Meyers Lake, along with some awesome-looking arcade machines and games that were sadly no longer working (or maybe they were, but they were blocked off by a rope).

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There was a small shop at the end of all this, from which I purchased a few postcards from lovely Norm (and “all this” meant wandering through about six huge rooms, plus lots of little nooks), but I capped off my visit with a stroll down a side hallway, where I finally espied a typed portrait of FDR made by an inmate that was mentioned on their website.

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I really, really enjoyed my time at this most unusual “car museum.” Sure, a lot of it probably was junk, but there were some gems hidden amongst the collections, particularly all the wonderful presidential artefacts, and I think most people would probably have a good reminisce over all the nostalgic old toys.  And of course, there are the cars too, I mustn’t forget those. Apparently, the collection was curated by both the late Marshall Belden Sr, and his wife, which explains why there is a mix of cars and well, everything else (so a big thanks to Florence Belden!).  I promised Norm I’d spread the word, so that’s what I’m doing here.  Please pay them a visit if you get the chance and you like old stuff arranged with an “old general store” aesthetic, as it really is more than just a car museum!  4/5

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Canton, Ohio: National First Ladies’ Library


I’m currently back in Ohio for a visit for the first time since I’ve started this blog, so I can finally begin to remedy my neglect of my old home state. Obviously, NE Ohio (or Cleveland+, as I believe they’re trying to call it now) has can’t compete with the history, and consequently, the number of museums in Britain, but it’s not a total cultural wasteland.  The first place I’ll discuss is one I visited last weekend – the National First Ladies’ Library.

You may be thinking to yourself at this point, “What? The National Library dedicated to all the First Ladies is in some city in Ohio I’ve never heard of?!”  Well, yes it is, and what’s more, it’s not even terribly big, and was only founded in 1995 .  A rather shameful neglect of the poor ladies if you ask me.  The reason it’s in Canton, so far as I can tell, is because the founder of the organisation lived there, and because Ida Saxton McKinley‘s home was available to house the library.  Ida Saxton McKinley, as you may recall from a much earlier post, was the sickly wife of William McKinley, the president who is probably most famous for starting the Spanish American War, and for being assassinated at the Pan-American Exposition in 1901 (for more reading on McKinley, I’d recommend The President and the Assassin, which is surprisingly riveting).  She was something of a local belle, and had a rather large mansion in Canton, which served as the McKinley family home for a number of years.  However, it is not the same house as the one in McKinley’s famous “Front Porch Campaign,” as the family had moved out in 1891.

Still with me?  All right, so the set-up of the First Ladies’ Library is somewhat confusing, and the website doesn’t explain it very clearly, but fortunately my mother had visited a number of times before, so she knew the drill.  The library (which is actually a museum, at least as far as non-scholars are concerned) is divided between two buildings in downtown Canton, which are separated by a few parking lots.  After parking in one of them (for which you’ll have to buzz the library to get the access code to open the gate), you first proceed to the old bank building, which houses the temporary exhibits.  There you’ll pay admission, normally $7, though free on the day I visited, and receive a brief introduction to the collections.  During my visit, the theme was First Ladies and the Press, and the displays consisted of twelve miniature replicas of dresses worn by various First Ladies, correspondence between (you guessed it) First Ladies and the press, White House china, and other memorabilia.  The most interesting things were probably the old newspapers, which I was meant to be reading for the obituaries, but the advertisements in them were just as intriguing.

The film room was adjacent to the main display room, and featured six short films.  I watched one on invalid First Ladies, and I have to say that they stretched the definition of the Victorian era quite a bit, as it does have finite dates, and calling Ellen Wilson and Elizabeth Monroe Victorian First Ladies is not entirely accurate, especially as Elizabeth died 7 years before Victoria even took the throne.  The content was also lacking – because it was so short, it only offered the briefest overview, when I would have liked detailed information on their specific conditions.  It only took about half an hour to look around the bank building and watch a couple films, as the collection was quite small.  However, tours of the next site, the McKinley house, are only offered once an hour (on the half an hour), so time your visit carefully.  Because there were so many people waiting (probably on account of the free admission), they offered a 2 o’clock tour, but I’m not sure if that is normally the case.

Now, one of the many, many things I hate is guided tours.  There’s inevitably always a couple of people who push ahead and then stand in front of things so you can’t see them, and another person who will ask really stupid questions.  However, it is the only way to see the Saxton McKinley House, so I sucked it up and went along with the crowd.  The tours are done by a costumed guide in the guise of one of the First Ladies; on my tour, we got Sarah Polk.  She wasn’t actually in character or anything, she was just wearing a hoop skirt, and told us she was meant to be Sarah Polk.  She didn’t even regale us with any specific Sarah Polk facts.


The McKinley home is a pretty standard American Victorian affair, lots and lots of green wallpaper (presumably reproductions of the original Scheele’s Green, which was made with arsenic) and knick-knacks everywhere (clearly the American nouveau riche didn’t share the disdain of the British upper classes for tat).  The rooms were perfectly lovely, if you’re into overdone Victorian decorating (which I kind of am), but not especially noteworthy, save for one on the third floor which was like another small museum, and had a plaque on each of the First Ladies, as well as some of their artefacts, including two of Ida’s dresses.  The thing to remember about the First Ladies is that they weren’t necessarily all just the presidents’ wives; in the case of widower or bachelor presidents (I’m looking at you, possibly secretly gay James Buchanan!) they were nieces or daughters or whoever wanted to assume the entertaining duties; Dolley Madison took on the job for Thomas Jefferson, which led to rumours of their having an affair.  So the plaques were really quite interesting, but I rather wish they had been in the bank building instead so I could have had more time to study them, as time was limited within the confines of the tour.  As these sorts of things do, the tour ended in the gift shop, which has a few postcards, and some books on the presidents and First Ladies that looked appealing, though not appealing enough to pay standard retail prices I guess (I might consider it if I’m ever not completely broke).

It’s hard to rate the First Ladies’ Library, because I appreciate what they’re trying to do, and I’m glad someone is out there doing it, because I’m fascinated by presidential history, and I think the stories of the First Ladies need to be told as well.  In addition to this, the Saxton McKinley house was in a complete state of disrepair when they were given it and they’ve obviously completed extensive renovation work based largely on photographs of the original house.  That said, I think something was lacking in the whole experience, and the collections were small and limited; the library is run in conjunction with the National Parks Department, and they need to pour a lot more money into it (although that seems unlikely, particularly with the current state of affairs).  They do put on special events from time to time, like teas, which my mother has attended and enjoyed, and she said that she’s had better tours as well; obviously it depends which volunteer is running them, so your experience may vary.  3/5, but I’d love to see some big improvements, because it’s a fascinating subject matter, and I’d like to see them thrive in future.

Canton, Ohio: William McKinley Museum


Since I haven’t been in the States since last December, most of my posts have, by necessity, been very UK-centric.  I thought I’d liven things up a bit for any American readers with a post about one of my favourite museums in Ohio, the William McKinley Presidential Library and Museum.  Located in Canton, near Ida McKinley‘s childhood home and the First Ladies’ Library (which, shamefully, I have yet to visit), it’s a worthy destination for anyone in Northeast Ohio.

For some idea of scale.  Yep, those doors are huge!

For some idea of scale. Yep, those doors are huge!

One of my goals is to eventually visit all the presidential museums in the US, but as my current total stands at one, that’s going to take some doing.  I haven’t even made it to the other ones in Ohio, like Hayes, Harding, and Taft, which is really just a poor show on my part.  I have been to Garfield’s tomb in Lakeview cemetery many times, but never to his actual home, largely because it used to be run by the Western Reserve Historical Society, and Western Reserve has upset me with its decline in quality over the years.  In fact, I’d never even been to the McKinley Museum until about two years ago, despite having lived within forty miles of it for most of my life (which may sound like a lot to British readers, but forty miles is nothing in America.  My dad has been known to make the drive to Canton for the sole purpose of procuring a Bittner from Taggart’s. (Taggart’s is admittedly well worth visiting if you’re already in Canton for McKinley.  I’m partial to their hot fudge sundaes myself.)).  This is all a roundabout way of me explaining that I don’t have any other presidential museums to compare McKinley’s with, so I don’t know if it’s a typical example of its type or not.

This picture was taken in October.  The trees will not be this pretty if you visit now.

This picture was taken in October. The trees will not be this pretty if you visit now.

The first thing you’ll notice as you drive up to the museum is the giant mausoleum at the top of a hill.  A hill that is accessible by walking up about a million steps.  Many locals seem to use these steps for their cardio routines, including running and some strange aerobics moves, so you’ll have to dodge them on the way up, but will be rewarded by a nice view (see above).  If you come in non-winter months, you should be able to have a peek inside the mausoleum wherein William and Ida are interred.  It’s not as ornate as Garfield’s tomb, but then again, it was built well after the peak of Victorian ostentation (which I’m not knocking, I have a lot of random crap in my flat), so that’s to be expected.  It’s totally free to just come check out the mausoleum, but obviously you’ll want to have a look round the museum as well, which is $8.


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I always like to head upstairs first, where you’ll come across a tiny room screening a film about the financing and construction of the mausoleum and the planetarium, which I have never been in.  The shows are sporadic, and that’s not really what I’m there for, though you might want to check their website for the times if it appeals to you.  The first section of the museum is devoted to the history of Canton, and you’ll learn that the early settlers all have satisfyingly long-winded biblical names.  I swear one of them was called Zebezekial or something.  There are a few displays of various machinery, and more of clothing and furniture as you progress through time.  Sometimes a volunteer will be passing through and offer to show you how some of the stuff works, including an old crank record player that isn’t a Victrola, but some other rare type that actually had impressive resonance.


This is blurry because of the spinning, I swear! Though I have no excuse for all the other blurry pictures on here.

The best things about this section are the interactives, which are primarily the vacuum chair, and the spinny thing shown above.  Canton is the home of Hoover vacuums (side note, British people call vacuuming “hoovering,” yet every vacuum I’ve used here has either been a Dyson or Miele.  Intriguing), so the museum has devised a chair hanging from a chain which is hooked up to a Hoover. You sit down, and the vacuum will suck the chair upward until your legs are dangling.  I suppose it’s at least a good advertisement for the power of a Hoover, and is also fun. I could spend all day messing around in the vacuum chair, but I can usually only handle about one rotation of the spinning thing before I want to hurl.  I think it’s supposed to be demonstrating the power of different types of force, but is really just a self-powered glorified carnival ride, which can probably be better appreciated by people who don’t suffer from motion sickness.


To add to the carnival atmosphere, they also have a Laughing Sal, and her maniacal laugh will indeed haunt you as you make your way through the rest of the museum.  There is a back room which is generally used for special exhibits; the ones I recall seeing were dollhouses and Christmas ornaments, but they change every couple of months.  Excitingly, you’re not done yet, as there is still a “street of yesteryear” awaiting you.  I am totally unashamed about my love for these recreated 19th century streets you see every now and again.  Although this one lacks the authentic smells that I adore, it’s nonetheless a good effort.


The museum seems like it’s never terribly crowded, so I have generally been able to wander the street alone and pretend that I have somehow travelled back in time (because I am that lame).  It’s not like a living history museum or anything, so there’s not people there to pester you.  Rather, they’ve replaced actual people with mannequins sporting hilariously bad wigs, which I think we can all agree is a thousand times better than having to converse with some random person who is trying to stay in character.


You can pop in and out of various shops, and they’ve even got a set of stairs leading up to a second row of shops.  The firehouse has a pole you can slide down, but I chicken out every time.  The thing is seriously only seven feet high, at most, and there’s a giant cushion on the bottom, and I have witnessed tiny children gleefully sliding down it, but I can’t bring myself to do it.  Every time, I climb to the top of the stairs and think I’ll be able to, but, nope, I’m inevitably forced to slink back down the stairs in shame.  I honestly don’t even know why I’m admitting this.  There’s just something about having to step out over a sheer drop that freaks me out, and I totally don’t trust my arms to actually hold me on the pole.


There’s also a train room with a large model train track.  I gather that many people like trains, so this may be of interest.  I like miniature things, so I’m happy to look at the tiny buildings and people set up around the track, but I’m not that keen on actual trains.  I guess I have to ride insanely crowded trains that reek of B.O. and rancid burgers far too often in London for me to appreciate the nostalgia for the quaint age of train travel that exists in the US.  I will concede that there is a big difference between a packed commuter train and an old steam train with nicely upholstered seats and wooden trim.


You may be wondering where William McKinley fits into all of this, as I’ve managed to write over a thousand words whilst barely mentioning him.  The truth is, there’s not actually all that much about McKinley in the museum.  The only part devoted to him is one large room full of display cases and a recreation of his parlour.  I can almost forgive this oversight because smack-dab in the middle of the parlour, animatronic William and Ida McKinley await you.  They only have about three different conversations programmed in, all of which you’ll hear more than once in the time it takes you to look at the displays in the room.  I don’t think this is really the place to get into politics, and the legacy of McKinley, but I know he’s not very well looked upon by a lot of people due to the Spanish-American war, and you know, the whole imperalism thing.  Though I’m no McKinley apologist, I tend to take a longer view of the situation, as I think imperialism was a long, probably inevitable road that has its roots in the Louisiana Purchase and the Monroe Doctrine, but even I couldn’t help making some snide remarks to animatronic William when he started going on about wanting to avoid war and bloodshed (“But you must remember the Maine, Willy! You used it to help start a war!”).  Yes, I talk to animatronic presidents, even though he is not the type of animatronic that is interactive.  I have also been known to converse with Bruce the Talking Spruce, but that’s another story altogether.  I did try to warn William off from visiting the Pan-American Exposition, but I kind of think that’s what they expect you to do.


Anyway, the non-talking artefacts in here are pretty good.  They include some Maine (the battleship, not the state) shaped commemorative objects, and various articles of McKinley clothing.  It’s nice to learn more about McKinley’s life, rather than just his politics, as I tend to favour the biographical side of presidential history.  I just wish there was a bit more of it here.  But all this only covers the top floor of the museum.  There is still a lower level to contend with.


Fortunately, I can dispense with that fairly quickly.  The downstairs is aimed at children, though that didn’t stop me from playing with all the interactive science exhibits, as always.  They have some dinosaurs, including the one above, which moves when you least expect it (you will jump), and some geological stuff, and a collection of small animals to look at (living ones, not taxidermy).  This is the main thing that annoys me about the McKinley Museum; I feel like it’s trying to be all things to all people.  I could happily do without the dinosaurs in favour of more displays on presidential history, but I suppose to attract repeat visitors in the area, they have to have activities that appeal to families, and that’s where the dinosaurs come in.


After all that, I’m going to give the McKinley Museum 4/5, because it does include my top museum criteria of historic recreated streets, wax figures, and the animatronic McKinleys.  I’m happy enough with the Canton history section, but I do wish they could find the focus to make it more of a McKinley orientated attraction.  I don’t think it’s unreasonable to expect that a presidential museum should be mainly about said president.  However, for a smallish, local museum, they do what they’ve chosen to do well, and with no shortage of quirk, so despite my complaints, it will remain on my list of favourites.