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Issue 21 

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JOURNAL OF GREAT WATERS ASSOCIATION OF VEXILLOLOGY

June 2006                                                     Vol. XI,  No. 1, Issue 21

 

THE McKINLEY CASKET FLAG CONTROVERSY  


 

           

The McKinley flag in Canton
Photo by J.P.

 

            For more than 100 years, the Church of the Savior United Methodist in Canton, Ohio, believed that the 45-star flag they had stored away was the flag that had covered the casket of President William McKinley after his assassination in  September, 1901.  The flag had been presented to the church by McKinley’s wife, Ida, since both were long-time members of the congregation.                     

            Another flag of the period, belonging to Shawn Kennedy of Battle Ground, WA, was also reputed to have covered the casket, according to a story told by Kennedy’s great-grandfather, Charles, who was a bodyguard to McKinley.  To determine if that were true, Shawn asked the Public Broadcasting System series, History Detectives, to research the case.  Accordingly, PBS sent co-host Wes Cowan and a TV crew  to Canton, along with a flag appraiser, Dr. Jeffrey Kenneth Kohn, a retired psychiatrist from Philadelphia, PA.  They examined both the church flag and Kennedy’s , but were unable to come to an agreement about whether either flag had been used in the funeral.  The crew moved on to the McKinley Museum to examine more photos, and will air their conclusions on the show sometime this summer (the series begins anew  this month).

            Meanwhile, Beth Odell, the chair of the church’s History and Archives Committee, a student at the University of Akron in a master’s program in clothing, textiles, and interiors, began an extensive research project herself at the McKinley Museum and the National Archives in Washington, DC,  gathering materials  to determine whether either flag may have covered the casket.  On the basis of her research so far, she is inclined to think that neither did, at least at the funeral, because that flag, as shown in photographs of the time, had larger stars than the other two.  Mrs. McKinley certainly gave a flag to the church, but where she may have gotten it cannot be determined.  The church’s flag is taken out of storage annually on McKinley’s birthday (January 29) for display in the church’s sanctuary.  (JP)

 

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