Symbols of Good Conduct, and of Christmas, at the Ohio Statehouse

During our tour of the Worthington Masonic Museum, Chad Simpson told us not only that President William McKinley was a Mason, but also that there’s a subtle Masonic reference in the McKinley Memorial at the Ohio Statehouse. The other day, I walked over to the Statehouse to see it for myself.

The McKinley Memorial is the star attraction of the west side of the Statehouse and Capitol Square.

New York sculptor Homer A. MacNeil used photographs and a model who posed in clothing provided by President McKinley’s tailor to ensure the likeness of McKinley’s statue that stands at the center of the memorial. The statue faces west, looking across High Street to the site of the old Neil House Hotel, where the McKinleys lived during their time in Columbus. The statue’s placement recalls how, when the red-carnation-wearing McKinley walked to work every morning, he paused to wave to his invalid wife as she looked out the window of their room.

While I’ve always admired McKinley’s statue and the sweet story behind its placement, I’ve neglected to pay much attention to the grouping of statues on either side of the monument. Representing Peace and Prosperity, each statue is depicted as an adult guiding and instructing a young person. While the female figure of Peace holds a palm frond and draws a girl close to her, the statue illustrating Prosperity shows a man teaching a boy how to use the tools of industry, which led to much of our nation’s prosperity. The boy holds a compass, which Chad said symbolizes virtuous conduct and actions for Masons.

When the McKinley Memorial was unveiled on September 14, 1906, over 50,000 people attended. Alice Roosevelt Longworth, wife of Ohio Congressman Nicholas Longworth and the daughter of McKinley’s Vice President, Theodore Roosevelt, was the guest of honor at the ceremony.

Before I walked back to work, I went inside the Statehouse to see this year’s holiday decorations. In the Atrium, a Christmas tree is decorated with ornaments typical during the period from 1850 to 1870. Bunches of cinnamon sticks, dried flowers, gingerbread figures, fruit, hedge apples, paper Santas, pheasant feathers, alum crystals, faux coral (sticks dipped in wax), pinecones, strands of popcorn and tin stars are some of the things mid-19th century Ohioans might have used to adorn their Christmas trees. On the Ground Floor, I saw display cases filled with holiday items from Ohio Historical Society collections and some vintage “Edison Mazda Lamps” for Christmas trees that came in some neat packaging.

No visit to the Statehouse is complete without browsing in the Statehouse Museum Shop. A favorite hangout of mine since it opened in 1996, the store is filled with unique, Ohio-themed gifts. Ohio Statehouse: A Building for the Ages, a new book written by Capitol Square Review and Advisory Board staff members Cheryl J. Straker and Chris Matheney, is one of its newest items for sale. The book provides an interesting history of the Statehouse, Senate Building, Atrium and grounds. It was a perfect Christmas gift to give to two friends who spent their careers working Downtown.

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This entry was posted in Art, Books, Columbus, History, Holidays. Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Symbols of Good Conduct, and of Christmas, at the Ohio Statehouse

  1. Cindy Spikowski says:

    I had forgotten about McKinley wearing a red carnation and that he waved to his wife at the Neil House – thank you for reminding me. We often visited the statle capitol building after school. We enjoyed sitting and looking up at the seal of Ohio. Once, we even saw the governor!

  2. Darylee says:

    Nice. Too many just ignore the artwork of these statues. Have you gone to the topiary park behind (east of) the main library?

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