This Is No Ordinary Knife!

This might look like a plain old knife to you, but it has a Presidential connection!

Naomi Baker's knife from the McKinleysAppreciating its significance calls for some history. Orphaned at a young age, my great-grandmother Julia O’Connor Born was brought up by Miss Naomi Baker, a blind lady who ran a boarding house on Poplar Street in Columbus.

Naomi Baker

Naomi Baker

Miss Baker spent the first part of her life in Canton, Ohio, where she was employed as a domestic servant by future President William McKinley and his wife, Ida. When Miss Baker left Canton to start a rooming house in Columbus, the McKinleys gave her a set of silverware for her boarders to use. Before Miss Baker died about 1920, she gave my great-grandmother a knife from her McKinley silverware.

Ida Saxton McKinley had good taste in more than just silverware. She had a penchant for beautiful gowns, which I’ve blogged about here and here.

The McKinley Presidential Library & Museum is conserving Mrs. McKinley’s dresses, a project which I described in “Trimmed and Ornamented: First Lady Ida McKinley’s Dresses and Gowns” (PieceWork, July/August 2013, pp. 36-40). Now, the museum is also selling Century Farmhouse’s Red Carnation Soap, which Ann Marie Craig created for last year’s Country Living Fair in Columbus after being inspired by the red carnation that President McKinley wore every day on his lapel.

Mrs. McKinley also used her crocheting talent to help others. I wrote about how she crocheted more than 4,000 pairs of slippers during her lifetime in “First Lady Ida Saxton McKinley and Her Crocheted Slippers” (PieceWork, November/December 2013, pp. Naomi Baker's knife from the McKinleys47-49; followed by “Ida McKinley’s Slippers to Crochet,” a companion project).

There’s much more to Mrs. McKinley than fashionable clothes and crocheted slippers. She struggled with precarious health and periods of depression after the early deaths of her two daughters, then had to endure the assassination of her husband. Carl Sferrazza Anthony takes an engrossing look at how her life became increasingly challenging in Ida McKinley: The Turn-of-the-Century First Lady through War, Assassination and Secret Disability. Released in November 2013, it’s the first full-length biography of Mrs. McKinley.

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