William McKinley
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Arty Fact

More about William McKinley

sjohnson's picture


I don't know about you, but I knew literally nothing about the Presidential subject of Benziger's William McKinley, despite receiving schooling in the USA.

It's not often that people in the US talk about McKinley -  even though he was the last Civil War veteran president, he's just a name to most people, maybe the name of a mountain they once knew. C-SPAN, with its strange mixture of "eighth grade social studies substitute teacher" and "QVC special" vibes, corrected a social injustice on Aug. 23, 1999 by devoting over two hours and thirty-five minutes to its Life Portrait of William McKinley. It's gotten a whopping 4,109 views. "In what way, exactly, is McKinley's tomb the biggest Presidential tomb?" the producer asks an expert in one riveting exchange. Oh, just in terms of its sheer size, the expert responds. More interestingly, a caller tells us that McKinley joined the masons because he liked the way Northern masons and Southern masons got along even though they were at war. 

One way to remember McKinley seems to be reflecting on the enormous technological advances that marked his Presidency. He was the first sitting president to ride in an automobile, and the car's speed of twenty-eight miles per hour was quite dangerous. He was famous for caring for his ill wife, who fainted at least once from the cannon blasts in honor of her husband. He upended convention by insisting that she sit next to him at state dinners. He also led the military in the ten-week Spanish-American War, which set a new bar for expansionism, good or not so good. 

There's a popular story, told by an anonymous 1906 Cincinnati Times-Star feature, and by Benziger's daughter, Marieli Benziger, over fifty years later, that McKinley said, when he saw this portrait, "Benziger, you've caught my soul." According to Marieli Benziger, her father painted this work as quickly as possible. "May the deep vision and faith of men like your President McKinley, whom it was my privilege to paint, live on," Benziger the elder eulogized, at a "huge stag dinner" thrown by A. Howard Hinkle in the artist's honor. This work was donated to the Smithsonian by Marieli Benziger in 1969. 




  1. Benziger, August. Portraits of great men and women of our time; with interesting testimonials by the most prominent art critics and leading men of intellect of France, England, Switzerland and America… New York: Wynkoop Hallenberk Crawford Company, 1917.
  2. Benziger, Marieli G. August Benziger: Portrait Painter. Norman, OK: AH Clark, 1958.
  3. Benziger, Marieli, and Janet Reberdy. August Benziger: International Portrait Painter. New York: Rowman and Littlefield, 1993.
  4. Cincinnati Times-Star. Oct. 16, 1906.
  5. "Life Portrait of William McKinley." C-SPAN, Aug. 23, 1999,
  6. Skrabec, Quentin R. William McKinley, Apostle of Protectionism. New York: Algora, 2008.
  7. "William McKinley." NPG,