More snow falls on the President William McKinley memorial in Chicago's McKinley Park.

McKinley Memorial On Chopping Block in Chicago Monuments Project

Published February 18, 2021

The William McKinley monument in Chicago's McKinley Park is under scrutiny for possible change or removal in the Chicago Monuments Project, a City of Chicago-run effort to examine Chicago's historic monuments in the context of historic racism and oppression. The monument to President William McKinley, located at the northwest corner of McKinley Park near South Western Boulevard and South Archer Avenue, is one of 41 citywide on the monuments project list.

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On the Project page of its website, the Chicago Monuments Project provides a number of reasons why these monuments were chosen from a collection of over 500 in Chicago's public spaces, including "memorializing individuals with connections to racist acts, slavery and genocide." In 1898, McKinley supported and signed into law the annexation of Hawaii, and led U.S. territorial expansion after the Spanish-American War of 1898 to take over the colonies of Puerto Rico, Guam and the Philippines. 

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The McKinley monument, built in 1904 following the assassination death of the president, includes a sculpture created by well-known Chicago artist Charles Mulligan. As detailed in a feature report from WBEZ Chicago, the bronze metal for the McKinley statue came from a widely reviled Christopher Columbus statue that stood in Grant Park until being removed at the public's demand.

Kaʻiulani Park

The McKinley memorial was vandalized on December 9, 2020, including an unsuccessful attempt to pull down the statue. As previously reported here in the McKinley Park News, Chicago police stated a possible connection with a November 25, 2020, protest advocating removal of the statue and renaming McKinley Park to Kaʻiulani Park after Princess Kaʻiulani, the deposed indigenous leader who fought against annexation of Hawaii.

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Other monuments on the Chicago Monuments Project list include five for Abraham Lincoln, Benjamin Franklin and George Washington monuments, other historic figures, idealized depictions of Native Americans and Western conquest, and plaques and engravings across the city.

The Chicago Monuments Project has completed the objectives listed on its website to catalog public art and form an advisory committee, which consists of civic and arts program leaders, Chicago aldermen, artists and students. Its two other objectives are "making recommendations for new monuments or public art" and creating a platform for civic dialogue on Chicago history.

Memorial, Park and Community Area

The Participate page of the Chicago Monuments Project website lists a number of public engagement methods for Chicagoans to provide feedback into the project, including a community partner Request For Proposal with a $1,500 stipend, artists applications for reimagining monuments, drop-in conversations (that are already mostly filled up) and a coming speaker series.

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Like some other memorials listed by the project, the McKinley memorial has its namesake formally tied to local geography: It is housed in the Chicago Park District's McKinley Park and sited in the McKinley Park Community Area of Chicago, one of Chicago's 77 officially designated community areas.

In a message posted to the Twitter service on Wednesday, February 17, 2021, 12th Ward Alderman George Cardenas expressed opposition to making changes to the McKinley monument. "Leave McKinley Park alone please!" he wrote.

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