TOWNSHIP – On January 25, 1871, William McKinley, a promising lawyer, married Ida Saxton, a popular young woman known as “La Belle de Canton”.
Their wedding took place in the newly rebuilt Presbyterian Church of Christ, which would not have had its first service until four months later.
To mark the couple’s 150th anniversary, 530 Tuscarawas St. W Church will present “I Thee Wed”, a re-enactment of the Saxton-McKinley wedding at 6:30 pm and 7:30 pm on June 4th.
An opening event will take place at 5 p.m.
“I Thee Wed” also includes historic walks to the Stark County Courthouse, Crossroads United Methodist, Canton Depot and the National First Ladies’ Library.
Who will represent wedding party members William and Ida McKinley?
Christ Church members Adam and Bonnie Wiggins will introduce the engaged couple. Ben and Kate George will serve as witness and bridesmaid respectively.
Ida’s parents will be played by Steve and Byrdie Stocker.
Reverend Michael Wallace, associate pastor, cultivates a set of “moutonchop” favorites to represent Reverend Ebenezer Buckingham, who led the ceremony in 1871.
“He was late for the wedding; they had to go find him,” Wallace said with a laugh. “So, we’ll incorporate that as well.”
The idea arose two years ago from a conversation between Jennifer George, a church alumnus, and Jennifer Highland, president and CEO of the National First Ladies’ Library.
George said the re-enactment was supposed to take place in January but the plans were threatened by the pandemic.
“I’m glad we can have it now,” said George, who will narrate the program.
William and Ida McKinley’s wedding in 1871, an important event in Canton
According to the original story, William McKinley, who attended what is now Crossroads United Methodist Church, regularly crossed paths with the Saxton family on the Presbyterian Christ path.
Finally, McKinley suggested to Ida, “I think it would be great if we walked the same way,” to which Ida would have replied, “I think so too.”
George said the wedding was an important community event.
“The Saxton family was the big deal of the day,” she said.
Michelle Guillon, of the National First Ladies’ Library, said it was also the first big event for Christ Church, where the Saxtons played a big role.
Presbyterian Christ marks his bicentenary in September.
Wallace said the Saxtons were extremely influential, noting that Ida Saxton sat on the building committee and that her grandfather, Canton Repository founder John Saxton, was one of its early elders.
“Without the Saxtons, I don’t know if we would be here,” he said.
George said the members were putting all of their energy into preparing the unfinished church for the wedding. Estimates place guests between 500 and 700.
“The city was delighted to see the interior of the new church,” she said. “It has been exciting to dig into it. It was a great event for the history of Canton and for the history of this building. There is something exciting about being able to grasp those roots. It makes us say, ‘How can we stay vibrant fresh for another 200 years? ‘”
Getting the finer details correctly
Guillon said he obtained period clothing for the attendees, including a vintage Victorian-era wedding dress. According to reports, Ida McKinley wore her wedding dress during her husband’s presidential inaugurations in 1897 and 1901, and on their 25th wedding anniversary, but it has since been lost.
George and Gullion said Ida and her sister were “fashionistas,” who wore colorful dresses to parties when white was the social rule of the day.
“She was very about the bling; pearls and diamonds,” said George.
Wallace said they had researched Victorian wedding traditions and the Presbyterian and Methodist liturgies used during this time. They will also rediscover traditions such as the “gift” of the bride, the joining of hands, and giving witnesses a chance to oppose.
Only the bride will receive a ring.
“We don’t know if they kissed,” said Wallace, who will lead the promulgation from the church’s original pulpit in 1871. A few original pews from 1871 will be brought into the shrine.
Christ Church organist Heather Cooper will read her hair back and adorn a black costume to represent 1871 organist Victor Phistie.
Cooper, who liked to research the music of the day, said the selections would include Felix Mendelssohn’s “Wedding March” made popular after Queen Victoria’s eldest daughter performed it at her wedding in 1858. ; “Beautiful Dreamer” by Stephen Foster; and “Triumphant March” by Dudley Buck.
“As Jenny says, there will be music that kind of evokes this nostalgic period of America,” she says.
The church will also feature an exhibit of historical artifacts from the period, including a letter McKinley wrote inviting Governor Rutherford B. Hayes to the wedding. McKinley served under Hayes during the Civil War.
On June 5, the celebration continues with Wallace delivering a sermon originally given in the 1890s.
George said the general arc of the ceremony would be the same as in 1871.
“We are trying to capture the spirit of the times,” she said.
As part of a documentary on the monument to President William McKinley, PBS will record the dress rehearsal.
The event is free. Masks will be needed. Social distancing will be followed to the extent possible.
Reservations are required for the opening event. Call 330-456-8113.
Contact Charita at 330-580-8313 or [email protected]
On Twitter: @cgoshayREP