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|HOME > ARTICLES > NOVEMBER 2002 #3|
THE WARSHIP McKINLEY
by Robert M. Clifford
As a sideline to my collection of political items, I have been collecting postcards that depict battleships, cruisers, and destroyers built prior to 1920 in all navies. It took a while, but I finally obtained cards with photographs of each of the battleships that were commissioned in the U.S. Navy. So, after I do my search for political buttons on eBay, I often look for postcards with warships on them.
On one such search I located a card depicting the Warship "McKinley" at anchor in Whalom Park, near Fitchburg, Massachusetts. A close look at the card reveals that the "warship" is really just a big model. Although it resembles a cruiser of the great white fleet,' it has no guns.
The pseudo-warship puzzled me so I decided to see what I could find out at the Fitchburg, Massachusetts web page. I sent an email to City Councilman Ralph Romano who put me in touch with local historian Mark Chester. Mr. Chester's story convinced me that this card fits better in my political items collection than with the ship postcards.
The "McKinley Cruiser" was built in Fitchburg in 1896, for use in the Republican presidential campaign of that year. It was mounted on streetcar trucks. The cruiser took part in torchlight processions in Fitchburg and surrounding towns. It carried a handsomely uniformed marching company composed of prominent young Republicans from Fitchburg and vicinity.
After the campaign, the McKinley cruiser was floated in Whalom Lake. It was illuminated at night and became a popular tourist attraction. In the early 1900's, it either burned or sank. It was such a popular attraction that it was re-floated and re-built. Unfortunately, it sank again in 1915 and was not replaced. Pictures of the cruiser appeared in a park booklet published in 1901 and also on several post cards. Visitors to Whalom Lake today, I am told, can see the cruiser lying on the bottom of the lake. If we could re-float it, the McKinley Cruiser would probably be the largest McKinley campaign item of all.
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