The museum's hands-on science center is one of several attractions that draw as many as 20,000 students each year for class field trips at the museum. We ducked into the gift shop as the kids filed by and talked with staffers there who told us as many as 9,000 students visit each year during April and May, and fall field trips bring visits from several school groups each day.
The museum draws about 50,000 total visitors each year and is definitely family-friendly, but we found plenty to like for visitors of all ages.
The building is next to the McKinley Monument, the final resting place for the 25th president that sits on a hill overlooking the museum. The monument draws 200,000 visitors each year and is worth a story of its own (which I'll tell when the next Presidents' Day rolls around).
The Stark County Historical Society organized in 1946, establishing a collection and moving into the permanent museum building next to the McKinley Monument in 1963.
Alice, an animatronic allosaurus, welcomes visitors to Discover World where aspiring young scientists learn about archaeology, paleontology, electricity, ecology, and other subjects through clever interactive exhibits and cool things like a real mastodon skeleton, unearthed in Canton during excavation for an apartment building.
There is even a special room for toddlers where the youngest visitors can explore under parents' watchful eyes.
Hoover-Price Planetarium shows take place weekends year round, with daily shows scheduled during the summer and some holidays. Children must be 5 years old to attend planetarium shows, which are 30 minutes long and included with admission to the museum.
We have a special interest in presidential and local history, so we spent much of our time at the museum in galleries devoted to McKinley's life and life in Stark County through the years.
The museum has the largest collection of McKinley artifacts in the world and includes those displayed in museum galleries, as well as papers, manuscripts, photographs, books, audio-visual recordings, and other items in the Ramsayer Research Library's 25,000-piece collection of McKinley and Stark County items.
McKinley was one of eight presidents from Ohio. He moved to Canton in 1867 as a young lawyer, meeting and marrying Ida Saxton a few years later. McKinley's career progressed as he became a prosecuting attorney, U.S. Congressman, governor of Ohio, and, in 1897, President of the United States.
The McKinley gallery has a large room with several sections containing furnishings used by the McKinleys during his early career, his time campaigning for president, and his time as president.
Animatronic figures of the McKinleys sit among some of the furnishings from the home where McKinley ran the "Front Porch Campaign" that propelled him into the White House. It is difficult to imagine campaigns where voters traveled to see candidates at their homes, but both presidents McKinley and, in 1880, Garfield drew crowds to Ohio as part of successful campaigns run from their own front porches.
An assassin killed President McKinley in 1901. The gallery includes memorial souvenirs issued after his death and covers the McKinley Monument construction.
One of the museum's newest exhibits is The Stark County Story, which opened in 2009 and tells the county's history in decade-sized chunks from its founding in 1805 through the present day.
The Stark County Story exhibit includes household artifacts, including one of my favorite items in the museum-a transitional piano.
This instrument represents the transition from harpsichords and grand pianos to upright pianos as we know them today. Henry Beatty of Massillon, Ohio, purchased the piano in 1858 for his five-year-old son Harry. He paid what must have been the astounding sum of $1,000 for it, and it is one of only a few such pianos known to exist today. (I sure hope little Harry enjoyed piano practice more than I did as a child!)
Storefronts include a general store, blacksmith shop, toy shop, photographer's studio, doctor's office, hotel, saloon, fire station, and a printing office where I picked up a copy of The Ohio Repository newspaper from December 14, 1815 for a penny!
Trains figured strongly in Canton's development as the city was Ohio's main distribution point for the Pennsylvania Railroad. The Street of Shops' train station houses a massive HO model train layout recreating various Ohio railroad stops during different eras in miniature.
Check out museum curator Kim Kenney's blog for behind-the-scenes information about museum activities and upcoming exhibits, visit the museum's Facebook page for historic Canton photos, or check out the museum's genealogy guide to see if you are related to President McKinley. The teacher resource area has lots of downloads and preparatory material to enrich the museum experience for K-12 visitors.
I picked up The William McKinley Presidential Library & Museum by Christopher J. Kenney in the museum's gift shop for a couple of bucks on the clearance table. This publication came out before the museum opened The Stark County Story exhibit, but it still offers some good information about the history of the museum and some of its notable artifacts.
Thanks to the Canton-Stark County Convention & Visitors Bureau for their assistance with planning our recent visit to Canton and arranging for comped media passes to the museum.
© Dominique King 2011 All right reserved