Some Ohio politicians made a lot of noise last week when President Obama announced that the tallest mountain on North America was being renamed. Mount McKinley, named after President William McKinley of Ohio, is getting a name change. It will now be known as Denali.
The 20,237-foot mountain is located in Alaska and hasn’t always been known as McKinley. That happened in 1917, when President Wilson signed a bill that officially gave the mountain its name. When the Russians owned Alaska, they called the mountain Bolshaya Gora, which is Russian for “Big Mountain” (Russians never being known for their imagination). For a while, it was called Dunsmore’s Mountain because some guy named Dunsmore was the first white guy to get there, and we all know when the white guy gets there is when history really starts. Then it was informally called McKinley until Wilson sealed the deal. Wilson was a Democrat and McKinley was a Republican and maybe Wilson hoped if he was nice someone would name a mountain after him someday. There is a Mount Wilson in California, but, sorry Woodrow, it was named for some other Wilson.
Back to Ohio. Republicans are up in arms because McKinley was from Ohio and they think it’s a slap in the face to take his name off the mountain, even though he and all the members of Congress who approved the bill and most of the Ohio members of Congress today have never seen the place.
I want you to understand that I’m for Bill McKinley as much as the next guy. But it seems to me that we ought to let the Alaskans call their mountain whatever they want. How would you like it if the government decided to call Lake Erie something like “Lake Palin” or “Lake Wally Hickel?” I bet we’d all be pretty steamed.
Besides, I know some people in Alaska and they tell me everyone there already calls it Denali and have for years.
We ought to move on and give McKinley a tribute with a little more meaning. It would be much more significant if we named the highest mountain in Ohio after him … except we don’t have any mountains. Campbell Hill, the highest point in Ohio, is 1,550 feet above sea level, which is hardly even a hill in Alaska. We could call it Mount McKinley and probably sell a lot of T-shirts that say “I Climbed Mt. McKinley,” except all the Campbells would get mad at us for stealing their hill, and you don’t want to make anyone named Campbell mad at you.
So how about we rename a city for Bill? People in China and India rename cities all the time – Mumbai (the city formerly known as Bombay) and Beijing (remember Peking?) are good examples. Saint Petersburg became Petrograd then became Leningrad and now it’s St. Petersburg again. So why can’t we do that with someplace in Ohio?
Take Columbus, for example. Everyone used to love Christopher Columbus, but these days it’s fashionable to consider him as a kind of early Doctor Doom, spreading death and destruction everywhere he went. We could change Columbus to McKinley, thus giving our beloved former president a much higher profile than even some big mountain hardly anyone ever sees.
Or we could rename one of the many Ohio cities that we pronounce one way and the rest of the world pronounces correctly. Lima (we say lye-ma, they say lee-ma); Versailles (we say ver-sales, they say ver-seye), Russia (we say roo-shee, they say, well, Russia); we have tons of towns we mispronounce. We could save the embarrassment and honor McKinley by renaming one of those towns, although how big of an honor it would be is up to debate.
Here’s the best choice, though: we rename McKinley’s hometown of Canton after him. First of all, we pronounce this one wrong, too, by emphasizing the first syllable instead of the second syllable, which is how they said it in the original Canton in China. Besides, they don’t even call the Canton in China Canton anymore – today, it is Guangzhou. So Canton, Ohio, is named after a city that didn’t even like its own name! I say we rename Canton (the one in Ohio) McKinley. The only problem is, Canton McKinley High School would become McKinley McKinley High School, which is redundant, but we can work that out.
William McKinley loved carnations (he wore a red one every day as a good luck charm); his devotion to his epileptic wife was legendary; by all accounts he was a pretty good guy, unless you happened to live in the Philippines, a country we liberated from Spain then kept for ourselves. However, there is no record he ever climbed any mountains and he certainly couldn’t have climbed any here in Ohio. Let’s just give Denali back to Alaska and say thanks for the 100 years it was named after our guy. Surely we can find another way to honor him closer to home.
David Lindeman is a Troy resident and former editor at the Troy Daily News. He can be reached at [email protected]