New arrivals to Columbus -- and some people who have been here for awhile -- tend to be curious when they encounter the elaborate group of statues along High Street at the end of the walk leading to the main entrance of the Statehouse.

Flanking the central figure of the tableau are figures of adults and children; a plaque on the base of the central statue explains it is a monument to William McKinley, 25th president of the United States.

The monument is an impressive one, but one might wonder why it's there.

After all, seven American presidents have come from Ohio -- eight if one counts William Henry Harrison, who also is claimed by Virginia. Three of them -- Ulysses Grant, Rutherford B. Hayes and James Garfield -- are recognized in the monument called "These Are My Jewels," located more discreetly close to the Statehouse itself.

But several Ohio presidents -- Benjamin Harrison, William Howard Taft, Warren Harding and William Henry Harrison -- are not recognized at all in statuary on the Statehouse lawn.

The arrival of William McKinley in permanent monumental gaze across High Street is a story that reminds us how popular this president once was.

William McKinley is not well-remembered today. But the people of his era remembered him quite well.

William McKinley Jr. was born in 1843 in Niles in northeast Ohio. His family was in the iron trade and his father was involved in the work of several foundries in northern Ohio. After briefly attending nearby colleges, the young McKinley worked as a postal clerk and taught school for a time in the community of Poland.

With the outbreak of the Civil War, McKinley enlisted and soon was serving in the 23rd Ohio Volunteer Infantry.

McKinley was the last American president to have served in the Civil War and the only president to have served as an enlisted private soldier. In the course of the war, McKinley began as a private and ended the conflict as a brevet major, having seen action in some of the most savage fighting of the war.

At the end of the war, McKinley studied law, married Ida Saxton of a prominent local family and became well-established in Canton. Active in the Republican Party, he was elected to the House of Representatives in 1876.

In Congress, McKinley became known as a strong advocate of the protective tariff and as a defender of the rights of working people.

McKinley rose through the ranks of the House until he was defeated for re-election in 1890. Undaunted by the defeat, McKinley promptly ran for governor and was elected twice to that office.

By this time, McKinley had acquired the friendship and assistance of Ohio business leader and politician Mark Hanna. Hanna was a master political organizer and was convinced he could get McKinley elected president of the United States.

In the way was a young, assertive populist Democrat named William Jennings Bryan.

Bryan, the "Barefoot Boy Orator of the Platte," waged a nonstop campaign by train across America, giving as many as 10 speeches a day for months.

McKinley, on the other hand, waged a "front-porch" campaign that was backed by a formidable marketing campaign by Hanna, featuring buttons, posters, brochures and hats for anyone who wanted them.

McKinley won in 1896 and defeated Bryan a second time in 1900.

In the course of his presidency, McKinley promoted heavy tariffs on imported goods and maintenance of conservative monetary policies. He also, with some reluctance, led America successfully through the Spanish-American War and the initial phases of the Philippine Insurrection.

In September 1901, McKinley traveled to Buffalo, New York, to give an address at the Pan-American Exposition in that city. On Sept. 14, at a welcoming reception, McKinley was shot by a self-professed anarchist and died eight days later.

McKinley was extraordinarily popular at the time of his death. Over the next few years, schools, streets and even the largest mountain in America were named for him.

In Columbus, a permanent memorial costing more than $50,000 -- an immense sum at that time -- was created. The sculptor was Hermon MacNeil, who later created the "Standing Liberty" quarter, among other works.

The monument was dedicated in 1906 by Alice Roosevelt Longworth, the daughter of President Theodore Roosevelt, before a crowd of more than 50,000 people.

As a statue, William McKinley gazes fondly across High Street. If not the Huntington Center, what is he looking at?

He is looking at his wife.

Permanently disabled, Ida Saxton McKinley would look out her window at the second of three Neil House hotels as her husband walked to the Statehouse. Having placed his trademark scarlet carnation in his lapel, he turned each morning and waved to her as he reached the walk on Statehouse Square.

The scarlet carnation is the state flower of Ohio. In more ways than one, William McKinley is with us still.

Local historian and author Ed Lentz writes the As It Were column for ThisWeek Community News.