Five questions to.. Kim Kenney of the McKinley Museum

Kim Kenney moved to Canton in October 2001, along with her late husband Christopher Kenney, to serve as curator at the Wm. McKinley Presidential Library and Museum.

She was promoted to Executive Director in 2019. She said her favorite part of the job as a curator was creating temporary exhibitions at Keller Gallery.

“So I decided to continue doing that in my new job,” Kenney said. “It’s pretty chaotic at times, but I like to keep busy, so it works. I’m from central New York, and no, I don’t have an accent. Not all New Yorkers have the l seem to have grown up in Brooklyn. I was educated in high school at Rome Free Academy in Rome, New York. I graduated from Wells College in Aurora, New York, where I majored in history and minored in Creative Writing I have a Masters in History Museum Studies from Cooperstown Graduate Program in Cooperstown, New York Yes, I lived in baseball city, and now I live in football city! “

For as long as she can remember, she has wanted to be an author.

“A big part of my job is writing — grant proposals, exhibit labels, press releases, etc.,” Kenney said. “It was a dream come true when I wrote my first book, ‘Canton: Time Travel’ in 2003. Every time I write a book, I say, ‘This is the last one.’ But it’s so addictive, so I just finished my ninth manuscript, “Exploring the American Presidency through 50 Historical Treasures,” which will be released in March 2023.

“It was not an easy task. For President McKinley, I chose a small bank that was used to collect donations for the McKinley National Memorial. I used this artifact to tell the story of how the McKinley’s assassination led to the formalization of the Secret Service, after three presidents have been killed in 36 years.”

Kenney lives in Canton with his wife Karen, three stepchildren, two cats Doodle and KitKat, and a leopard gecko named Yoshi.

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Kim Kenney is executive director of the Wm. McKinley President Library & Museum in Canton.  She is also an author, with her ninth book due out next year.

Would you describe your favorite things about the McKinley Presidential Library and Museum?

Our strength is that we really have something for everyone. I love that we have such a variety of exhibits and collections, both scientific and historical, which allows us to appeal to all types of interests.

Personally, my favorite part of our collection is women’s clothing. We have hundreds of dresses ranging from the 1860s to the 1980s. I usually try to find a way to include a dress or two in every Keller Gallery exhibit I create.

Another favorite is Ida McKinley’s diamond tiara, which we bought from the TV show Pawn Stars through a crowdfunding campaign in 2014. It’s on display at the McKinley Gallery.

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Have you always had an interest in history?

I had an amazing American History teacher in high school, to whom I owe credit for giving me a love of history.

We have not memorized names, dates and places. We talked about how it all fits together, which brings the story to life. When it came time to declare a major in college, history was a natural choice for me.

I knew I didn’t want to be a teacher or a lawyer, the two most common paths to history majors, so I had to figure out how to turn my passion into a career. I interned at my hometown historical society in Rome, New York, and was hooked.

I spent the rest of my college years doing everything I could to pass the graduate program at Cooperstown, where I earned my Master of Arts in History Museum Studies.

I love to tell stories, and basically that’s all history is. Historians tell stories that happen to be true.

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You are also a best-selling published author with several Stark County-focused books. What does the county inspire you to write about?

This area has such a rich history. It seems there are endless ways to approach the history of Canton and Stark County to write something interesting about our past.

Canton was home to an American President, and only a few communities can claim that, but this region was also home to many industries that had a national impact.

I try to approach local history by connecting it to people’s lives. For example, “Stark County Food,” which I co-wrote with Barb Abbott of Canton Food Tours, explores something we all have in common: eating!

My most recent book, “Murder in Stark County,” explores the darker side of our history, shedding light on eight murders between 1833 and 1906, including the murder of President McKinley’s brother-in-law, George Saxton.

Would you like to share some of your favorite historic sites that you enjoy visiting?

Many of my vacations have been planned around visits to historic sites and museums.

I loved the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum in Springfield, Illinois. Their new museum is mostly made up of realistic, life-size recreations of scenes from Lincoln’s life that really bring his story to life.

There was a very powerful slave auction scene where a husband, wife and child were sold and separated. Lincoln spent some time in the South as a young man, and the exhibit suggested he might have witnessed something like this.

I also loved the cabinet meeting where they were discussing the details of the Emancipation Proclamation. Even though the numbers were static, you could tell from the looks on their faces who was for and against the idea, and it was as if you had stumbled into a very heated argument.

This visit inspired me to replicate something like this for President McKinley’s Life in an expanded permanent exhibit someday. Some of my other favorite sites include Gettysburg, the Henry Ford Museum, Mystic Seaport, and the May 4 Visitor Center at Kent State. I also loved the immersive Van Gogh exhibit in Cleveland earlier this year.

What kind of music/books/movies do you like and who are your favorite authors/bands?

Naturally, I am drawn to historical fiction.

My favorite author is Karen White, who writes what she calls “grit lit” – stories that focus on strong female characters that take place in the South, usually across multiple generations of a family.

In the Tradd Street series, she writes about a woman who can sense the history of an object simply by touching it. This skill would definitely come in handy for a curator!

My favorite movies tend to be light comedy adventures, like Jumangi, Dr. Doolittle and Jungle Cruise. I’m a huge Downton Abbey fan.

In terms of music, my tastes are quite eclectic. My car stereo is usually tuned to 90s alternative music like PopRocks and Lithium, or 40s Junction. I love big band music. In college, I loved discovering new music that no one else had heard because it wasn’t on the radio.

I would buy a compilation CD because I only recognized one band. My playlist contains up to 249 of my favorite “unskippable” songs, such as “Sugar, We’re Goin’ Down” by Fallout Boy, “Misery” by Soul Asylum, “Everybody Knows” by Concrete Blonde, “The Weight” by The Band, and many more.

I love to cook, so I really enjoy dancing in my kitchen (loudly) singing along to my favorite songs!

Editor’s Note: Five Questions With… is a Sunday feature that features a member of the Stark County community. If you would like to recommend someone to participate, email [email protected]

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