This park is named for William McKinley (1843-1901), twenty-fifth President of the United States. McKinley was born on January 29, 1843 in Niles, Ohio and attended Allegheny College in Meadville, Pennsylvania. At the outbreak of the Civil War, he joined the 23rd Ohio Volunteer Infantry, and he rose from private to brevet major. After the war McKinley attended law school in Albany, New York and practiced law in Ohio. He married Ida Stanton in 1871.
In 1876 McKinley was elected to the House of Representatives, where he served until 1891. As a Republican Congressman, he supported silver currency and was largely responsible for the McKinley Tariff Act of 1890, which raised or added duties to many imported goods and agricultural products. With the support of Cleveland businessman and political boss Marcus Hanna, he was elected governor of Ohio in 1891 and 1893. Hanna also supported McKinley's bids for the presidency. After McKinley lost the Republican nomination to incumbent President Benjamin Harrison in 1892, he came back to defeat Democratic nominee William Jennings Bryan in 1896 and was inaugurated on March 4, 1897.
During President McKinley's tenure, the U.S. adopted the highest tariff rate in its history and restored the gold standard. His administration was responsible for the Open-Door Policy, which promoted equal commercial and industrial rights for all foreign nations conducting business in China. On April 25, 1898 the President declared war against Spain to protect American interests in Cuba. With the conclusion of the war in December, the United States emerged as a world power, having annexed Puerto Rico, Guam, Hawaii, American Samoa, and the Philippines. Re-elected in 1900, President McKinley was shot by an anarchist in Buffalo, New York on September 6, 1901. He died on September 14, and Vice-President Theodore Roosevelt succeeded to the presidency.
On December 21, 1903, a new park in the Bay Ridge neighborhood of Brooklyn was named in President McKinley's memory. Located on two blocks bounded by 73rd Street, Seventh Avenue, 78th Street, and Fort Hamilton Parkway-this park had been purchased by the City of New York earlier that year. The site's woodlands and meadow made it popular with picnickers. By the 1910s a parkhouse had been erected, a skating pond was created, and tennis courts were built in McKinley Park. The western portion of the park was named in 1979 in memory of Father Richard A. Kennedy and Monsignor Edward J. Sweeney, both pastors of St. Ephrem's Church in Bay Ridge.
The park has recently undergone a renewal, thanks in part to the McKinley/Leif Ericson Park Alliance, elected officials, and dedicated park workers. After the parkhouse suffered fire damage in 1994, community members responded by raising $5000 in funds for its restoration. The structure was refurbished with new walls, door, flooring, paint, and utilities. Mayor Giuliani held his first town hall meeting in the park in 1994. McKinley Park is home to Readings in the Park, a free performing arts series for youth, and Arts in the Park, a free reading series for kids. The two summer programs are sponsored by the City Parks Foundation in parks and playgrounds throughout the five boroughs.