This playground is named for William McKinley (1843-1901), the twenty-fifth President of the United States. He was born on January 29, 1843 in Niles, Ohio and attended Allegheny College in Meadville, Pennsylvania. At the outbreak of the Civil War, McKinley joined the 23rd Ohio Volunteer Infantry, and he rose from private to brevet major. After the war he 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.
Four years later, a new public school building in the East Village was named in President McKinley’s memory. P.S. 63 for girls opened on the north side of E. 3rd Street between First Avenue and Avenue A in 1905. Across the street are the First Houses, a group of former tenement buildings rebuilt by the New York City Housing Authority in 1935. The Housing Authority erected additional public housing in the area in the late 1950s and opened a playground for the use of residents and the public. In 1965 Parks undertook the reconstruction of the playground, which was ceded to the city for park purposes in 1966. The playground was later placed under the joint operation of Parks and the Board of Education.
In 1991 parents and staff members of P.S. 63 and the Neighborhood School joined forces to support the improvement and maintenance of McKinley Playground. Their efforts helped to secure the $365,000 capital reconstruction of McKinley Playground, funded by Council Member Kathryn Freed. The reconstruction project took place in 1997-98 and included the installation of new play equipment, game tables, painted games, drinking fountain, compass rosette, flagpole, safety surfacing, pavements, gates, and fences. The drainage and water supply systems were rebuilt, and a London Plane tree was planted on the grounds. The new spray shower is decorated with lily pads, and there are sculptures of a rabbit, a turtle, and two frogs.