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Arts and Entertainment


Ida McKinley's tiara comes home, with the help of "Pawn Stars"
It took 374 people, a big push by a small nonprofit and a reality TV show to get First Lady Ida McKinley's diamond tiara back home to Canton, Ohio. 
by WKSU's M.L. SCHULTZE


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M.L. Schultze
 
Ida McKinley's tiara went from Canton to Las Vegas, where it was features on "Pawn Stars."
Courtesy of M.L. SCHULTZE
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It took 374 people, a big push by a small nonprofit and a reality TV show to get First Lady Ida McKinley's diamond tiara back home to Canton, Ohio. WKSU’s M.L. Schultze has more on the results of the frantic three-month effort.
LISTEN: Ida McKinley's tiara comes home

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For decades, the animatronic Ida and William McKinley have been chatting about the Civil War, education and politics in their “parlor” in their namesake museum. 

But now, there’s an added bit of glitter across the room. 

“The tiara is two wings; each wing has approximately 100 diamonds. They are set on platinum and then the backing is gold ….”

From the White House to "Pawn Stars"
The William McKinley Presidential Library and Museum Curator Kim Kenney points up from the pale green velvet box to an oval black and white photo of Ida Saxton McKinley in the style of the day – a frilled lace bodice, high collar, elaborate buttons. And the glittering tiara. 

Ida was the first to wear it. 

The last person to wear it was a burly, balding middle-age guy named Rick Harrison – the star of the reality TV show called “Pawn Stars.

Kenney and a few board members tuned into the show a few months ago and saw the tiara – one the museum had borrowed twice over the years and never expected to see again.

A win-win
Harrison had paid $43,000 for it to a descendent of Mary Barber, Ida’s sister. And, Kenney says, since both he and Ida had suffered from epilepsy, he had planned to donate it as a fundraiser for the National Epilepsy Foundation.

Kenney wrote a letter with an alternative idea. Harrison called back.

“He wasn’t the haggling kind of guy that you see sometimes on the show. He was the fun, joking around guy that you see on the show.” 

And he was willing to sell the tiara to the museum for his $43,000 – which he plans to donate to the foundation. 

“This way, we got the tiara, they got a donation and he described it as a win-win for everyone.”

Small donations add up
But first, the museum had to come up with the $43,000 -- in three months. It did that in much the way a private association raised the money to build the domed monument next door, a massive Renaissance building of stone and bronze where the assassinated 25th president, his wife and their two small children are buried.

“We got so many donations from so many people across the country. And most of them weren’t big donations. We had a lot of checks for $25, we had some for $10. And all that adds up. And the monument was built with the pennies of school children literally, and those little amounts added up too. So it’s kind of in the spirit of what we’ve been doing for over 100 years here in Canton.” 

McKinley Museum Director Joyce Yut and Kenney say the motivations for the donations for the tiara were varied.

“A woman saw it in a Florida newspaper. She was from New Jersey, but her mother’s name was Ida. So she donated because her mother’s name was Ida. 

“Everyone had their own reasons for donating. Some people were from the Canton area living in other states. Some people just saw it in their local newspaper and just thought this was an important thing to support. And we were pleasantly surprised with that turnout because we knew that people here would care about it, but for people in other states to care about it was really surprising.”

A charmed project
Kenney says the tight time-frame proved a boon to fundraising because it gave the whole project a sense of urgency. And the fundraising was complete three weeks early. Yut sent off the check without telling the staff.

“It arrived during the staff meeting, which was very exciting and we got to open the box and we passed it around and it was perfect. Just like the culmination of the fundraising happened at a concert and we got to share it with a room full of people instead of just a few of us in the front office. It was just a fun way to tell the whole group that last four people that walked in the door pushed us over our edge. We couldn’t have planned it like that. So everything about this has been charmed from the beginning.   

Hundreds of donors got a first look at the tiara at a special showing this week – lines of people down two flights of stairs waiting for a glimpse of the diamond wings that could also be repurposed as broaches, made by New York jeweler who, at the end of the 19th century, rivaled Tiffany and Cartier.

Then Kenney and the museum staff and volunteers worked through the night to prepare it for permanent public display. The work wasn’t hard.

Quipped Kenney: “It’s easy to make diamonds look good.” 

Fast facts on the McKinley tiara:

It was made and sold by J. Dreicier & Son on 5th Avenue in New York. The company went out of existence in the 1920s after the father and son died.

The tiara has about 200 diamonds in it, 100 on each wing. The wings are made so they can be detached from the platinum and gold band and attached to pins to become broaches.

Ida McKinley liked diamonds – a lot.

The tiara went to Ida’s sister, Mary Saxton Barber, and was passed down. The family sold it to “Pawn Stars” earlier this year for $43,000.

The appraised value is $75,000, but “Pawn Stars” agreed to sell it to the McKinley Museum for the original $43,000 price – and to throw in free shipping. (The $43,000 is to go to the National Epilepsy Foundation.)

Donations to pay $43,000 for the tiara came from 22 states, including Alaska, and from Washington D.C.



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