MASSILLON, Ohio — Before driving through on the Lincoln Highway on Saturday, I had never been in this Stark County city before. I knew next to nothing about the place except that high school football was a big deal here. Granted, high school football is a storied tradition in a lot of places but in Massillon, its role in civic life might as well be written into the city charter. (And if it is actually written into the city charter, I wouldn’t be surprised.)
To illustrate the impact football has here, I’ll point you to the gigantic mural stylized as a Roman-like military triumphal arch called “A Century of Heroes” at Lincoln Way East and 1st Street. (And I thought my high school’s grandiose football stadium renovations were a bit over the top. East Grand Rapids Team Boosters: It may be time to think bigger and perhaps construct an actual Roman triumphal arch.)
The rivalry between Massillon’s Washington High School and Canton’s McKinley High School is one of the biggest — if not the biggest — in all of American sports. It traces its roots to the 1890s and was the subject of the 2001 documentary “Go Tigers!”
The primary road that links the rivalry between Canton and Massillon is the Lincoln Highway, known locally as Lincoln Way in Massillon and Tuscawaras Street in Canton.
While the rivalry is something remarkable, the Lincoln Highway in this section is not.
Canton and Massillon essentially bleed into each other with suburban sprawl fusing the two cities. Big-box stores, strip-malls and fast-food joints dominate the route, with some homes from pre-suburban days — some of them quite impressive — breaking up the monotony periodically.
For my Lincoln Highway journey, this was my first real concentration of suburban sprawl since the western suburbs of Pittsburgh, and even that wasn’t all that terrible in comparison.
But Massillon’s history isn’t all football. This is where “Coxey’s Army” set out for Washington, D.C. Jacob Coxey, a local quarry owner facing financial difficulties organized a protest march in 1894 — the same year of the first Massillon-Canton football game — with aims to pressure the federal government to doing more to assist American workers following the Panic of 1893.
Coxey predicted that his army, which was ridiculed in the national press, would have more than 100,000 men by the time it reached the nation’s capital. It had only about 500 men when it arrived in D.C.
Upon arriving in Washington, Coxey and his supporters demanded that the federal government immediately assist workers by hiring them to work on public projects such as roads and government buildings. The United States Congress and President Grover Cleveland refused. Law enforcement officials arrested Coxey for trespassing on public property. Coxey’s Army quickly dispersed upon its leader’s arrest.
One observer from the time noted, according to Carlos Schwantes in “Coxey’s Army: An American Odyssey“: “The Coxey Movement died out as rapidly as it started and within the year it is already a half forgotten episode. It is almost impossible to realize now the intensity of felling it evoked… it is not probable its like will even be seen again. It was as unique as a stray comet…”