#19. Levi Lamborn and the Scarlet Carnation.
The scarlet carnation (Dianthus caryophyllus) was adopted as Ohio’s state flower on Feb. 3, 1904 in memory of President William McKinley. McKinley often wore a red carnation in his lapel, thanks to Alliance’s own Levi Lamborn.
Dr. Levi Leslie Lamborn (1827-1910) was a man of many talents and interests. He came to the Alliance area about 1849 after studying to become a physician. He practiced medicine for many years and built a beautiful home on the NW corner of Main Street and Union Avenue. He and his wife Maria Grant Lamborn had seven children together, six of whom lived to adulthood.
Dr. Lamborn had many other interests besides his medical career. He started the first newspaper in Alliance in 1854, served as clerk of the Ohio House of Representatives in 1859, opened a hospital in his home during the Civil War, and had numerous local business interests. In company with Elisha Teeters, Hugh Bleakley and others, he developed several large real estate additions to the city of Alliance and enticed Thomas R. Morgan to bring his company to Alliance and the Ohio & Pennsylvania Railroad to locate their division headquarters here.
At his home he constructed a conservatory and began cultivating flowers, especially carnations. In 1866 he purchased carnation plants grown from the first carnation seeds germinated in America; he would go on to write a book called American Carnation Culture, which would see four editions. Dr. Lamborn’s son LeRoy would expand this greenhouse business and move it to the Mount Union area, where it would become a major wholesaler of flowers for many years.
In 1876 Dr. Lamborn decided to run as the Democratic nominee for the U. S. congressional district seat. His opponent was a Republican from Canton named William McKinley. According to Lamborn, the campaign was “fervent but friendly.” Even though they differed in politics, the two were personal friends. They canvassed the district making speeches, and it was at this time that Lamborn first presented McKinley with a carnation for his lapel. The future President took a liking to the flower and considered it a good luck charm. McKinley won the 1876 election, the two men continued to be friends, and McKinley would often be seen wearing a carnation as his political career progressed.
After President McKinley’s assassination in 1901 there was a national campaign by florists to honor the late president by wearing carnations each year on the anniversary of his birth in January. This tradition led to the scarlet carnation being adopted as Ohio’s state flower on February 3, 1904, in memory of McKinley and his fondness for the flower.
Dr. Lamborn died in 1910, having lived to see his carnation named the state flower and his family greenhouse business grow and flourish. On April 8, 1959 the Ohio Legislature named Alliance the Carnation City; this was a nod to the city as the home of the state flower, and a tribute to the role that Levi Leslie Lamborn played in the story.