Road trip news, rants, and ruminations by the Editors of RoadsideAmerica.com
December 13, 2017
He was once revered as a martyred President, assassinated in his second term. But modern William McKinley fandom is in short supply. Critics condemn him as an imperialist who imposed Yankee colonial rule on thousands of islands, viciously put down Filipino insurrectionists, and annexed Hawaii.
2017’s Confederate statue controversy ignited in the South and then spread to every other statue loathed by a group with a gripe. It was no surprise Arcata Plaza’s McKinley was back in history’s crosshairs. McKinley haters rise up every few years, and now the national moral momentum threatens to topple him like a deposed dictator.
In late 2017, the city council heard from citizens urging for the statue to be removed, relocated, melted down, hauled to nearby McKinleyville, or shipped to McKinley’s birthplace in Ohio. The least disruptive suggestion was to add a contextual plaque listing his crimes. One public speaker claimed he was Leon Czolgosz (McKinley’s 1901 assassin) and suggested a plaque noting McK was the “Only President Killed By An Anarchist.”
(oddly appealing, that idea)
We stopped in at Arcata Plaza on a December Saturday morning, and McKinley was surrounded… by the weekly organic Farmer’s Market, and the home-free populace.
As usual, we were the only ones gazing up at the bronze of President McKinley. The statue has a history of ad hoc decoration and occasional defacement, a blank canvas for protest. The current Christmas wreaths around his pedestal seem non-controversial — except perhaps as symbols of the discredited imperialist holiday. Then we noticed an evergreen wreath tightly wringing McK’s neck, an itchy collar of shame for his nation-building misdeeds.
A tear stain falls from one McKinley eye; either bird poop or some anger-flung organic produce rotting in the sun. McKinley knows this might be his last Christmas celebrating with the people of Arcata.
And McKinley isn’t alone as an outcast: another controversial landmark in Arcata Plaza is being assessed for change, move or disposal — a plaque about local history that casually mentions “Indian troubles.” The city council may decide the fate of both monuments in February 2018.
Update: As of May 2018, the statue was still in place. The town council voted for its removal in February. Subsequent public meetings and an environmental study (since it is designated as a “historic feature of the Plaza”) are underway to determine the details. It seems almost certain to be removed later in 2018; alternative locations are under consideration.
See also: A Mountain of McKinley Sights