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William McKinley statue in Arcata Plaza.
William McKinley statue in Arcata Plaza.

Unloved Statue of President McKinley (Gone)

Field review by the editors.

Arcata, California

President William McKinley's statue survived an earthquake in San Francisco -- but it seems unlikely to survive another year in Arcata.

1970s college prank: His ears and nose were stuffed with cheese.
1970s college prank: His ears and nose were stuffed with cheese.

The eight-foot-tall bronze statue was a gift to the city from 80-year-old local businessman-farmer George Zehnder, who felt that America had lost a great man when McKinley was assassinated in 1901. Famous sculptor Haig Patigian created a blocky, big-headed version of the 25th President that looks a little like Elektro the Robot (who, like McKinley, was born in Ohio). Patigan had the sculpture commission completed and in a San Francisco foundry when the Great San Francisco Earthquake struck on April, 18, 1906. Zehnder hustled south, and in the still-smoldering devastation he managed to recover the McKinley and took it to Arcata.

Zehnder's statue was dedicated on July 4, 1906, standing on a tall granite pedestal in a town McKinley never visited and likely had never even heard of.

For most of its life in the center of Arcata, the McKinley statue was loved, and the populace enjoyed close interactions -- dressing it for the holidays or placing items in his hand or around his neck. But these days he skews to the unloved end of the spectrum, because McKinley was an imperialist -- and many of the town's current resident college students aren't majoring in imperialism. The statue has been the subject of petitions to demand its removal, and has repeatedly been dressed in humiliating outfits. When vandals stuffed McKinley's nose and ears with cheese, it was national news.

One grayish, Pacific coast morning, we were the only ones in the park taking notice of the centrally positioned imperialist. The picturesque palm trees might cause an observer to remember McKinley's grab of islands from the Hawaiian people, or his annexation of lands after the Spanish American war. Still, the statue seemed to be on a high enough perch to discourage casual defacers (whose unkempt hair and backpack straps might fatally entangle on his outstretched hand).

In late 2017, as part of the national sentiment for statue purging, local McKinley haters rallied to persuade the city government to remove the statue. It took a year of political wrangling, but on November 6, 2018, the citizens of Arcata made their feelings known: McKinley was no longer welcome. The result wasn't even close. Only 38 percent wanted to keep the Elektro President.

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Also see: Imperialist In The Crosshairs

Unloved Statue of President McKinley

The statue stands in the center of Arcata Plaza, on the east side of H St. between 8th and 9th Sts.
Removed by the city Feb. 28, 2019.

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