Kevin L. Hoover
Mad River Union
ARCATA – The statue of William McKinley, a gift to the citizens of Arcata from George Zehnder, is gone from the Arcata Plaza.
By action of the City Council, later resoundingly affirmed on Election Day by Arcata voters, the statue was deemed inconsistent with Arcata's current values due to President McKinley's actions in office, specifically with regard to indigenous peoples in the U.S. and elsewhere.
City personnel and contractors assembled at 4 a.m. today, Feb. 28 on a frigid Plaza, taking advantage of a brief respite from the recent rains to attempt removal.
In recent days, a pad of grout which had been inserted under the statue's feet was removed in order to allow access to metal rods which secure the statue to its granite base. A quick application of a power hammer broke loose a large chunk of the granite, readying the statue for liftoff.
Contractors laid numerous sheets of steel across the wet, mushy north Plaza lawn to provide a solid footing for the crane. Meanwhile, workers wrapped the statue in rubber straps.
By 5:45 a.m., everything was ready. The statue's straps were attached to the hoist, and the massive bronze statue was gingerly lifted from its base, swinging gently as it was set down on the north side of the Plaza's center for inspection.
The statue was then loaded onto a truck for transport to the city's Corp Yard, where it will be prepared for shipment to Ohio.
As the skies brightened with dawn, the statue's base was next secured and lifted. The only minor hiccup of the morning occurred when the base's crown suddenly separated from the granite block beneath it. The two pieces were then removed separately and trucked away.
City officials on hand included Mayor Brett Watson, Councilmember Pereira, City Manager Karen Diemer, City Attorney Nancy Diamond and various Parks Dept. employees, plus a handful of Arcata Police officers, including Police Chief Brian Ahearn.
While the weather window was the ostensible reason for the early morning removal, the absence of crowds also helped minimize safety issues as the massive statue components were hoisted high in the air. It was far from certain that the project would go as smoothly as it did, and city staff was thankful for the lack of complications.
The absence of culture warriors on hand to cheer, jeer and possibly bicker or worse also simplified management of the operation.
Watson said he was glad the statue will go somewhere it will be valued, and that he's looking forward to planning what will go in its place.
Contractors on hand estimated that the statue weighed a surprisingly light 800 or so pounds. That's because, contrary to popular assumption, it is not solid bronze. It is, in fact, a metal shell filled partially with sand to keep weight down – a not-uncommon practice with large statues. A project foreman said he rapped on the legs, and they sounded empty.
The base was estimated to weigh 8,000 to as much as 10,000 pounds.
The City of Arcata press release about this morning's statue removal:
McKinley Statue Has Been Removed
The statue of President William McKinley was removed from Arcata’s Plaza on Thursday, February 28. City staff continued with the statue removal process when a break in the rain occurred with a long enough window for it to be transported safely and at a time when Plaza businesses, parking and traffic would be least impacted.
The City is currently working with the City of Canton, Ohio to relocate the statue.
McKinley Statue Recap
Last year, on Wednesday, February 21, 2018, the Arcata City Council voted in favor of relocating the McKinley statue from the center of Arcata’s Plaza.
The statue was identified as a historic feature of the Plaza in the City’s guiding document called the General Plan, which required City staff to complete an Environmental Impact Report (EIR) prior taking action on relocating the statue. The intent of environmental review under the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) was to describe the potential impacts of removing McKinley to City officials and the public prior to removing McKinley.
Following the Council's vote, a petition to prohibit the removal of the statue and its base was circulated to the Arcata community and received 1,426 signatures, which qualified the petition to become a ballot measure for the general election that took place on Tuesday, November 6, 2018.
On Tuesday, November 6, 2018, registered Arcata voters had the opportunity to vote in favor of, or against the McKinley measure, known as Measure M. The majority of Arcata voters (67.81%) voted Measure M down. Based on the outcome of the general election, City staff initiated the review of relocating the McKinley statue from the center of Arcata’s Plaza.
On Wednesday, February 20, City Council certified the Final Environmental Impact Report and instructed City staff to work with the City of Canton, Ohio to relocate the statue. The Council instructed City staff to remove the statue quickly and safely.
For more information on the history of the McKinley Statue, please click here.