Kevin L. Hoover
Mad River Union
ARCATA – The initial Arcata City Council vote to remove Arcata’s statue of William McKinley from the Plaza took place one year ago today. But that decision only ratcheted up the heat surrounding the controversial statue. A subsequent petition drive qualified Measure M for the ballot, giving Arcata voters a chance to ratify the council’s choice. And that they did, with a more than 2-to-1 vote to get rid of the statue.
But even that decisive vote left some dangling threads – when will the statue come down, and what will be done with it?
Now we know. In a matter of weeks a crane will lift the statue from the base on which it has resided since 1906, and it will be sent to Canton, Ohio, where McKinley lived with his wife, Ida. There, unlike Arcata, the eventual 25th president is held in extremely high esteem as a hometown hero.
At Wednesday’s City Council meeting, there was rare agreement among McKinley statue supporters and dislikers on a key point – that Canton was the statue’s proper forever home. Some wanted it as far away from Arcata as possible.
"Canton makes sense," said Erik Yahmo Ahqha Rydberg. "That's where McKinley came from; let them pay to take him back." Several other speakers agreed.
Councilmember Michael Winkler, who championed the Measure M initiative that would have reversed the council's decision, said he would heed the people's preferences. "As many people have expressed, that they don't want the statue at all in Humboldt County or in this area, so I think that Canton, Ohio is the most appropriate place for it to go," Winkler said.
Councilmembers Paul Pitino, Sofia Pereira, Susan Ornelas and Mayor Brett Watson also thought Canton the best choice. Councilmembers urged Diemer to move with dispatch in the statue down, even if it had to be kept in storage as transfer details were worked out.
Canton Mayor Thomas Bernabei was exultant over the sculptural windfall Thursday morning. He hadn’t seen the Arcata council meeting, and learned of the good tidings from message left by a newspaper reporter, followed by a phone call from Watson and City Manager Karen Diemer. Bernabei said they offered their congratulations.
The Ohio town is host to the McKinley Presidential Library and Museum, but since that facility doesn’t want it, Canton’s civic leaders are looking at a number of other locations on which to site the bronze effigy. And there are many from which to choose.
A January piece by Canton Repository Staff Writer and columnist Charita Goshay lists multiple potential locations in that town: outside the Stark County Courthouse, where McKinley practiced law from 1867 until 1876 prior to his election to Congress; the Central Plaza and the courtyard at the National First Ladies’ Library, where McKinley lived with his wife, Ida Saxton; the main branch of the Stark County District Library, where McKinley’s home once stood.
Thursday, Goshay said other sites could include the town’s Central Plaza, or even McKinley High School, where his sister Anna once taught.
It’s a happy problem for Mayor Bernabei. “We are very excited by the news and we thank the citizens of Arcata,” he said. “We’ll provide a very, very good home.”
Bernabei said he understands that there are many logistical details to work out, but hopes that the statue can be crated up and shipped as soon as possible.
Once received, it will undergo a thorough restoration by Coon Restoration and Sealants. In his initial letter to Diemer, Bernabei described that Canton-based company as one of the Midwest’s premier restoration firms. It will attempt to reverse what is presumed to be cosmetic damage inflicted on the statue last October, when someone splattered the statue with a discoloring substance.
“I will be forwarding them some closer-up pictures of the damage to review with the restoration company they have contacted which might determine where it is initially shipped to,” Diemer said. “I will hopefully have removal logistics organized in the next couple of weeks.”
Mayor Brett Watson agreed that Canton is the logical spot for McKinley to dwell henceforth. “In my conversations with the mayor of Canton it was clear that their community was enthusiastic about the possibility of relocating the statue to Canton,” Watson said. “They will also have the damage to the statue repaired, display the statue somewhere that's accessible by the public, and cover the costs of relocation. We had other offers to cover the costs but they were primarily to relocate the statue to private collections. Since the statue was originally gifted to the public I believe it’s appropriate the statue remains in possession of the public.”
Watson was glad to put the divisive issue in Arcata’s rear-view mirror, and for the opportunities statue removal makes possible. “We've spent a lot of time and resources on this issue and its time to move on to other goals such as increasing safety within the city, and considering a redesign of the Plaza in a way that will give a greater benefit to our community,” he said.
Arcata's mayor was eager to acknowledge the efforts of his colleagues in bringing about a solution.
“I'd also like to acknowledge the hard work all of our council members put into this issue over the last year,” Watson said. “Councilmember Ornelas spent a lot of time searching for solutions that would best serve our community and Councilmember Peirera presided over many challenging meetings.”