Interested parties have begun reaching out to Arcata officials about obtaining the city’s controversial statue of President William McKinley, including the mayor of Canton, Ohio, where the 25th president is buried.
“We have put out the message to call for any tangible offers for relocation and potential relocation costs,” Arcata city manager Karen Diemer said.
Canton Mayor Thomas Bernabei wrote a letter to Diemer in late December inquiring about the statue. In it, he writes that the statue is “inextricably linked” to Canton’s “history and identity.” McKinley settled in Canton for much of his adult life after fighting for the Union in the Civil War, and the city is home to the McKinley National Memorial, his final resting place.
“Bringing the McKinley statue to McKinley’s hometown of Canton would provide a fitting future location,” Bernabei writes. “We will be sure that the statue’s ultimate location in Canton is publicly visible and will generate public benefit.”
At its Tuesday meeting, the Arcata Planning Commission is set to make a recommendation to the council on the environmental impacts of removing the statue. Over two-thirds of the city’s voters rejected a 2018 ballot measure to prohibit the statue’s removal. A major factor in local opposition to the statue was research that indicates McKinley’s administration was complicit in white settlers’ mass killing of Native Americans.
After the planning commission makes its move, the council will have the final say in where the statue ends up. Currently, a number of private individuals have expressed interest in transferring the statue to their possession.
“We have some solid offers,” Arcata Mayor Brett Watson said. “My priority is to keep it here locally.”
Watson said he has spoken to activists who are fine with the statue being displayed elsewhere, just not at the center of Arcata Plaza, which many call the heart of the city.
“He was still the president of our country,” Watson said. “Some people here felt like it was not the right symbol at the center of our town. There are other people in other towns and parts of the country who feel the opposite. That’s their prerogative; we don’t need to get into their personal beliefs.”
Diemer said there hasn’t been much interest locally to store the statue within city or even county limits. The council may stick to the environmental impact report of the removal project at its next meeting, she added.
“They want to make sure they have vetted options that maintain historical and contextual appropriateness,” Diemer said. “It could be a place that has other artifacts from McKinley’s presidency or the artist’s other works.”
Shomik Mukherjee can be reached at 707-441-0504.