Posted on November 6, 2018

Will Calif. Voters Remove 113-Year-Old McKinley Statue?

Edd Pritchard, IndeOnline, November 5, 2018


{snip} Voters in Arcata will be deciding if a 8-foot 6-inch statue of President McKinley should remain in a park in that city’s central plaza.

The statue has been in place for 113 years after a businessman named George Zehndner gifted it to city that sits at the northern end of Humboldt Bay on the Pacific Coast of Northern California.

The statue has been a sore point for some Arcata area residents for years. In February, the city’s council voted 4-1 to have the statue removed. That led to a referendum. Residents collected more than 1,400 signatures to challenge council’s vote and placed the issue — known as Measure M — on the Nov. 6 ballot.

In the meantime, city officials proceeded with a study — required under California law — to assess the impact of moving the statue. If Measure M receives enough “yes” votes the study will be moot and the statue will stay in place. “No” votes uphold council’s action to remove the statue from the plaza.

Why the debate?

The region around Humboldt Bay was home to two Native American tribes — the Wiyot people and the Yurok people — until the late 1840s when the search for gold brought European Americans. When the gold ran out, the new residents turned to logging and farming.

Members of both tribes remain in the Humboldt Bay region.

Disputes developed between the Native American tribes and new arrivals. Among that group was Zehndner, who was born in Bavaria in 1824 and came to the United States in 1849. According to one report, Zehndner was shot and wounded by Native Americans on a morning in March 1862 while farming land about 10 miles from Arcata.

That was after the Wiyot massacre. In February 1860, following two years of open hostility the dispute led to an organized attack on the tribes. White settlers killed between 80 and 250 Wiyot members in one attack, with more deaths in other attacks.

Tribe members who survived the attack were moved to land nearby. Some of them, under state laws, ended up as indentured servants working for and living with white settlers. According to records from the 1860 Census, Zehndner had a Wiyot child who had been sold to a German gold miner living in his household.

Why angry at McKinley?

Zehndner admired McKinley and in 1905, wanting to honor the first modern president, commissioned San Francisco sculpture Haig Patigian to produce the statue of McKinley. It is one of Patigian’s early works, and ended up in the center of the park at the artist’s urging, said Susan Ornelas, one of Arcata’s five city council members.


Information about the statue, as well as formal statements favoring and opposing Measure M, are posted on websites created by the city at and


The opponents see McKinley as someone who represents the belief in Manifest Destiny, which was used to justify the treatment Native Americans received. They also note that McKinley was president during the Spanish American War and essentially “presided over the imperialist colonization” of Puerto Rico, Cuba, Guam, the Philippines and Hawaii. McKinley also signed on to policies that led to loss of land rights for several Native American tribes, they argue.

Those who want to see the statue remain cite McKinley’s service with the Union Army during the Civil War and call him a dedicated abolitionist. {snip}


“Removing Presidential statues is a dangerous path to start down,” supporters of Measure M wrote. “No President is safe. Rather than tearing down and erasing history, add to it and improve our understanding of its historic context.”

Media blitz

McKinley’s statute has been questioned multiple times through the years. City Manager Karen Diemer said the statue has been debated for nearly 50 years. Councilwoman Ornelas said opposition seems to build every five to 10 years.


Residents protested in the park and complained to council members about the McKinley statue and a historical plaque commemorating a building that “served periodically as a refuge in time of Indian troubles.” {snip}


Meanwhile, residents who love the statue went to work with their petitions. Measure M was placed on the ballot in July. Since then the different sides have campaigned.

In mid-October someone vandalized the statue, apparently spraying it with liquid. {snip}

If the referendum aimed at keeping the statue fails, city officials have completed the plan to remove and store the statue. According to a report in the Mad River Union, a newspaper serving the Arcata area, City Manager Diemer said there is a legitimate offer to remove and relocate the statue at no cost to the city.