Arcata, McKinleyville and an Assassinated President

It was Mr. Costello, a Del Norte High coach and history teacher who asked: Why is there a statue of President William McKinley in the town plaza of Arcata? And why is it “McKinleyville” if it doesn’t have the statue or any relation to the 25th president?

At the time I recall thinking, “Who gives a shit?”

As it turns out – his asking led me becoming interested in the seemingly obscure points of history often forgotten about. I learned the answer to both questions that day and to keep an open mind when it came to what some may deem insignificant.

The statue was presented to the City of Arcata by George Zehndner, July 4, 1906. It cost him $15,000 to have it shipped up from the bay area and erected on the 25 ton granite base is still rests on.

Whose George Zehndner?  And why the hell such a weird gift?

Zehndner  was a native of Bavaria, born in 1824 and had come to America in 1849. He worked his way to California, chopped wood in Sacramento, invested in a pack train in Weaverville.

While in Trinity County he traded some mules for some cows and drove them to Angel’s Ranch, east of Arcata proper. He started ranching, only to be burned out by Indians in 1862

But by 1866, he was back in business at the ranch. Four years later he sold his share in the ranching business and bought a home in Arcata.

Zehndner was an admirer of McKinley and a Republican, through-and-through. The 81-year-old man took the 1901 assassination of McKinley to heart and decided to create a monument to the “first modern president.”

As for the nine-foot statue – it was sculpted by Armenian-born artist Haig Patigian in San Francisco, and whose credits include a statue of Abraham Lincoln in San Francisco and a bust of Herbert Hoover in the White House. The statue’s unveiling was postponed because of the 1906 San Francisco earthquake and fire.

Patigian found the statue had been toppled by the quake; however a large plaster model had braced its fall, but he had to leave it because it was too large to move. A week later, the foundry owner told him the statue had been destroyed.

But the foundry owner was wrong and Patigian soon learn the statue had been saved from the burning foundry. It was then moved by steamship to Humboldt Bay in May 1906 – later to be presented to the city.

Now – what about the town of McKinleyville, which is named for the late president but lacks the statue which Arcata owns?

Prior to the turn of the twentieth century,  McKinleyville was known as Minorville. It was named by Isaac Minor, who had a number of businesses there including the Minor Store, A & L Feed Store and a lumber company.

Minorville, believe it-or-not, was at one time home to a large number of die-hard Republicans. So after McKinley was assassinated September 6, 1901, they changed the town’s name to McKinleyville.

Isaac Minor was also a big name the in Arcata area, with his name appearing on a “Minor Alley,” and the “Minor Theater.”  As a kid, I thought it was named the “Minor” Theater because the other one was the “major” theater in town.

One more thing about McKinleyville: It reportedly is home to “The largest totem pole in the world,” at 160 feet tall. Go figure.

UPDATE: On February 21st, 2018 the Arcata City Council voted 4-1 to remove the statue of William McKinley. The next step in the process is for the city to hold a meeting to initiate the Environmental Impact Report.


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