Two years have passed since the statue of President William McKinley was taken off his pedestal on the Arcata Plaza in a quiet pre-dawn operation and, since that morning, the bronze work has remained out of public view.
After being placed on a cushion of tires in the back of a flatbed truck for the 2,600-mile trip due east to McKinley's longtime Ohio home back in March of 2019, barely a trickle of information has been forthcoming from the Timken Foundation of Canton, the official procurer of noted artist Haig Patigian's sculpture.
"The statue has been relocated to Ohio and the foundation has restored it at its own expense," Executive Director Mark Scheffler said in statement this week, responding to Journal questions about the statue. "It is currently in storage in a secure location. It will be moved to the Canton area for public benefit once a suitable location has been identified. We do not plan on having further comment."
One of the few public glimpses of the McKinley statue since it left Humboldt County was an article with photographs done by an Ohio art conservation center, detailing the extensive restoration process that Scheffler mentioned.
And the pictures showed a marked transformation.
Gone is the patina — cast by time and decades in the North Coast's elements — as are the vivid sea-green splotches left by an apparent acid attack that occurred just a few months before the sculpture's departure. After the statue was returned to its original tannish coloring, a coffee-brown wax layer was applied to protect the bronze work underneath.
But the art conservation center recently took down the piece about McKinley's September 2019 makeover, as well as accompanying social media posts, after the Journal asked for permission to use some of the photographs in a story as the anniversary of the statue's removal from the Arcata Plaza approached.
Originally, the director wrote back to say he would "have to check with the responsible entity for permission to release images." But within two days, the page's link resulted in a "404: page Not Found" message.
Why? It's not clear.
Neither Scheffler nor the art conservancy responded to Journal questions about the article being taken down.
But suffice to say, McKinley looks quite different than he did back in February of 2018, when the Arcata City Council made the decision on the statue's disposition — the culmination of more than a decade of efforts by removal advocates who viewed McKinley's likeness sitting court in the town's center as a vestige of American imperialism and genocide.
The last push gained momentum in late 2017 as a national conversation swirled around what should be done with historic monuments to once honored figures with legacies now seen by many as symbols of colonialism, white supremacy and slavery.
As Arcata wrestled with that question, some deemed the 1906 statue of the nation's 25th president, which survived the Great San Francisco earthquake and stood on its plaza perch for more than 100 years, simply part of the city's history — for better or worse. But most felt the statue should go.
In the end, another year would pass before the Arcata City Council sat down in February of 2019 to make the final call on McKinley's future. On the table were four offers to take the statue off the city's hands.
One was from a resident who offered to assist with the costs of moving the nearly 9-foot sculpture to a local private or public site, with the Eureka Veterans Hall expressing interest. Another was from the owner of the Fountainhead Auto Museum and Wedgewood Resort in Fairbanks, Alaska, whose wife grew up in town, with the offer to pay all relocation coasts and to come retrieve the statue. A third was from a person described in the city's staff report as "an anonymous donor," who would pay all of the city's costs to move the statue to the East Coast where it would join a private collection with other works by Patigian, as well as pieces related to McKinley's presidency.
The last was a pitch from the mayor of Canton, Ohio, who had put together a working group — which included the Timken Foundation — to find a way to bring the statue to the city where the Civil War veteran is buried at the McKinley National Monument, which is located near the McKinley Presidential Library and Museum.
"We promise that the statue will be displayed in a manner most befitting President McKinley, the grandeur of the statue, its history in Arcata and our appreciate to the city of Arcata," Canton Mayor Thomas Bernabei wrote in a letter, saying the city's offer would meet Arcata's "stated desire that this beautiful statue find a public home where it will be well-maintained, appreciated and honored."
He offered $15,000 to reimburse Arcata for removal costs — coincidentally the exact amount Arcata rancher George Zehnder paid when he commissioned Patigian to create the statue as a gift to his adopted city in remembrance of the president felled by an assassin's bullet in 1901.
The council decided to take Canton up on its offer, with then Councilmember Michael Winkler — who originally voted against its removal — saying the public had made clear both at the ballot box and via input that McKinley no longer had a place in Arcata, or even Humboldt County.
"I think that Canton, Ohio, is the most appropriate place for it to go," he said.
With his fellow council members in agreement, the direction was given to remove the statue as quickly and safely as possible. Eight days later, McKinley came down and by March 8, 2019, the Timken Foundation had signed a purchase agreement.
City Manager Karen Diemer said she hasn't heard any additional news since being notified of the statue's safe arrival in Ohio. As to why ownership was transferred to the foundation rather than the city, she said her understanding is that "was always the arrangement," with the foundation handling all the paperwork and logistics for transporting the statue.
"They did do quite a bit of work," Diemer said.
The mayor's office in Canton referred all queries about the statue to the foundation and did not respond to follow-up questions about the arrangement.
So what is the Timken Foundation of Canton? It's a private nonprofit founded in 1934 by the children of Henry Timken — a carriage maker who created a spring that produced a smoother ride in 1877 and designed a tapered roller bearing in the 1890s that improved the vehicles' performance. Both became intensely popular — and profitable.
By 1899, he and his sons had founded The Timken Roller Bearing and Axle Co., which evolved into the present day Timken Co. and TimkenSteel, businesses with global reaches in the markets of steel and bearings, which continue to serve as major economic drivers in Canton.
Since its inception, the Timken Foundation of Canton has given hundreds of millions of dollars to myriad causes across the world and in its own backyard, including $13 million in 2018 alone, according to tax records. But the foundation appears to eschew publicity.
There's no website outlining the Timken family legacy and the foundation's history, or any social media accounts touting its charitable works. Instead, most of the information available online about the foundation comes from tax records, news articles and mentions in press releases of grant recipients.
"We don't generally seek recognition," Ward J. "Tim" Timken Jr., a foundation trustee, told the Canton Repository in 2017, speaking generally about his family's long history of civic engagement. "We do it to give back to the communities. We were taught to be low-key. We don't flash around town in Lamborghinis and Ferraris."
While there appears to be no final decision at this point about where the statue will again be put on display, the city of Arcata's agreement with the foundation stipulates a place in "visibility of the public" for "community benefit" somewhere in Canton, with one of the locations previously batted about being the Stark County Courthouse, where McKinley once practiced law.
If for some reason a public placement is not possible, the agreement provides Arcata a first right of refusal to purchase the statue back for the price of $15,000, which seems unlikely considering the previous course of events that led to the statue's removal in the first place.
So, at least for now, it appears McKinley's status remains much like that of former Vice President Dick Cheney in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks: He's residing somewhere at an undisclosed but secure location until a suitable placement is found.
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