Statue of Canton hero causes fuss in California town

A century-old statue of President William McKinley in a historical plaza in Arcata, Calif., has long been a target for pranksters.

Vandals have used cheese, condoms and marijuana to abuse the likeness of the 25th president, an Ohio native.

Questions over McKinley's legacy, however -- an off-and-on debate about his role in starting the Spanish-American War has flared up again -- are what really has the town atwitter.

The notion came as a surprise to Janet Metzger, librarian at the Wm. McKinley Presidential Library and Museum in Canton, where the future president launched his career.

"I was just amazed," Metzger said. "You think of the mild-mannered man the way I have come to think of him, and he doesn't seem like the type they would try to pin this on."

McKinley, who was elected in 1900, was born in Niles, near Youngstown, and later moved to Canton. A plaque beneath his bust near the library's entrance describes him as "an obedient and affectionate son, patriotic and faithful as a solider, honest and upright as a citizen, tender and devoted as a husband, and truthful, generous, unselfish, moral and clean in every relation of life."

That's not how Michael Schleyer sees it. Last month, the Arcata resident presented city officials with 1,300 signatures on a petition seeking to remove the statue there. Some have suggested sending the statue to the family of the man who commissioned it or to the Canton museum.

"The truth of McKinley is he's just like any of the other people who throughout history caused mass destruction and death," said Schleyer, who has compared McKinley to Adolf Hitler and Mao Zedong.

The statue in Arcata, a coastal city of about 17,000 some 200 miles northwest of Sacramento, has stood since 1906. It features McKinley in a topcoat with his left arm at his side and his right hand partly extended, palm up. It was commissioned by an Arcata resident after McKinley's assassination in 1901 and was dedicated in 1906.

"It was installed on July 4 with quite a bit of ceremony," said Dan Hauser, Arcata city manager and a former councilman and mayor. "The whole town turned out."

On various occasions, the distinguished sculpture has had a gas mask fitted over its head, cheese stuffed in its ears and condoms wrapped around its thumb.

"People have grown pot in the dirt around him," said Gino Pitino, 21, son of Arcata Councilman Paul Pitino. "The funniest thing I've probably seen is one New Year's where there was toilet paper wrapped around his head and there were three naked (female college students) lounging on him, and it wasn't like he was a sexy guy or anything."

Despite the statue's longevity, people in Arcata don't particularly identify with McKinley, Gino Pitino said.

"I went to grade school here since fourth grade, and from fourth grade until ... I started going to junior college, we never learned one thing about McKinley," he said.

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