By Kelly McKay
By day the Arcata Plaza is charming and abundant with family fun and harvest cheer on Halloween. Parents take their children from shop to shop trick or treating and enjoy the festive community in our small town. Up until last year, by night, the plaza would transform into a rowdy playground for young adults to party. A hoard of young adults adorned in spooky attire would abandon their normal Plaza behavior and transform into party monsters as the sun would set and the fog settles on the Plaza.
Ismail Taha, a 24 year-old Humboldt State graduate, spent the last three years of his college career partying on the Plaza on Halloween and remembers it fondly.
“It was absolute insanity,” Taha said. “I have never seen so many people in the square, drinking in public and getting seriously wild.”
As young participants would climb the statue of William McKinley, their peers would cheer and dance to the local Samba band. Julia Muse, a 23 year-old art major at Humboldt, said she once saw someone fall off the statue.
“But he was totally fine,” she said. “There were a lot of close calls and some people would get so sloppy I’m surprised I never saw anyone get hurt.”
In 2011, though, vandals ruined the fun on the Plaza by causing over $30,000 in damages to the city square. Broken glass was everywhere. People were consuming too much alcohol and getting injured. Business owners would return to their storefronts extremely disappointed by how much trash and vomit they would have to clean up the morning after Halloween shenanigans. Law enforcement had to react by making almost 30 arrests that night.
Last year law enforcement really cracked down and did not allow the legendary gathering to go on. The Arcata Police Department teamed up with a large group of students from the College of the Redwoods Law Enforcement Academy to ward off vandals from damaging the Plaza. They were successful in keeping the ruckus in the Plaza to a bare minimum.
However, there were a few individuals who caused enough trouble last year to justify law enforcement limiting the gathering on the Plaza. One vandal turned violent against Sargent Todd Dokkweiler and smashed a glass bottle on his face causing significant wounds to Dokkweiler’s face. Another participant raised much concern as he was reprimanded for carrying an unloaded AR-15 assault rifle around his neck and claimed it was his costume.
This year law enforcement will not be as tight as last year. Dokkweiler explained that law enforcement’s main goal this year is to keep people from climbing the statue and to prevent vandalism and violence.
“Our intention has never been to prevent the gathering from going on,” Dokkweiler said. “The Plaza is public space.”
This year the lawn on the Plaza will be open to the public but the statue will be fenced off.
Alex Goodman, 23 year-old party enthusiast, expressed his hopes for the future of the gathering.
“I don’t think I’ll ever see the Plaza as wild as it once was on Halloween night,” Goodman said. “But I think if vandals keep their distance the Plaza will be a place for all of us to celebrate again.”