Perched on a hilly clearing between the Pacific Ocean and a rainforest along California’s coastal highway, Arcata occupies a special niche behind the “Redwood Curtain.” A cultural and geographic crossroads, Arcata’s story is told in the faces of its people. The Wiyot were the first to inhabit Kori; their massacre on nearby Indian Island was boldly condemned by young Arcata (then Union) newspaper editor Bret Harte. Austin Wiley and sons carried on the newspaper tradition as pioneers Zelia Vaissade and Henrietta Moranda helped establish dairies on the Arcata Bottom. Arcata matured into a college town with Humboldt State College. Its first graduate, Susie Baker Fountain, became Humboldt County’s first historian. Working men like Warren Dowling built the town’s homes and churches, while the first woman city councilmember, Alexandra Stillman, helped usher in the modern age. Today, killing fields escapees Kimhak and Rasmey Chum make doughnuts and pizza that draw people at all hours, and Arcata fairly boils as a stew of contrasting traditions, styles, and icons with its artsy, eclectic, liberated citizens bringing Humboldt County’s North Coast its most vibrant tiny big city.
Author Bio: Arcata Eye newspaper editor Kevin L. Hoover plumbed private collections, museums, and university archives to locate Arcata’s legendary locals.
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