Friday, September 11, 2009

The Missing Memorial

Posted By on Fri, Sep 11, 2009 at 3:02 PM

FrontStreetFountain.jpg
On Patriot Day — September 11th — it makes sense to talk about a Memphis war memorial that has disappeared.

Does anybody even remember the polished aluminum fountain (shown here) that was installed in 1962 at the entrance to the Front Street Post Office? It seems a local group called the Gold Star Mothers raised some $50,000 for a memorial to their sons, who had died in the war, and recruited Memphis architects to design one. What they wanted was a traditional, shrine-type structure — something with nice bronze statues and granite columns.

What they got, though, was a gleaming rectangular trough, with water dripping into a big marble pool below. The Gold Star Mothers were dismayed, calling the flashy thing "a monstrosity." The designers (whose names I can't recall) defended their work, saying the fountain was "the first example in Memphis of non-representational civic sculpture." In other words, it was some of that "modern" art, and some people here didn't appreciate it. This was 1962, remember.

Almost as soon as the fountain was set in place at Front and Madison, gripes started pouring in. Postal workers said sunlight reflecting off the highly polished aluminum blinded them. On windy days, the water tended to spatter people walking along the sidewalk. One day, a pesky kid actually clambered up on the thing, fell in, and almost drowned. A bit later, somebody tossed his girlfriend in after they had a fight. The park commission placed goldfish in the water, but they soon died and clogged up the drain. Then pranksters kept putting soap and bubble bath in the water. It was just one thing after another.

So, just eight years later, the city dismantled the fountain, filled in the basin and covered it with grass, and tossed the aluminum shell on top of a maintenance building in Overton Park. There it sat for years and years, until 1977, when the park commission remembered the fountain and decided to move it to Memphis Botanic Garden. At least that's what an old newspaper article says. But that plan apparently never happened. A while back I called the folks at the Botanic Garden, and they said the fountain never turned up there.

So what happened to it? I have no idea. Does anybody know?

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