Let's all chip in to help restore our bronze lady

Friday, June 12, 1998

The fountain is the heart of Cincinnati. We gather around it when our sweetest dreams come true.

When wars end, we're there.

When we win the big game, sweep the World Series, go to the Super Bowl, we celebrate at the fountain.

After a special show, concert or meal, we like to walk by the fountain to bask in the afterglow.

When relatives come to visit, we take them downtown and show them the Tyler Davidson Fountain on Fountain Square.

We don't have to know the fountain's full name or its history. We just want to show it off. Live here long enough and you develop an unspoken bond with this structure of bronze, water and granite. When you think of Cincinnati, you see the fountain.

Relatives and revelers alike take in the fountain the same way. They look up, all the way up, to the top. They watch as strands of water, beads of droplets, stream from the hands of a bronze lady, the Genius of Water.

She is our version of the Statue of Liberty. I say "our version" because the fountain belongs to us.

A bronze medallion at the lady's feet says so. It reads: "To The People Of Cincinnati."

Notice, it does not say, "To the City of Cincinnati." The fountain was not a gift to the government.

The fountain was a gift to us. It's ours.

And now, our fountain is in trouble. It is falling apart.

The fountain's skin is peeling. Fractures cripple its metal skeleton. Its pipes are leaking. The concrete foundation is crumbling. A wooden beam temporarily keeps the statue upright. If the Genius of Water were a hospital patient, her condition would be listed as grave.

The 127-year-old lady on top of the fountain won't lose an arm today. Or tomorrow.

But if something isn't done within the next year to repair the community's heart and soul, to restore, preserve and protect this landmark, the fountain will collapse. And our city's heart will be broken.

To me, letting the fountain go to pot is as unthinkable as letting Lady Liberty sink into New York harbor.

Fountain of memories

Every time I cut across Fountain Square, I pause by the bronze lady. No matter what the weather or how big of a hurry I think I'm in, I'll stand by that old fountain and remember.

In my mind, it's a late summer's night. I'm about ready to go back to college. A warm breeze mixes with the fountain's cool mist. And I'm stealing a first kiss from the woman who'll become my wife.

That is just one memory of mine, one in a city of millions of memories wrapped around the fountain on the square.

To help her make more memories, the Genius of Water must be saved and restored.

That job can't be done on the cheap. It's going to cost $1.5 million to make the fountain whole again and more to make it last.

After raising the $1.5 million for restorations, city officials tell me they also want to set up an endowment fund to pay for regular inspections and future repairs. They want the fountain to be in good shape for its 200th birthday in the year 2071. They plan to start some kind of community-wide fund-raising effort in September.

Since this is our fountain, I suggest we pay for restoring it with individual donations. As they did with the Statue of Liberty. I don't want to see the $1.5 million restoration project and the endowment fund be just two more line items on the city's budget. I don't want some corporate name or logo attached.

Part of me says: Those bozos in city hall should pay for it. They've already got my tax dollars. And they can always find money for everything else. That's the penny-pinching taxpayer in me talking.

The better part of me, the guy who visits the fountain for fun, to savor bits of history with everyone else or to steal a kiss, says let's make this a true people's project.

Let us adults, who cherish the fountain, pitch in.

Let school kids get involved in penny drives and other fund-raising events.

When those kids cross the square 20 years from now, they can tell their children how they helped save our fountain.

"To The People Of Cincinnati," it says on our fountain.

Let's show the lady who graces our city square that the people of Cincinnati care.

Columnist Cliff Radel can be reached at 768-8379; fax 768-8340.