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Drinking from a fountain of ignorance

Ever visit an old hunk of metal plopped out in the middle of New York harbor? You know, a big hunk of bronze that used to be brown but has turned green with age? It’s so blasted old workers have to hand make parts to repair it. We hear that yearly maintenance costs a pretty penny — something akin to its original color.

Clearly, it’s time we replace the dumb old Statue of Liberty with something kids would like a whole lot more — a neon-lined Ferris wheel, perhaps, or maybe a Tilt-a-Whirl.

We could even put a plaque at the bottom: “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning for a free ride.”

Fortunately, Marion’s mayor isn’t New York’s mayor. He apparently would be more than happy to make that deal in a Marion County minute.

Despite reams of emails in opposition, David Mayfield and others seem intent on getting rid of one of the Marion’s signature landmarks — a more than half-century-old memorial fountain with beautifully dancing, multi-colored waters — and replacing it with, wait for it, a splash pad.

It’s the latest in a series of attempts by Marion to substitute crass for class.

It’s not that there’s anything inherently wrong with a splash pad — once COVID-19 goes away, of course, and the splash pad ceases being a petri dish for half-clad kids who skin their elbows and knees sliding around in it.

Just as a flower out of place becomes a weed, a splash pad belongs not in a historically natural oasis like Central Park but in a playground — maybe across the street or half a block south or east in the park, where other playground equipment exists.

Arguments for demolishing one of the few things that truly set Marion apart are as shallow as the water in the splash pad would be.

Wobbly, badly installed or maintained electrical circuits that regularly burn out fountain pumps and motors, along with all manner of other equipment around town, will just as surely burn out pumps and motors in a splash pad.

Debris that regularly clogs fountain intakes will just as surely clog splash pad intakes — especially if workers don’t get around to maintaining them every day, as they are supposed to do but rarely are seen doing.

If we care so little about history and beauty, why not tear down Elgin Hotel and replace it with a nice new metal building where Tom Bodette can leave the light on for us and each cookie cutter room with occasionally laundered sheets can come with a vibrating bed, activated by quarters?

Time after time, Marion has fought back attempts to raze its past and replace it with futile fads that fade in the future. Perhaps a splash pad belongs out in East Park, with all the other almost-never-used playground equipment.

In pragmatic terms, a splash pad is usable only for a few weeks each year — during the day, in very warm summer months. Neither it nor a fountain is of much use when it’s freezing. But a fountain can provide beauty, peace, and comfort in chilly weather as well as warm. And it can continue its mission well into the evening, when all a splash pad can do is annoy parents of feral kids coming home late with wet clothes and sniffles — while also annoying adult visitors forced to endure squealing and running instead of quiet, contemplative beauty while sitting or strolling in the park.

Razing a memorial that dozens of people spent blood, sweat, and tears raising money for dishonors the memories of loved ones and the activism of those who created the memorial. If you even wonder why it’s hard to get people to contribute to community projects, perhaps it’s because so many of what were supposed to be permanent memorials quickly are swapped out for passing fads and fancies.

Ten years from now, when a splash pad is replaced by a skateboard ramp, a disc golf course, handball courts, or whatever by then is supposedly in vogue, where will the memories of those involved with the splash pad be? Somewhere down the drain, we suspect.

Maintain our present fountain and we will have a showpiece and memorial for generations to come. Fail to do so and we, as stewards of our community, will become little more than shady real estate speculators trying to flip houses. Our legacy, half a century from now, will be the equivalent of asbestos-lined linoleum floors damagingly glued atop natural hardwood.

We write this not because the fountain is a memorial to a former editor of this paper. In fact, it is not. The fountain was his brainchild, and, when he died far too young, money in his memory — as well as money in memory of many other beloved community figures — was donated to it.

We write this because it’s time Marion stops falling for every superficial fad, stops painting its streets instead of repairing them, stops moaning about its electric and water systems and actually does something about them, and stops wasting time, money, and our community’s legacy on half-baked ideas that are appealing mainly because city workers don’t know how to maintain what already exists.

If we care so much about recycling, let’s start by repairing landmarks instead of razing them. If that means having to learn how to repair them, maybe all those raises city officials seem so eager to pass out should be limited to workers who learn how to do whatever work is actually needed.

— ERIC MEYER

Last modified Aug. 12, 2020

 

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