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Janssen Park Boy & Girl Bronze Statue Turning 100…

BY LEANN DILBECK –

Janssen Park’s timeless ‘Boy & Girl Fountain’ turns 100-years old today! This couple has been the backdrop of generations of photos, survived countless storms and tornadoes, and been the source of great wishes made, as generations of children and adults for 100 years have thrown coins into their pool.

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The bronze statue was ordered by city Park Commissioner J.S. Kelly, as The Mena Evening Star July 23, 1914 issue announced its arrival: “…arrangements are now being made to install it in the park fountain. The fountain is the statue of a boy and girl holding an umbrella and will be quite an addition to the park. When com

pletely installed the fountain will be surrounded by flowerbeds and will have a 3-foot high iron railing around it. A citizen has offered some gold fish to be put in the pool around the fountain.”

The couple has received a few make-overs through the years to keep their youthful, pristine appearance, one of which was soon followed by an act of vandalism. The October 26, 1935 issue of the The Mena Evening Star reported the “wanton and uncalled for” news that outraged the local community. An excerpt reads, “This fountain had been one of the principal ornaments of Janssen Park for the past 25 years. Only last summer, under the direction of the park board, it was re-decorated with an attractive coat of pain, appropriate to the figures represented in the statuary. In the summer time, it was the delight of the children of the city to wade and play in the pool that surrounded the fountain and splash and frolic in its cooling spray, so even the youngsters will view with regret the mutilated and unsightly remains of the once attractive little boy and girl statue that had stood for so long in Mena’s park.

Just why anyone would want to destroy a piece of public property like this cannot be fathomed. Investigation was being made Saturday by the local officers and the park commissioners, and Olen R. Wood, Chairman of the Park Committee stated that he had offered a reward of $10 for the arrest and conviction of the person or persons who committed to the depredation.”

This photo courtesy of Melissa Riggs shows Cleo Tucker and A.V. Pirtle giving the statue one of its many make-overs throughout the years.
This photo courtesy of Melissa Riggs shows Cleo Tucker and A.V. Pirtle giving the statue one of its many make-overs throughout the years.

The damage sustained during this attack, according to the published report, was having a club smash the umbrella the boy and girl were holding and then “proceeded to pound off the arms of the two and throw the wreckage in the park lake.”

It was speculated at the time that the vandalism could be linked to another incident in the park on March 8, 1935 when a “… partially decomposed stick of dynamite under the log cabin city hall in the park was found. […] when the discovery of the destruction of the fountain was made and it was wondered if someone, for some reason or other, had a grudge against the city or some of its officials and citizens were attempting to get even by destroying municipal property.”

This photo, circa 1925, shows Mary Ann and John Forsyth posing with Helen Ruth Conely, as so many families have through the years, with the fountain in the background.
This photo, circa 1925, shows Mary Ann and John Forsyth posing with Helen Ruth Conely, as so many families have through the years, with the fountain in the background.

The most distinct make-over was when Janssen Park took a direct hit from a 1993 tornado, probably the one storm that changed the face of Janssen Park more than any other, taking out approximately 160 mature trees alone. Gratefully, because of T.C. Masters, the park before that storm will forever be memorialized through his photographs and prints.

The then Mena City Clerk/Treasurer Regina Walker secured a $4,000 grant in 1999 from the ‘Save Our Sculpture’ project of the Heritage Preservation and Smithsonian’s National Museum of American Art source to have the iconic figures restored to their present day appearance. The most notable addition was the cage that now fully protects the young couple, rather than just a railing.

An unveiling of the restored sculpture was held during a rededication in Janssen Park on October 16, 2001, with then Mena Mayor Henry Sunderman and City Clerk/Treasurer Regina Walker, and Council Member Sue Witherspoon, who chaired the Parks Committee.

If the infinitely young couple could only talk, the stories they might tell from their last 100 years… from tales of ornery children and adolescents to stolen kisses and proposals to secrets shared and wishes made to major storms… this seemingly ageless Boy & Girl have celebrated a century in Mena and have certainly seen their fair share of make-overs and history… here’s to 100 more!

 

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2 comments

  1. I have a bronze statue owned by my Grandma & I myself am now 74 years old. The statue is heavy rare of a boy & girl. It’s more than iver 100 years old. Love to know value.

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