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Mena, Arkansas, News covering Polk County and the surrounding area

Vandalized Janssen Park fountain repaired

By Ethan Nahté

When visiting Janssen Park, visitors entering from the intersection at Maple Avenue and Seventh Street will find several iconic landmarks that capture the eye such as the 1851 log cabin and the twin 12-pound, bronze, 1835 mountain howitzer cannons, which flank the flagpole, were donated by Congress in 1915. One cannon was produced by Cyrus Alger and Company on June 29, 1849, the other by Ames Manufacturing Company on Feb. 16, 1863. 

There is also an 87mm – M4 field gun with a carriage from the 25th Division, used in the South Pacific in 1945. The memorial clock to George L. Lochridge, erected by his wife and daughter, a sentry over the evergreens and a fountain.

The beautiful fountain is nestled within the park’s circular drive. The artistic piece, known as the Boy and Girl Fountain, was purchased and placed in the park in 1914. The bronze-painted sculpture of the two barefoot children on a grassy island is surrounded by a low octagonal wall that doubles as a bench for visitors to sit and relax or chat. They hold an umbrella over their head, where water once sprang from the umbrella’s finial, flowing over into a pool below where well-wishers tossed coins and fish swam.

Beauty vandalized

Now, the Mena Police Department and City of Mena wish to find the vandal(s) who decapitated the statue this spring, sometime before the Lum & Abner Music & Arts Festival.

At the June 13 Mena City Council meeting, parks superintendent Wes Kemp reported to the city council the Boy and Girl Fountain had been removed and transported to Sparks Welding Service for repairs.

John House, owner of Sparks Welding, described the damage. “It was the little boy’s head and the umbrella. It split the shoulder a little bit, but it’s fixed. I didn’t hear much about what the [vandal] did because it was under investigation.”

In an interview following the meeting, Mena Mayor Seth Smith confirmed the damage had occurred due to vandalism. “I believe they found one of the heads in a yard across from the park. When I talked to Wes, it looks like they had to take a rod or wooden handle off a hand tool and knocked the head off. I don’t have a clue how they got it. If there’s a will there’s a way.”

Mena Assistant Police Chief Tod Cannon said the crime is still an ongoing police investigation as of July 11 and that no one has been charged yet.

Fountain history

The fountain’s surroundings have undergone a handful of changes over the decades, from being readily open to a fenced-in enclosure with plants that surrounded the fountain and the structure well out of reach of unauthorized personnel. 

A smaller enclosure with mesh wire went around the immediate fountain several decades ago while providing a bench encircling the fountain. Now, there is the decorative painted metal bars currently in place with a mesh wire backing. 

The protective barriers were dual-purpose, to keep people from getting into the fountain, potentially slipping and hurting themselves; to prevent damage to the statue and the pump equipment. 

Why someone would be so keen on destroying the statue is the obvious question. Why would the perpetrators ditch the head instead of mounting it like a trophy? Perhaps they had no option because they met up with someone as they were carrying it away from the park and quickly tossed it aside. Maybe they decided holding onto the evidence would make it easier to incriminate them.

The fountains were generally manufactured by prominent ornamental iron works companies. Still, impurities in the metal or during casting could occur.

While working on the Janssen park fountain, House said, “I’ve never run into anything with that kind of contamination in the metal.”

He- found it had porosity, which are microscopic holes, basically like a tooth cavity. The biggest impact porosity can cause is corrosion.

Sculptor Joe Van Wolf frequently works with metal. He spoke about the possibility of electrolysis where you have different metals contacting one another and they corrode. “You have the same problem if you have galvanized iron with a zinc coating on it. The zinc will corrode, especially when you have copper pipe and the iron. It becomes very brittle. A guy with a hammer, cane or something to hit it, it would easily come apart.” 

Considering the metal cage that encompasses the statue, it surely took some effort to extract the head from the enclosure. The mesh wire may have been pulled free, leaving enough room to squeeze the head and umbrella through with some considerable effort.

To repair, House said, “It took several hours of work over about a week. I had to do a little bit then back off — a lot of cleaning. You couldn’t extract it because it is a small head and hard to clean from the inside. We got it cleaned with a weld and some epoxy was used. It’s paint we got from Mike’s Home Specialties. It’s a bronze paint color and I matched it perfectly.”

Sparks Welding has been in business 20 years. House worked in boiler maintenance for 19 years with TI Construction and has been welding 35-40 years. 

“I was very upset that it happened,” House said. “I was glad to take on the job. It was a challenge. It was like an honor they asked me to do it.”

House has been utilized by the city on other occasions. When the tornado came through in 2009, he did the rings for the Christmas trees in the park. House also did the sign at the new police station with a flag for the Mena Police Department.

Van Wolf said, “I was asked a long time ago if I wanted to repair it by Mayor McKee. You have a fountain and have water… the copper on the bronze corrodes. That’s where you get that green color. If you don’t seal it properly, it corrodes.”

Fountain’s arrival

According to The Mena Evening Star, “the statue first arrived at Janssen Park on July 23, 1914, ordered by city park commissioner J.S. Kelly… 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… .” It was to be surrounded by flowerbeds, have a 3-foot iron railing encircling it and a citizen offered to stock it with goldfish. 

Coincidentally, on July 29, congressman Otis T. Wingo introduced a bill authorizing the secretary of war to donate two cannons and several cannon balls to the city of Mena for use in the park.

Mischief was not limited to the fountain. Kelly was also a judge. It was reported on Aug. 21, 1914, that Judge Kelly was “on the warpath this morning when he found that during last night someone had unlocked the wolf den and liberated the wolf.”

Fountain creation

It’s possible that E.T. Barnum Iron and Wire Works out of Detroit, Michigan, created the piece. Around the turn of the 20th century, at least eight Arkansas towns or cities were using Barnum’s products. The company began in 1866 and was well-established for manufacturing ornate lattice work, fences, fire escapes, spiral staircases, fancy canopies for office buildings and hotels and more, including heavy-duty jail cells. They had an entire catalog dedicated to steel cells. 

The cast-zinc fountain in Janssen Park looks very similar to either item No. 280 or No. 28-B—Out-in-the-Rain Fountain located on page 66 of Barnum’s 68-page No. 650 General Catalogue from 1924. Granted, that’s 10 years after Mena received the statue, but the fountain’s original design dates back to 1876. 

Van Wolf said, “I saw that design and I knew it was around that era. It had that feel to it. It’s unfortunate that someone would do something stupid like that. Unfortunately, it’s a different world in which we live in.”

According to Smithsonian Gardens, a division of the Smithsonian Institution, the fountain was originally known as the Centennial Group Fountain. It was first manufactured by J.W. Fiske Iron Works out of New York, and displayed at the Philadelphia Centennial International Exposition of 1876, hence where the name was derived. It received high praise and was recreated by a number of cast iron, terra cotta and cast zinc manufactories with minor variations. 

In 1904, a Mena delegation visited the World’s Fair in St. Louis. There they saw the Centennial Fountain and decided it would be perfect for Janssen Park. 

The cost for the fountain, shipping and installation to Mena in 1914 is unknown. The painted version, with one coat of paint, was priced at $115 in 1924. The version finished in bronze was $125, approximately $2,200 in today’s money.

On Oct. 26, 1935, only a year after being repainted, it was reported in The Mena Evening Star that someone had damaged the statue, smashing the umbrella with some sort of club. The arms and both children were pounded off and the remains thrown “into the park lake” (pond). At the time, a $10 reward was offered “for the arrest and conviction of the person or persons who committed the depredation.”

At that time, the children could still wade and play in the pool surrounding the fountain.

After the tornado that hit the park in 1993, the statue had to be restored once more, though it took several years and was finally unveiled on Oct. 16, 2001.


Mayor Smith said he believed it was in 2017 the last time the statue was damaged. 

Why an innocuous fountain that’s such a mainstay of Mena and Janssen Park has to constantly battle for survival is mind-boggling. If you have information regarding the most recent vandalism, contact the Mena City Police

The mayor stated, “Whenever we do catch them, restitution will be sought.”

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