Monday, November 11, 2019

Breyman Fountain Lost Between World War II and Proposed Vietnam War Memorials

Breyman Fountain and two Capitols - early 20th century and 2013
(Salem Library Historic Photos - twice, here and here)
The purpose of the Breyman Bros. Fountain has been a little mysterious. The Library's photo captions are variations on "The statue is believed to be a memorial to the Spanish-American War and was a separate piece from the fountain originally." I don't know where this interpretation originated, but most everyone seems to follow it.

Just a tiny, unmarked square
for the Breyman Fountain
(See also Abbate Designs for more)
Taken as a war memorial, it would be increasingly lost between the existing World War II Memorial and the new proposed Vietnam War Memorial. Significantly, the site plan for the proposal omits any label or awareness of the fountain. It's indicated by a square outline and nothing more. This seems like a substantial omission and oversight.

In the end this may not in fact be a big problem, though it is something of a small problem.

A while back State Archives published an image of the photo illustrating its primary use. They repeated the war memorial interpretation, however: "A bronze statue of a Spanish-American War soldier topped the metal sculpture."

A horse drinking at the fountain - State Archives
But during 1904 as there were various squabbles over funding and ultimately accepting the fountain, the news seems clear that it was not a memorial to the Spanish-American War. Instead, the statue is labeled as a "Pioneer" and the purpose as "fountain" for "public drinking for man and beast."

"Bronze Pioneer" - June 28th, 1904

"Pioneer in Bronze" - September 23rd, 1904
Finally, in mid-fall the fountain was installed. Again, there is no mention of it being a war memorial. All through 1904 it's understood as a "fountain."

Accepted - November 4th, 1904
Still, even if the fountain is not a war memorial, nowadays it's a little bit lost on Cottage Street there. At the moment, it's flotsam, even junk. Just random hunk of fancy cast metal.

If the block face between Court and State Streets will be anchored by these very strong monuments on each corner, the landscape architects and State Parks should give strong consideration to better signage or other gestures to give the fountain more visibility and to knit it into the Willson Park site plan so that as a historical artifact it has more presence in between the pilgrimage sites on each corner.

See a little more on the Breyman house here, "The Story of Salem's First Bicycle: Ben Taylor talks with Fred Lockley"; on a family member's untimely demise, "Jessie Breyman McNary killed 100 Years Ago in Auto Crash"; and on Pioneer statues, "Guidance of Youth and the Ideology of Pioneer Mother Monuments."

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