Monday, March 31, 2014

Sandusky's Boy With the Boot

(D. Brady photo)
I'd noticed the Boy With the Boot statue many times over the years while passing through Downtown Sandusky and wondered, "What's the story behind that thing?"

A casual internet search reveals that not only are there a lot of those same statues all over the country, but they are all over the world as well. No one seems to know what country they originated from, or if there is truly a story behind it.

The Sandusky version still seems to suffer from conflicting stories about its origin. That's why I thought it would be fun to properly research it using the best source: the actual newspapers that reported the statue's comings and goings. During my research, I managed to dig up a few nuggets of information about the statue that apparently had been lost to time.

So here's my story (below). It ran in The Black Swamp Trader & Firelands Gazette in the Spring 2013 issue, and appears here courtesy of that publication. 

I've thrown in a a few bonus color photos and other images that didn't make it into the newspaper (which due to space, usually limits me to three or four greyscale images to accompany my articles).

Giving the Boot to the Myths About Sandusky’s Beloved Statue
By Dan Brady
(D. Brady photo)
For more than one hundred years, Sandusky’s iconic Boy With the Boot statue has been a beloved landmark in the community. Although the locals are well acquainted with him, however, the statue is a source of mystery to many out-of-towners. Adding to the curiosity is the fact that the present statue atop the fountain in Washington Park is a copy of the original. What is the history of the original Boy With the Boot statue, as well as his fate? Let’s take a look at the story of this symbol of Sandusky, as told through vintage newspaper accounts, and debunk some of the erroneous information about him to boot.
First of all, there is still some lingering confusion about the original statue’s origin. It is well known that his “father” was Voltaire Scott, who owned a two-story hotel located at the corner of Water and Wayne Streets. Scott decided to improve the small park he had created across the street from his hotel, and contributed $2,000 to the City for this purpose. A fountain decorated with electric lights and adorned with several statuaries – including the Boy With the Boot – was to be the centerpiece of the park.
But where did the Boy with the Boot statue actually come from?
Many online sources still state that Scott and his wife obtained the Boy With the Boot statue in Baden, Germany in 1876. But newspaper accounts from the week that the park improvements were taking place contradict this claim.
The Boy With the Boot as
depicted in the J. L. Mott catalog
The Sandusky Register of July 4, 1895 includes an article entitled “Fine Pieces of Statuary Will be Erected in the Fountain,” that tells the story of the arrival of the statues. As the article noted, “The pieces arrived in the city on Wednesday morning from the house of J. W. Fiske, of New York. The pieces represent “Venus Rising from the Water,” and the “Unfortunate Boot,” the latter representing a little boy holding in his right hand a boot. From the toe of the boot, where the statue is mounted, will issue a small stream of water. The statue is four feet high and will be placed between the two statues of “Venus,” which will rest on either side of the fountain.”
Other companies besides J. W. Fiske – such as the J. L. Mott Iron Works of New York – produced their own versions of the Boy With the Boot. According to the book Zinc Sculpture in America 1850-1950 (2009) by Carol A. Grissom, the statue was the most popular fountain figure, with thirty-three copies identified in the United States. (It’s believed that at least 24 are still in existence today in the U. S. and other countries.)
The Boy With the Boot was a popular attraction in Scott Park. But when the notorious Lorain-Sandusky tornado struck on June 28, 1924, the park and its fountain sustained some damage. This has resulted in a commonly accepted narrative that the damaged Boy With the Boot was put into storage until the mid-1930s, before being moved to Washington Park.
The original Boy With the Boot in Scott Park
But there is reason to believe that the Boy With the Boot remained in Scott Park longer than previously thought.
The Sandusky Star-Journal of April 5, 1927 included a tongue-in-cheek crime story about one of the Venus statues in Scott Park that mentions the Boy With the Boot. It stated, “Police found the body of a young woman lying in Scott park at the foot of Wayne-st. Tuesday morning. It was first believed that the lady had been the victim of foul play, but after a more thorough investigation it was thought that she had been caught in the storm Monday night and succumbed.” The article noted, “the lady had been a resident of Sandusky for a number of years and was well known, especially among the loafers along the water front. The lady in question is one of the twins residing at Scott park over which the boy with the boot sprinkles water.” 
So it appears that the Boy With the Boot was not so badly damaged after the tornado that he was stored away. And two newly discovered newspaper articles indicate that he was moved to Washington Park five years earlier than previously believed.
On April 11, 1930, a small item appeared in The Sandusky Register, under the heading “Breakfast Table Talk.” It read, “The statue of the boy holding a boot from which water pours in a continuous stream, for years the central figure of the Scott’s Park fountain, has been placed in the fountain in Washington Park.” And on the editorial page of the Saturday, April 19, 1930 The Sandusky Star-Journal, under the heading “IN GAY RAIMENT,” it is noted, “The little boy with the boot, years ago a fixture in the old Scott park at the foot of Wayne-st, now stands in the Washington park fountain, sprayed by the rising streamlets.”
In June 1935, the dilapidated fountain and remaining statuaries were removed from Scott Park, prior to its conversion into a parking lot. Two years later, the Boy With the Boot was once again threatened – not by a tornado, but surprisingly by public opinion.
In late March 1937, it was announced that the fountain in Washington Park would be rebuilt and beautified, with a new raised ornamental garden made of tufa rock surrounding the pool. When the renovation was complete in May 1937, the Boy With the Boot was placed on the apex of the fountain. But within a month, at least one citizen was unhappy about it!
The infamous letter to the editor in which a reader
urges, "Junk the water boot junk."
In a letter to the editor published in The Sandusky Star-Journal on June 17, 1937, Dr. J. T. Nicholson made his opinion known. “Junk the water-boot junk,” he wrote. He explained that, “We citizens hoped that a statue of George Washington in rustic pioneer uniform, yes, or that of the Great Sandusky citizen Mr. Mills who donated the land to our city for park purposes, yes, even a statue of an Indian chief, say Chief Sandusky, would complete the picture. If so, Sanduskians, passing through said park would not feel like holding their noses or hanging their heads in shame.”
At the same time the letter was published, the Boy With the Boot was removed from the fountain. Was it because of the criticism?
No, explained Park Superintendent Jacob Roth in an article published in the same paper the same day as the letter. The statue was taken down so that it could be given another coat of white paint. “Art critics and fault found by local historians had nothing to do with the removal, the city official indicated,” stated the article.
Back on his perch atop the tufa rock mountain, the Boy With the Boot enjoyed regular mentions in the newspapers. An April 1940 article in The Sandusky Star-Journal about getting city parks ready for summer noted, “The boy with the boot has been given a fresh coat of paint and is ready to go on duty at the fountain.”
It's easy to overlook the Boy With the Boot on
this vintage postcard – but he's there
A 1947 tourism article in The Sandusky Register-Star-News attested to the statue’s popularity. “The boy with his leaky boot draws much attention,” it stated.
By the late 1950s, the disappearance of the Boy With the Boot when it began to get colder was a sure sign of the coming winter. As The Sandusky Register-Star-News charmingly put it in its October 12, 1956 edition, “When white-gleaming “Huckleberry Finn,” (or is it “Tom Sawyer”) and his water-spouting torn boot leaves his seasonal perch atop the fountain in Sandusky’s scenic Washington Park – when falling, rustling leaves are being raked and hauled to fill the now dry basins of the fountain to be used next spring as fertilizing compost – when flower-beds are being denuded of their erstwhile blooms – then we know that fall has taken hold.”
Similarly, the reappearance of the Boy With the Boot when it began to get warmer was a harbinger of summer. An article in The Sandusky Register of April 21, 1958 noted, “Our little Friend, the Boy With the Boot, again attired in spotless white, and holding his tattered boot, has this morning once more climbed to his pedestal above the park fountain.”
Sept 1965 newspaper ad
The Boy With the Boot continued to enjoy great popularity in the ensuing decades. In addition to being depicted on postcards through the years, his likeness was made into a popular charm that was sold in local jewelry stores in the 1960s. He was also featured on an apothecary jar that was a local bank’s 1977 Christmas Club promotional giveaway.
The 1980s were very big for the Boy With the Boot. He was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1982, and celebrated his 90th birthday in 1985. But the 1990s would literally be the downfall of the aging statue.
In 1991, the Boy With the Boot suffered two shocking acts of vandalism. First, in July he was beheaded; then, after being repaired, he was knocked from his pedestal into the fountain in early September.
1970s promotional jar
Something had to be done – so a bronze copy of the original Boy With the Boot was commissioned from the Toledo Area Sculptors Guild. It was installed in the fountain in Washington Park in May 1992.
The replacement Boy With the Boot does not need to be removed for the winter. Tom Speir, Sandusky’s Greenhouse Foreman, confirmed that the current statue is only occasionally removed for a coat of paint or for maintenance.
In July 1992, the original Boy With the Boot – fully restored – was put on display at Sandusky’s City Building at 222 Meigs Street. Kelly L. Kresser, City Commission Clerk, has an office near the display case and she notes that he still attracts attention from visitors to the building.
However, the City is taking no chances with anything happening to its retired Boy With the Boot. Kresser asked me if I had taken a good look at the display case.
“That’s bullet-proof glass,” she smiled.

The original Boy With the Boot – retired, and
under bullet proof glass in the City Building in Sandusky


Dorene from Ohio said...

Outstanding article!!

Dan Brady said...

Hi Dorene! Well, it's a retread from the BST and FG--but at least this format allowed me to use all the stuff that didn't fit in the newspaper--plus I could use the color versions of my photos!

I'm still impressed that Sandusky allowed their "Boy" to take a trip so that Wadsworth could recapture some of their past.