How is it appropriate to
associate these images of violence
with the dream of Martin Luther King
The violence and brutality of the sculptures of
J C Nichols fountain
would blaspheme the memory of Martin Luther King
if it were renamed the Dream Fountain.
racism, so many folks favor renaming the fountain--
as The Star's
editorial points out here.
Renaming J C Nichols Fountain
Slave owners closed their eyes to the sin of slavery
and could not see the iniquity of their control of another human being.
Just so, Kansas Citians often cannot see through the splash and spray of
the fountain to see the triumphalism of the human subjugation of nature
and the destruction of the environment symbolized in these sculptures,
metaphors for the exploitation of white privilege and racism, part of the
very structure of oppressive culture King sought to replace with "the beloved
community." These images of subjugation, in their historical context, are
metaphors for slavery.
It is ironic that a Parks Board proponant of renaming
the fountain has said, “The time has come for us to stop turning a blind
eye towards racism of the past and present,” but eyes are not open to the
clash between the sculptures and King's dream.
The 19th Century industrial-mentality sculptures
representing four of the world's rivers were created by Henri Gerber in
1910 and brought to Kansas City from the mansion Clarence Mackay in Long
Island, New York, and installed here in 1960 to honor J. C. Nichols. How
does this palatial background suit King's life story?
Meeting King in 1967 was one of the most transformative
experiences of my life. I would hate to see his memory dishonored by the
assaults of the fountain sculpture.
THE FOUNTAIN IS AN ABOMINATION.
After moving to Westport decades ago, I began walking
most days to the south end of Mill Creek Park. I certainly knew Nichols
Fountain was there, and I saw its streams of water. But I never really
looked at it until one day, maybe three years later, I actually examined
I was distressed. It is a celebration of human domination
over nature, not harmony with it -- appropriate for our petro-fueled economy.
There is violence and pain in the sculptures, along with the glee of domination,
supposedly representing the Mississippi, Volga, Seine, and the Rhine rivers.
I was unable to deter a Johnson County friend and colleague a few years
ago from preaching a series of sermons celebrating the fountain, so I know
my opinion is unlikely to get anybody to look beyond the gorgeous sprays
of water at the horror of what the fountain sculpture actually portrays.
In 2017, Steve Kraske proposed renaming the fountain.
Alas, the "J. C. Nichols Fountain" is a far more appropriate name for this
message of environmental assault than associating it with Martin Luther
King Jr and his dream.
THE KANSAS CITY STAR
The Kansas City Star has endorsed renaming the fountain.
This is the gist of what I wrote the Editorial page editor on June 11:
Please send a photographer to take photos of the
Indian on the horse and the alligator, and the spearing of the bear for
sport as you support renaming Nichols Fountain (and in my view, dishonoring
Martin Luther King's dream). It took me three years of walking by the fountain
almost every day before I finally really looked at this industrial-mentality
sculpture set of the four rivers, celebrating human abuse of the environment,
a mentality that makes other forms of oppression possible.
Even the cherubs join in the fun of dominating,
instead living in harmony with, nature. The happiness associated with the
fountain (as in weddings I've performed there) is evidence of ignoring
or glossing over the ugliness of our ecological ignorance, part of the
oppressive system at the root of racism. We are so used to racism, white
people don't see what people of color must endure every day; just so, viewers
of the fountain are blinded from seeing how our culture is so rapacious;
we even sentimentalize those cherubs tormenting the dolphins.
[I also wrote her then that I doubted The Star would
publish my letter. To date, it has not appeared; so I wrote again, that
my viewpoint does not seem to be welcome in a survey of opinions in the
pages of The Star.]
I have sent the following in red as a Letter
to the Editor. . . .
Out of the transformative
experience of meeting Martin Luther King Jr in 1967, I write opposing renaming
Nichols Fountain to the "Dream Fountain." Its violence would dishonor King's
The fountain's sculptures
brutally portray human control of nature, not respect, just as racist violence
has been used to control people of color. We need loving regard among all
citizens, as we need environmental justice. Look beyond the beautiful splash
and play of the water, look beyond the material delights of our oppressive
social-economic system, and you will find embedded a celebration of the
assault on the human soul.
By all means, rename J. C.
Nichols Parkway. But don't disgrace our city by attaching King's dream
to the brutality of the fountain sculptures. We must look deeply into the
causes of racism, beyond the surface spray and evaporating solutions.
THE PARKS BOARD
A proposal is before the Parks Department to rename
the J.C. Nichols Parkway to the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Parkway, and
rename the J.C. Nichols Memorial Fountain to the Dream Fountain. While
I think renaming the Missouri side of State Line for King would better
promote a larger and more fruitful dialogue, inviting serious consieration
by cities on the Kansas side of State Line, I would be glad to see the
Parkway renamed . . . .
So I wrote the Parks
Renaming J C Nichols Fountain:
After moving to Westport
decades ago, I began walking most days to the south end of Mill Creek Park.
I certainly knew Nichols Fountain was there, and I saw its streams of water.
But I never really looked at it until one day, maybe three years later,
I actually examined the fountain.
I was distressed. It is a
celebration of human domination over nature, not harmony with it -- appropriate
for our petro-fueled economy. There is a lot of violence and pain in the
sculptures, supposedly representing the Mississippi, Volga, Seine, and
the Rhine rivers. I was unable to deter a friend and Johnson County colleague
a few years ago from preaching a series of sermons celebrating the fountain,
so I know my opinion is unlikely to get anybody to look beyond the gorgeous
sprays of water at the horror of what the fountain sculpture portrays.
I agree that
the racist part of the Nichols legacy should not be celebrated. I agree
that Kansas City needs a way to memorialize Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
But Nichols Fountain is a hideous choice.
2020 June 11
Kansas City should rename J.C. Nichols Fountain
BY THE KANSAS CITY STAR EDITORIAL
J.C. Nichols Memorial fountain near the Country Club Plaza and the J.C.
Nichols Parkway nearby would be an extraordinarily powerful symbol of inclusion
for a city that still struggles with racial division.
The city should move quickly to make these needed changes.
The proposal comes from Christopher Goode, a member of the Board of Parks
and Recreation Commissioners. In a memo to colleagues, Goode suggests changing
the name of the fountain to the Dream Fountain and renaming J.C. Nichols
Parkway for the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.
Nichols’ racist approach to development left a scar on this city, and his
legacy should not be celebrated. For decades, he used zoning and restrictive
covenants to exclude African Americans from his projects.
“No person accelerated white flight, redlining, and racial division in
the Kansas City area more than J.C. Nichols,” Mayor Quinton Lucas said
in a statement.
Goode made a similar point in his memo. “The fountain named in (Nichols’)
honor, as well as the adjoining parkway allow racism to take center stage
in our most photographed, valued and visited destination in Kansas City.”
Plainly put: J.C. Nichols was a racist. Kansas City need not honor him.
Nichols’ disturbing views on race would be reason enough for renaming the
fountain and parkway. But the project takes on new urgency because the
fountain, the surrounding park and the parkway have been at the epicenter
of recent protests over racial injustice and the police.
It’s the right time to replace what J.C. Nichols represents with names
that can unify the community.
It’s also the perfect place. J.C. Nichols Parkway generally marks the eastern
border of the Plaza. Naming it for King would disrupt relatively few homes
and businesses, but would remind visitors and residents of the city’s commitment
— still unfulfilled — to inclusion and diversity.
Renaming the fountain and parkway would also likely end the frustrating
debate over renaming The Paseo for King. We supported that effort, but
Kansas City voters overwhelmingly rejected it. That vote and the hard feelings
it caused still haunt Kansas City politics.
Goode’s promising proposal addresses The Paseo dilemma by naming a significant
midtown roadway for the civil rights leader.
As is often the case with the Board of Parks and Recreation, the precise
process for renaming the two assets is murky. City officials said
Wednesday that the board can rename the fountain on its own, subject as
always to a citywide petition drive.
Renaming the parkway for King may take City Council review, following a
parks board recommendation and the involvement of a street renaming committee.
The mayor has voiced his support for both changes, which will help. The
parks board will hold two hearings on the plan in the next 30 days, and
written testimony is being accepted. Kansas City residents should help
build momentum for action by endorsing the proposal.
This shouldn’t be hard. Renaming the water display as the Dream Fountain
and naming J.C. Nichols Parkway for Martin Luther King Jr. are obvious
steps in a city still struggling with questions about racism and inequality
that have been highlighted by recent protests.
Erasing J.C. Nichols’ name won’t solve every issue in Kansas City, but
it’s a start. And at this consequential inflection point for our city and
our country, this would be a small step in the right direction.
2020 June 24
Another attempt to rename The paseo for MLK?
BY THE KANSAS CITY STAR EDITORIAL
turbulent search for a street to name for Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. may
soon hit another rough patch.
Some Kansas City ministers are thought to be discussing plans to try again
to rename The Paseo for the fallen civil rights leader. In November 2019,
after a multiyear debate, Kansas City voters soundly rejected that idea.
But some East Side leaders don’t think the proposal truly failed. They
argue that voters might be more willing to endorse the move this November,
when turnout would be higher. The reaction to the death of George Floyd
might and the current focus on racism and inequality could also play a
Confusion over the ballot question could be clarified, they say.
Last week, Rev. Vernon Howard of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference
of Greater Kansas City announced that his group opposes renaming the J.C.
Nichols Parkway for King.
“J.C. Nichols Parkway has not been an enrichment to Black business and
entrepreneurship in any significant way,” he said.
This week, Howard offered a pointed “no comment” to questions about whether
making another push for renaming The Paseo is currently under discussion.
At the same time, he said, “we believe that The Paseo is the best location”
to memorialize King.
It isn’t yet clear how the issue might resurface. The City Council could
be asked to put it on the November ballot, or a petition drive could be
launched. Time is short: November ballot proposals must be finalized by
Naming a prominent Kansas City street or boulevard for King is long overdue.
We strongly supported renaming The Paseo for King. But trying again would
be unwise. If there is a need to name a street for Martin Luther King —
and there is — it should not be The Paseo.
The most important reason is the most obvious: The voters have spoken.
Roughly 70% of voters, including many living on The Paseo, voted against
the name change. Their message was clear. No one should doubt Rev. Howard’s
good faith, or that of other ministers, in continuing to push King’s name
for The Paseo. But their 2019 campaign was lackluster and disorganized.
There was little grassroots energy for the cause. At the same time, opponents
were able to communicate their concerns.
If Kansas City tries to rename The Paseo again, and it fails again, the
overdue effort to rename something for King could be buried for years.
Kansas City already has the unfortunate distinction of being one of the
only major cities in the country without a street named for King, so we
can’t afford another failed attempt or an extended delay.
Kansas City business leaders have endorsed renaming J.C. Nichols Parkway
near the Country Club Plaza for King. So have we. It’s a prominent Kansas
City street adjacent to one of the most-visited parts of the community.
It can serve as a link between the East Side and midtown, while erasing
the name of a developer who did much to segregate our city.
On Wednesday, the Board of Parks and Recreation Commissioners will hold
another public hearing on renaming J.C. Nichols Parkway for King and renaming
the J.C. Nichols Memorial Fountain. The board should approve both changes
as quickly as possible.
If renaming the parkway isn’t possible, Kansas Citians should continue
the work of finding a suitable memorial for Martin Luther King Jr., whose
importance and stature are ever more consequential today.
They must look beyond The Paseo, though, to find it.
THE STAR'S FRONT-PAGE STORY 2020 June 11
Officials push to rename J.C. Nichols
The parks department
ranks the J.C. Nichols Memorial Fountain by Country Club Plaza as the most
photographed of all its city fountains.
BY ALLISON KITE
For more than
a week, Kansas Citians gathered to protest police brutality and racism
— and they did so near a fountain bearing the name J.C. Nichols, whose
racist housing practices helped perpetuate segregation across the city.
Now, the city will consider removing Nichols’ name from both the fountain
and parkway on the Country Club Plaza.
Chris Goode, a member of the Board of Parks and Recreation Commissioners,
asked his colleagues in a letter last week to consider renaming both. He
wrote that he had been in pain seeing the killings of George Floyd and
Ahmaud Arbery and felt compelled to act.
“The time has come for us to stop turning a blind eye towards racism of
the past and present,” Goode wrote. “There is no immediate resolution to
racism, that of which has been embed- For more than a week, Kansas Citians
gathered to protest police brutality and racism — and they did so near
a fountain bearing the name J.C. Nichols, whose racist housing practices
helped perpetuate segregation across the city.
Now, the city will consider removing Nichols’ name from both the fountain
and parkway on the Country Club Plaza.
Chris Goode, a member of the Board of Parks and Recreation Commissioners,
asked his colleagues in a letter last week to consider renaming both. He
wrote that he had been in pain seeing the killings of George Floyd and
Ahmaud Arbery and felt compelled to act.
“The time has come for us to stop turning a blind eye towards ded for over
400 years into the fabric of this country. We can, however, make a collective
decision to simply do the right thing now.”
Mayor Quinton Lucas said in a statement Tuesday he would “fully support”
the effort. “No person accelerated white flight, redlining, and racial
division in the Kansas City area more than J.C. Nichols,“ Lucas said. “The
time has long passed that we remove Kansas City’s memorials to his name.”
In an interview with The Star, Goode said Arbery’s killing hit him especially
hard as a fellow black man and runner. Arbery was shot by a white father
and son in February while running through their neighborhood in Georgia.
Gregory McMichael and Travis McMichael were charged in May after a video
of the killing went viral.
“What makes me any different? I’m educated. I’m articulate. I know how
to navigate,” Goode said. “But I’m no different. I’ve learned how to walk
on the street and make my presence less intimidating. It’s just my norm.
I know how to open my hands, smile — ‘Hey, I’m friendly.’ I shouldn’t have
to do that. I shouldn’t have to do that.”
J.C. Nichols developed the Country Club Plaza and affluent neighborhoods
in Kansas City and surrounding suburbs, using restrictive covenants to
bar blacks, Jews and other ethnic groups from purchasing or occupying the
homes. In recent years, the covenants remained — though unenforceable —
in the rules of many homeowners associations.
“There is no good reason why in the confines of our city that we love and
that we know is such a hidden gem … that we would openly — openly — illuminate
and celebrate people that stood for hatred, that stood for racism, that
stood for separation,” Goode said in an interview Friday.
Goode suggested that the J.C. Nichols fountain be renamed the Dream Fountain
and that the parkway be renamed to honor the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.
But he is more concerned with removing Nichols’ name.
The city will also take comments from the public. Last year, the City Council
voted to rename The Paseo to honor King, but residents voted to revert
to the original name in a citywide ballot initiative. Proponents argued
they didn’t object to naming a street for King — just not The Paseo, which
they said has its own rich local history.
After the vote, the city began taking suggestions for other landmarks that
could be renamed to honor King. The comment period ended in mid-February,
and the department scheduled public hearings.
The first was supposed to be held March 25 but was canceled because of
the spread of coronavirus, the parks board secretary, Karmen Houston, said
in an email.
In his letter, Goode said he had informed his fellow commissioners of the
proposal, but he was not sure how much support he had.
The parks department announced in a press release Tuesday evening that
it would hold two public comment sessions over the next month before the
board votes. Houston said details would be worked out by the end of the
Dear members of the Editorial Board:
Today you write, "Real
strength is understanding the power of words and images and the importance
of using them to promote unity, not division." Excellent!
So please explain why
it would be appropriate to rename the fountain at Mill Creek Park, with
its sculptures of violence, brutality, and subjugation, "The Dream Fountain"
in honor of Martin Luther King Jr, as you wrote June 11. Surely you would
not choose a Cigar Store Indian as an image to honor Dr King, yet you do
not appear to have even looked at the Indian in the fountain.
I understand that the
photos I submitted to the Parks Board may have led to the separation of
the question of renaming into two parts. I am glad the Nichols name has
since been removed. I am concerned that The Star's endorsement of "Dream
Fountain" has not yet been retracted.
As I predicted in my June
11 email to Coleen, my 137-word letter to the editor, below,
submitted June 11, has not been published. I believe I know why it was
never considered: because I wrote it.
Out of the transformative experience of meeting Martin Luther King Jr in
1967, I write opposing renaming [what was the] Nichols Fountain to the
"Dream Fountain." It would dishonor King's memory.
The fountain's sculptures violently portray human control of nature, not
respect, just as racist violence has been used to control people of color.
We need loving regard among all citizens, as we need environmental justice.
Look beyond the beautiful splash and play of the water, look beyond the
material delights of our oppressive social-economic system, and you will
find embedded a celebration of the assault on the human soul.
By all means, rename J. C. Nichols Parkway. But don't disgrace our city
by attaching King's dream to the brutality of the fountain sculptures.
We must look deeply into the causes of racism, beyond the surface spray
and evaporating solutions.
I appreciate your faithful and independent contributions
to the welfare of the city, and wish you would consider my complaint as
a similar exercise of good will.
I agree with you, fully! The first thing
I thought when I heard the proposal was, “Dream Fountain"? What kind
of dream are they having? That should be the "Nightmare Fountain.”
It certainly doesn’t present a picture of peace.
Vern Barnet observes and perceives what is invisible
to most observers, and he has a moral sense of what is not appropriate
to honor the life and work of an American treasure.
THANK YOU, Vern! I didn't meet Dr. King, but he
was a speaker at a conference I attended in 1959. 3000 college students
were there, half of whom were international students. He was so inspirational
that he changed the direction my life took, and I agree with you that a
much better way to honor him must be found- how about a re-designed police
department as a sign that our hearts have changed and want to honor his
legacy? ! ! !
I do not see the petrol connection. That is a bit
of a stretch for me. I do, however, see the brutal, masculine symbolism.
As I said in my book City of Fountains: Kansas City’s Legacy of Beauty
and Motion, this fountain does not just invite one to draw near, it
COMMANDS one to draw near. One can hear its power and implied testosterone
from down the block. It is a forceful artistic expression of maleness.
At the opposite end of gender scale is “The Muse of the Missouri” on Main
Street between 9th and 10th. This is a graceful and powerful depiction
of womanhood and I sense motherhood as well. She is unabashedly naked,
and like the river she represents, exudes a quiet force of nature, moving
silently along in the universe with unstoppable power, and of being the
creator of life-water and female. She does not need to loudly proclaim
her existence as does the JC Nichols Fountain. They are yin and yang, male
comment: As much as I respect this brilliant
photographer, I am surprised he says that the fountain "commands one to
draw near" when many people say they have never really looked at the sculptures.
I do agree the sculptures are masculine in contrast with "The Muse of Missouri."
Maybe the petrol connection would be clearer if I outlined the steps of
the industrial revolution from the water wheel to the steam engine to the
oil internal combustion engine which made J C Nichol's Plaza newly accessible.
(Though for a time one could still ride in a horse-driven buggy.) The critical
agreement he and I have is the brutal nature of Nichols Fountain.
Great email, Vern. Thank
you for opening my eyes to the symbolism.
I agree that the parkway needs
to be renamed - has needed to be renamed for a long long time, and King
would be a great name to change it to. The fountain: I love the name -
Dream Fountain and at the same time, totally see what you're saying. I
agree that with the way the fountain is now would not give Dream Fountain
An alternative: a new fountain with the name The Dream Fountain. I know
it would take a lot of money but what you write is compelling and again,
totally agree with it. I've taken friends from out of town to see the plaza
and the fountain. I think the water spraying out of is beautiful - the
curves and the beauty of how the water actually comes out.
I also have noticed the sculptures in the fountain and have found them
grotesque. One does have to really focus to see that. Many fountains are
that way. But what you point out is even more than I had seen. For some
reason, I don't remember having seen an American Indian with a weapon as
one of the sculptures.
So, let's get rid of the fountain sculptures altogether and put something
in that might still look like the iconic fountain in terms of how the water
flows but with different imagery - maybe imagery of peace - the lion laying
down with the lamb or quote from King, or something abstract with a peaceful
You make an excellent point.
Is it too early to discuss replacing the figures in the foundation with
either nothing or some other image that is less violent and more instructive
or inspiring? I think of the gathering of people like the sculpture
at the east side of the Nelson, people looking passively at a point in
the horizon/future? Just a thought. How does renaming the foundation
remove the image that is so violent and oppressive?
I appreciate all that you
say here about the Fountain – it is indeed an abomination. There is something
else that needs to be said.
Not only is the Fountain horrific in its showing the destruction of the
environment – which subject has NOTHING to do with MLK and is his life’s
antithesis - but it is a hugely racist statue in and of itself, regarding
Native American people.
Thus far, America has had really only two tropes for Native Americans:
Bloodthirsty Savage and Noble Savage. Not unlike the tropes of women being
either Virgins or Whores (tropes that are still very much in play today),
or Black people as being either Brute Animals or Childlike and in need
of control – these are disgusting stereotypes. They are completely in keeping
with the dominant patriarchal and White Supremacist views that dominated
America in the 19th and 20th centuries – and are still alive today.
There is nothing Noble about showing a Native American person killing wildlife.
The fountain is an interesting combination of both ugly tropes about Native
There are MANY writings by Native American authors that address these issues.
There are many “pioneer” statues all over the Midwest and west that are
as bad as any of Christopher Columbus or Confederate traitors/losers. They
ALL need to come down in their racism and violence. This is just one of
None of this has anything to do with MLK or his Dream. He would be horrified,
I am convinced. Maybe it’s a great thing to rename the park – but if there
is going to be a statue there labeled the “Dream” is should be a new one
commissioned for that purpose, and created by one of the hundreds of gifted
Black sculptors working in the US today.
I’d suggest to start raising money for that statue! I’d support that financially!
It would also be the work of a good ally to check in with local Native
American groups, to get their thoughts and ideas on this.
Really Vern? Triggered
by a statue?
comment: Well, I wouldn't use the word triggered, as
if this is a sudden thing. I've been upset for decades about my tax dollars
supporting these violent, grotesque sculptures celebrating environmental
desecration. But instead of continuing to grouse with friends for years
about this, the idea of what some consider a racist monument (cf not only
the Nichols name, but the stereotype of the Indian) being named in association
with ML King's dream was something I wanted to consider more broadly, feeling
an obligation to the man I met in 1967 and martyred a year later, and whose
"dream" has nothing to do with the brutal sculptures of Nichols Fountain.
Those sculptures and King's dream don't fit.
you wrote as I'm collecting comments and posting them without names, and
I'm glad to have a statement that suggests disagreement with me to show
that I'm not censoring the accumulation! (Of course I already posted The
Star's editorial with which I disagree.)
I agree with you that we need
something more appropriate to honor Dr King. I fear that the movement to
rename the fountain will escalate to the point of the destruction of the
figures within the fountain. With the destruction of monuments (of things
that people find offensive) that have been taking place lately, it feels
like this could be a very real possibility. What next? Artwork within
our museums? Just because the monuments are crushed, broken, and destroyed
doesn't erase history. These are the things that should be used to
remind us of how far we have come, what we have had the courage to change,
what not to do in the future. We are so afraid of seeing us as a once broken
nation, that we react out of fear and hate. Yes we have problems. Yes we
still have a way to go. But the way we have been acting out is not
the road to improvement. Let's all take a deep breath (or more) and think
about the open minded and open hearted way to accomplish it.
(1) If the fountain is to be renamed, I'd suggest removing the grotesque
sculptures and reinstalling them in the Kansas City Museum. They are valuable
illustrations of a form of consciousness common in recent history that
deserves preservation for educational purposes.
(2) If the fountain is not renamed, we need to find another, very significant
way we in Kansas City can honor King. A favorite idea is for Kansas City
to rename the Missouri side of State Line and invite the various Kansas
jurisdictions to do the same. I think this could be a wonderful educational
processes. King belongs just as much to "white, red, brown, and yellow"
people as "black people" -- King said "“In a real sense all life is inter-related.
All men are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single
garment of destiny."
I am glad you agree that "we need something more appropriate to honor Dr
King" than what we now call Nichols Fountain with its brutal sculptures.
Keen observation, Vern. Excellent
common sense. I am with you 100% on this.
All good points. The person who recommended it is
blinded by his short term objective to remove the Nichols name from the
street and the fountain. A significant portion of action these days - renaming
fountains, tearing down statues - seems more geared to symbolic action,
rather than effecting concrete goals to safeguard groups of lesser privilege,
not just the Black community. And apparently, the conservative movement
has appropriated the slogan All Lives Matter. So it goes.
Thanks for your comments. I’d never really
examined the fountain’s sculpture.
I don't agree.
Vern, Is there anything we can do, Hope you
comment: Segments of the Black community seem to question renaming.
Please write The Star as they will not publish my letter. The Parks Board
has an on-line meeting this afternoon at 2 pm. Or you can write them: https://kcparks.org/contact/
I hate to think that 20 years from now folks will ask, What do these images
of violence have to do with King's dream?
Thanks for the email, Vern. Very good point.
I was in favor of the name change as at least something to honor Martin
Luther King--but you have changed my mind. There was a suggestion about
the Nichols Parkway name change. Maybe that would be more acceptable.
Very well done - indicates a new found awareness
. . . .
. . [T]hose images are troubling. There’s
nothing abut them that reflects peaceful resistance or non-violence. What
King stood for and what these images depict are certainly antithetical,
and it’s troubling. I hope you have spoken or will speak at one of the
park board hearings; you’ve got a point that warrants consideration and
The only thing I can say
to defend the proposed renaming is that Goode is right when he says this
is Kansas City’s most prominent fountain, and King deserves top of the
Good point. I personally think they should rename
the park for King, let JC’s fountain exist in Kng’s larger legacy. Teachable
moment. We’ll see what officialdom and the people decide. Thanks Vern.
"The Dream" is definitely not a good title for this
fountain, unless the dream is a crazy dream like a 1980’s MTV video with
a mish-mosh of visuals to make it appear “artistic”. In my opinion it is
a very odd fountain and my mind had always turned the horses into sea horses
and the men into Neptune-like gods spearing fish for sushi, like the Neptune
fountain. Gods are what I expect to be paired with cherubs.
I don’t know the original
intent of the fountain’s meaning, however, when I reflect on the Native
American relationship with wildlife I envision it as respectful. Yes, the
relationship was violent but some thanked an animal for its sacrifice and
did not allow any portion of the animal to go to waste. It was an existence
of work, but also fully spiritual and in tune with nature. Without knowing
better, I would interpret both statues featuring horses as “survival”.
Maybe these images are juxtaposed with the cherubs to symbolize toiling
on earth vs. being carefree in heaven. Perhaps I’m seeking redemption for
the fountain when none is deserved. Perhaps it is a tableau of a testosterone-fueled
assault on the ecological system, much like urban sprawl.
My priority is to get Nichols' name off the fountain.
We can discuss what a new name should be down the road. But let's get the
. . . If you wish to express your wishes on what
to rename the J.C. Nichols Horse Fountain at Mill Creek Park, or the Nichols
Parkway, you should send your comments to: <firstname.lastname@example.org>,
and address comments to: Parks Department Commissioner Goode and the other
Commissioners and Board members. I asked that the Fountain be called "Peace
with Justice Fountain," for this is a positive message and this area has
been a "free speech" zone for many years. I forgot to say that the
trident and other implements of war should be replaced with symbols of
peace and understanding. So, speak up. . . .
In a city that struggles with many too many violent
deaths, I believe that the best approach to the Nichols Fountain would
be (in Biblical terms) to beat swords into plowshares. The fountain as
it is glorifies violence and should simply be melted down and replaced
with something more suitable.
To me, an appropriate
remedy would be a “Beloved Community Fountain” in honor of the vision of
Martin Luther King, Jr. I am sure there are talented sculptors both in
Kansas City and elsewhere who could submit designs for such a replacement
As we work to end the
scourge of violence, let us replace a fountain that glorifies violence
with a fountain that celebrates community.
2020 Aug 2 The Kansas City Star
KC fountain’s history bubbles with an unlikely
BY PATRICIA SHELLEY BUSHMAN
Special to The Star
The formerly named J.C. Nichols Memorial
Fountain on the Country Club Plaza is the most recognizable and photographed
among Kansas City’s 200-plus fountains.
Amid the current discussion of choosing
a new name, it may come as a surprise to learn that long before the fountain
arrived on the Plaza in 1960, its history included a Long Island estate,
the 1929 stock market crash, an unlikely love affair and one of America’s
most beloved songwriters, a man whose popularity soared anew after the
The fountain’s history goes back to
the beginning of the 20th century. John Mackay (pronounced MACK-ee) was
an Irish immigrant who became extremely wealthy through California and
Nevada mining, and investments in transoceanic cables in the late 1800s.
His son, Clarence Mackay, inherited his father’s wealth and his business
role as a telegraph magnate.
When Clarence married New York socialite
Katherine Duer, his father gave them a wedding present, one of the most
opulent structures ever built in the United States, an estate called Harbor
Hill in Roslyn on New York’s Long Island. Reminiscent of a French Renaissance
chateau, it was designed by architect Stanford White and cost nearly $6
million to construct. The entire estate encompassed 648 acres, and the
mansion included 50 rooms and a staff of 134 servants, along with tennis
courts, stables and a cottage with an additional 20 rooms. Clarence decorated
Harbor Hill like a medieval castle, with French tapestries, Gothic and
Renaissance works of art by European masters and a collection of armor.
The focal point of the estate’s garden
was a fountain designed by French artist Henri-Léon Greber in 1910.
Four equestrian figures were placed around a two-tiered basin, with smaller
groups of children riding dolphins placed between the mounted figures.
A vertical jet in the center propelled water 30 feet in the air, while
the dolphins sent streams of water toward the center.
It was a stunning fountain that stood
prominently on the magnificent grounds of Harbor Hill. Many dignitaries
visited, including Pope Pius XII and the Prince of Wales.
And Irving Berlin, though he was not
The world-famous Broadway songwriter
had met one of Clarence’s three children, his daughter Ellin Mackay, one
night at a New York City dinner party in 1924. The heiress, herself a writer,
was a huge fan and told Berlin his new song “What’ll I Do?” was one of
her favorites. He had already written hundreds of songs, including “Alexander’s
Ragtime Band,” “A Pretty Girl Is Like a Melody” and an unpublished patriotic
tune he had penned for the Army during World War I but felt wasn’t quite
right and hid away in his writing trunk: “God Bless America.”
Ellin was fascinated by him. Berlin
was 36. She was 21.
Besides the age difference, their
upbringing and social circles were worlds apart. Berlin was a Russian-Jewish
immigrant who grew up in the ghettos of the Lower East Side, and was now
a widower who lived in the unfashionable world of show business. Ellin
came from a staunch Irish Catholic family, who were prominent among Long
Clarence showed Berlin around the
Harbor Hill grounds, but he soon made it known that he was adamantly opposed
to the budding romance and made every effort to sabotage the couple. He
hired a detective to watch and hopefully discredit Berlin, and finally
sent Ellin on a six-month European tour. When she returned, the lovers
realized the separation only cemented their commitment to each other. When
Variety ran a story about their imminent union, Clarence replied they would
marry “only over my dead body.”
The courtship was a field day for
reporters, one of the most publicized of the Jazz Age. Four months after
Ellin’s return from Europe they decided to elope, and they worked on their
wedding plans for all of two hours. Ellin met Berlin at his apartment and
they took the subway — Ellin’s very first ride — to City Hall for the ceremony.
Clarence would not learn until later
that day of his daughter’s defiance. When the newlyweds sailed to Europe
for a twomonth stay, they were again hounded by the press.
Clarence refused to acknowledge the
marriage even after Ellin was pregnant and carrying his grandchild. Instead,
Clarence immediately cut Ellin out of his will — her share being $10 million.
It took a tragedy three years after
they married for Clarence to reconcile with his daughter. Three weeks after
the birth of their second child, named Irving Berlin Jr., the baby died
on Christmas Day, 1928.
Clarence soon arrived on their Manhattan
doorstep to help console his grief-stricken daughter. In time, a degree
of civility developed between Clarence and his son-in-law.
And Clarence’s move to cut his daughter
out of the will was all for naught, because he suffered a terrible loss
in the 1929 crash. Just the year before, he had sold his Postal Telegraph
Company to International Telephone and Telegraph for $300 million, but
unfortunately he opted to receive stock in lieu of cash.
After the crash, he moved out of the
mansion and fired all the servants. The medieval artwork, tapestries and
armor were purchased by the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and some paintings
were acquired by the National Gallery in London and the National Gallery
of Art in Washington, D.C.
With the rise of Hitler, Berlin pulled
his WWI-era song “God Bless America” out of the trunk in 1938 and revised
some of the lyrics to make it more peace-oriented. It was a monument to
patriotism then, and became a symbol of unity after the attacks of Sept.
But the day after the song’s debut,
Clarence died, and Harbor Hill was soon abandoned. The remaining furnishings
were either auctioned off or sold to New York City department stores.
Berlin kept writing the hits, including
“White Christmas” and the Broadway musical “Annie Get Your Gun.”
Meanwhile, Harbor Hill was repeatedly
vandalized, and remaining family members decided to raze the mansion. Fortunately
for the citizens of Kansas City, a New York art dealer bought up the statuary.
The story now becomes familiar. Jesse
Clyde Nichols, the developer behind the Country Club Plaza and housing
stretching into Kansas City to the south and into the new Kansas suburbs
to the west, died in 1950. Citizens decided to create a monument that would
pay homage to him. His three children initiated the purchase of the Mackay
estate fountain, and necessary repairs were made by Kansas City sculptor
Herman Frederick Simon, with an assist by a foundry in Florence, Italy.
In 1960 the main basin, central tier
and fountain sculpture were erected to match the originals. The four surrounding
sidewalks are similar to its original Long Island location.
In 2014, thanks to $250,000 in private
donations, the fountain was given its first major renovation in more than
50 years, with crews fixing crumbling concrete bases, replacing pumps and
motors and cleaning the statuary.
Now part of Kansas City for 60 years,
the 110-yearold fountain is back in the news again.
In June, the Kansas City Board of
Parks and Recreation Commissioners voted to strip Nichols’ name from the
fountain, saying the developer’s deed restrictions did much to create Kansas
City’s racial divide. The next morning the city removed a plaque dedicating
the fountain to him.
There will be much discussion in the
coming weeks regarding the best way to honor our city in the renaming of
When I look at the fountain I think
of Ellin Mackay, who grew up with this extraordinary work of art, and her
loving 62-year union with Irving Berlin, which begat four children and
many grandchildren. Their love story demonstrates how people from two different
worlds can get along. I also think of the difficulty Clarence Mackay had
in accepting Berlin as family, but that change of heart did happen.
Hopefully this fountain will also
come to represent Kansas City’s ability to unite as one.
A nod to the following sources:
“Harbor Hill: Portrait of a House” by Richard Guy Wilson, “As Thousands
Cheer: The Life of Irving Berlin” by Laurence Bergreen, “Irving Berlin:
A Daughter’s Memoir” by Mary Ellin Barrett and “Fountains of Kansas City:
A History and Love Affair” by Sherry Piland and Ellen J. Uguccioni.
Patricia Shelley Bushman is the
author of “Indelible Tracings: The Story of the 1961 World Figure Skating
Team.” A Kansas Citian for 22 years, she enjoys hosting evenings celebrating
the lives of America’s greatest songwriters.