Posts Tagged ‘Louisville Falls fountain’

It was a moment of inspiration from my colleague Hearne Christopher over at KCConfidential.com.

He came up with the idea — I’m getting to it — after reading KC Star reporter Matt Campbell’s story on Sunday about the “eternal flame” atop the World War I Liberty Memorial costing taxpayers $100,000 a year. 

Hearne’s idea, which he proffered in response to a person who commented on his blog entry about the story, was to supplant the costly steam-production system to a very economical model.

He wrote:  “How about they buy one of those big fans at Wal-Mart, tie some orange, yellow and red streamers to it and let it rip! Who said you have to have smoke with your fire?”

At first blush, I loved it. I e-mailed Hearne and told him it could be “a uniquely Kansas City solution” to a big dilemma and suggested that he start promoting the idea.

But then I started thinking about what the flame represents — the gravity of it — and qualms set in. I certainly don’t want a more economical model to cheapen the tribute to the Allied troops who died in World War I.

Then, I ran it by me wife Patty — my sounding board — and she immediately turned thumbs down. She gave me hope, though…Maybe the fan and streamers could be used as a humorous tribute to something less serious but still “uniquely Kansas City,” she said. Then she floated a totally ridiculous idea — hooking up the streamers and fan to the rear of a cow sculpture.

“What are you talking about?” I said. “Methane? I don’t get it. What’s the connection?”

“Well, you know,” she said, as she cleaned up around the stove, “the cowtown thing.”  

She acknowledged that her idea really wouldn’t have anything to do with fire, and she quickly changed the subject on me. The whole thing got me thinking, though, about a couple of other symbolic ideas that caught my fancy in years past.

One of them was floated here but never got off the ground. The other was in my hometown of Louisville, Ky., and it did fly…for a while.

The one here was put forward, as I recall, by U.S. Rep. Emanuel Cleaver during the time he was mayor — 1991-1999.  Seeking a permanent and dramatic tribute to Kansas City’s jazz heritage, he proposed  that a replica of a huge saxophone be built and then installed on the Missouri River so as to jut out of the water.

I don’t think I’ve ever heard a better idea before or since. For some reason, though, it didn’t take off. Just died. If Charlie Wheeler had come up with it when he was mayor (1971 to 1979), maybe it would have come to pass. Wheeler, in case you’re not old enough to remember him, was known for his bold ideas and crazy antics, such as wrestling a bear in the mayor’s office, on the 29th floor of City Hall. (“The bear sat right there on that couch and drank a Pepsi,” Wheeler said later, in his inimitable nasally whine.)

Another unconventional idea that I really liked — the one out of Louisville — was to build a moveable fountain in the Ohio River, along the city’s breathtaking riverfront development. 

Called the Louisville Falls Fountain, it was dedicated Aug. 19, 1988, five days after the death of its benefactor, Barry Bingham Sr., former owner of The Courier-Journal and Louisville Times newspapers. 

Louisville Falls Fountain...in its heyday

The fountain emitted about 16,000 gallons of water per minute in the shape of a fleur-de-lis (the symbol of Louisville), and it initially shot water to a height of 420 feet. According to Wikipedia, it was to be in use from Memorial Day through Thanksgiving from morning until midnight. But…there were problems. It listed to one side and always looked to me like it was in danger of toppling. Also, costs were higher than expected, and chronic malfunctions depleted the fountain’s maintenance fund.

If that wasn’t enough, the poor fountain came under ridicule, too: A radio talk-show host, Terry Meiners (who’s still on WHAS-AM radio, 840 on the dial), dubbed it “The Belching Barge.” That was the coup de grace. Eventually, the fountain was sold for scrap and, again, according to Wikipedia, “sits in the Ohio River in New Albany, Ind., waiting to be taken apart.”

And so, the moral of this story — coming back full circle — is that when fielding unconventional ideas, maybe modest is best….like Hearne’s idea about the fan and streamers.

Surely, that concept can be put to good use somewhere on something in Kansas City…just not on the rear of a cow sculpture.

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