Thursday, June 28, 2007

Historic fountain has made trek around Albuquerque

by Mo Palmer

What's in the intersection of Central and Broadway? Not "at" the intersection (Albuquerque High lofts, the Baptist church, etc.), "in" the intersection.

The answer is: nothing. Just cars and people rushing about playing vehicle red-light green-light, trying to beat that yellow one.

Once upon a time, a fountain stood right in the middle of the two widest streets in town, as befit such an elegant, humanitarian gift to our city.

When it was dedicated, the people of Albuquerque promised that the fountain would "always be maintained for the benefit of horses and dogs, which might need refreshment from its waters."

What the heck was that about? And where is it now?

Here's a short, boring lecture.

For most of history, animals, children — and wives, for that matter — were considered personal property, or chattel. This meant that people could treat their possessions in whatever manner they wished, and it was nobody's business but their own. Good-hearted folks took exception, but it didn't help much.

Henry Bergh, a reformed New York dilettante, devoted his life to making conditions better for beasts of burden. In so doing, he earned the sobriquet "The Great Meddler." His meddling earned him a Hollywood bio by that name in 1940.

By 1866, he created the Association for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals and saw the first laws against animal abuse passed.

In 1874, Etta Wheeler, a Methodist missionary, begged Bergh to help her save Mary Ellen, a battered, victimized child in New York. Because there was no organization to protect kids, the little girl was classified as an animal and removed from her situation under the auspices of the ASPCA. Wheeler's mom and sister subsequently raised Mary Ellen.

Hermon Lee Ensign carried these legacies forward in a way that affected Albuquerque.

Ensign invented a printing device and made a fortune. With it, he founded the National Humane Alliance for the welfare of animals. When Ensign shuffled off from New York — maybe to Buffalo, N.Y. — his estate offered animal watering fountains to a bunch of cities. Maybe there were 40, or maybe one for each of the 48 states at the time, with maybe one for Mexico. In any event, we received one.

The fountain was polished granite, with three brass lion's heads, from whose mouths flowed thirst-quenching nectar into the horse trough. The water overflowed into small bowl-like depressions around the base, so passing dogs, and even cats, could relieve their desert-parched throats. (I'm mastering writing in the style of Edwardian newspapers.)

Crowning the piece was an ornamental bronze lighting standard that held a glass globe, in which burned an electric lamp. This twinkling tiara was a gift of Dr. W.G. Hope, who healed people from his office on Gold Avenue. His building still stands, by the way, right next door to the popular Gold Street Caffé.

In 1908, horses, mules, burros and buggies were more prevalent on dusty, dirt streets than were the horrific and horrible horseless carriages.

Wood and wool wagons made the 12-mile trek from Tijeras Canyon — a long hard haul. It was only polite and proper for Albuquerque to provide refreshments. Dogs used to wander around freely before fast autos, ordinances, fences, tags and small concerns, such as rabies, spoiled their fun.

The city engineer laid out clever plans. All the pipes were accessible by a manhole, and overflow went into the sewer, "used for the very necessary work of keeping the sewer open." I think the city was trying to be ecologically responsible and promise that no water was being wasted.

Of course, the fountain was dedicated with the usual Duke City hoopla. Hundreds turned out, just as they did for fires, parades, dances and funerals. There wasn't much to do back then.

The Boys Band from Square Music Dealers Learnard and Lindemann cranked out a concerto. An old photo shows these guys, all in their fancy uniforms, ranging in age from young to adolescent. An advertising sign on their drum misspells their sponsor's name — Learned, they called him. Well, he could have been.

A plethora of speeches followed — from the acting mayor, the sheriff, a district judge, president of a lumber company and several people from the humane society. Those who missed the festivities could catch up, as full reports were published in the paper.

Many schoolchildren attended and, according to the newspaper, listened carefully to the oratory. Not sure I believe that. Eventually, I suppose, the speakers ran out of words and everyone went home to eat Easter dinner.

As for the fountain, it remained there until the '30s, when it was moved to Tijeras and Broadway. It became a traffic hazard, once life and limos started moving faster.

I don't remember it. Does anyone?

According to the Animal Humane Association, it sat at the State Fairgrounds until 1975, when it was again disturbed and replaced by a replica of the Liberty Bell for the nation's bicentennial.

Hermon Ensign's gift to life's silent partners now rests at the Animal Humane Association, at 615 Virginia St. S.E., as it should. It's home.

I paid it a visit this weekend. It is huge. The bronze plaque is still there, although its date says 1907 - perhaps it took us until 1908 to prepare a place. Two of the lions' heads are gone, and the remaining one is pretty bent out of shape. As I researched, I notice several towns are restoring their fountains to their original glory. Maybe we'd like to do that, too.

On the other hand, the fountain is a monument to another time, when dogs and cats ran free and unhindered by six-lane streets, horses took us here and there and waited patiently while we shopped — and we were never required to dash out to a parking meter. Or to pay a ticket.

Maybe, today, a better gift to the dogs and cats of uque would be a bag of kibble, a can of food or even a place to call home. Check it out.

Originally published in The Albuquerque Tribune, June 28, 2007.
The Tribune articles are used with the permission of Scripps Howard.

The Missing Photos:
(courtesy of Albuquerque Museum, gift of John Airy, Ward hicks Collection)

This photo circa 1915 shows the drinking fountain for horses and other animals in the intersection of Central Avenue and Broadway Boulevard. After being moved twice, the fountain sat for many years at the State Fairgrounds. It is now at the Animal Humane Association, 615 Virginia St. S.E.

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