Wednesday, November 04, 2009

Neptune in the Heartland

Earlier this week, I posted a monochrome photo of the Neptune Fountain on the courthouse square in Goshen, Indiana. Here is a color photo of the same fountain from a different angle.

Neptune Fountain, Goshen, Indiana

This landmark has been present for my entire life, though I believe the trident went missing or was broken for a while. I rode by this piece of art many times as a child, either on visits to relatives in Goshen, or on shopping trips, back in the days when department stores were located downtown. Later, as a teenager, I drove or rode past this fountain on innumerable nights, along with carloads of other hormonally oversaturated adolescents who were cruising the streets. This activity became so popular that eventually the town enacted an ordinance which specified the middle lanes of the major thoroughfares as emergency lanes at night, thus cutting down on the snarl of traffic and eventually eliminating the allure of cruising Goshen.

I had never thought about how such an impressive sculpture came to land in a small town in the Midwest until I dove into my usual intensive research (i.e., Googling) so I could include some information about the fountain with my first post. As luck would have it, a book was published earlier this year on the topic of zinc statuary, and in another stroke of luck, the book, sans pictures, is available online via Google books. I even went so far as to go to the Hesburgh Library at Notre Dame so I could actually pull the substantial 706 page book off the shelf and see the pictures. The book is Zinc Sculpture is America: 1850-1950, by Carol A. Grissom.

From the book, I learned that the Goshen Neptune Fountain is not unique. It is based on a work by French sculptor Gabriel Vital-Dubray (1813-1892). Many copies were produced and placed in public spaces in Europe, South America, and the U.S. In Germany, Kahle and Son cast the statue in zinc. One of these was erected at the city Neustadt an der Weinstrasse in 1882. In France, Neptune was cast in iron by the Val d'Osne company. On October 28, 2008, Christie's auction sold the cast iron example below for $110,500.

Neptune Statue, from a private collection. The edge of the conch-shell is signed and dated V. DUBRAY/1856, and the base is stamped VAL D'OSNE.

In America, two companies in New York City sold similar Neptune statues, cast in zinc. The Goshen Neptune was sold by the J.L. Mott Iron Works. It seems to be cast from the same model as the Val d'Osne statues. Four Neptunes from J.L. Mott were also installed as part of an elaborate fountain at Bedford and Division Avenues in Brooklyn. Unfortunately, that fountain was dismantled in 1950.

At least one other zinc Neptune survives in the U.S., sold by the J.W. Fiske company. Originally installed at the old sailors' home at Sailors' Snug Harbor, Staten Island, the statue deteriorated and was replaced with a cast iron replica. The original is now on display in the basement of the Visual Arts/Neuhouse Gallery on the grounds of what is now the Snug Harbor Cultural Center. The Fiske version differs from the Mott version in a few details, such as the appearance of the dolphins at the base, and must have come from a different model. Below are pictures of the origin Snug Harbor Neptune, and its replacement.

Original Neptune Fountain, Snug Harbor, Staten Island
Photo used under Creative Commons License. See original by wallyg at:
For terms of CC License, click here: CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Neptune Fountain Replica, Snug Harbor, Staten Island
Photo used under Creative Commons License. See original by apollonia666 at:
For terms of CC License, click here: CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

Well, so how did old Neptune wind up in Goshen? In 1901, an enterprising individual named James Polezoes immigrated to the U.S. from Greece. He wound up in Goshen in 1910, where he opened a confectionery across the street from the county courthouse, selling candy and ice cream. He must have done quite well in that business, and in 1912, he purchased the Neptune Fountain as a gift to his adopted city for helping him achieve the American dream. Another Greek immigrant, Nicholas Paflas arrived in Goshen in 1912, and worked for Polezoes, making hand-dipped chocolates and running the soda fountain. In 1920, Paflas bought the confectionary and named it the Olympia Candy Kitchen. It's still in operation in the original location, run by Paflas family members, but that's another story.


Dan said...

Very interesting. It is a beautiful statue. But the big question...why Neptune?

David C. said...

Maybe Mr. Polezoes liked the idea of being able to look out from his confectionery and see a Greek god. It's probably more complicated than that. After all, Neptune statues show up in cities across Europe and such far-flung locales as Mexico City and Valparaiso (Chile, not Indiana). Wikipedia has this to say: "Poseidon was a major civic god of several cities: in Athens, he was second only to Athena in importance, while in Corinth and many cities of Magna Graecia he was the chief god of the polis. In his benign aspect, Poseidon was seen as creating new islands and offering calm seas. When offended or ignored, he supposedly struck the ground with his trident and caused chaotic springs, earthquakes, drownings and shipwrecks. Sailors prayed to Poseidon for a safe voyage, sometimes drowning horses as a sacrifice." So Neptune, AKA Poseidon, seems a natural choice to park in a city. I don't think there would be any sacrificing of horses in Goshen--they've always been and continue to be a major mode of transportation there. Which reminds me, our ancestor Lincoln Cory was mortally injured in Goshen when his horse was spooked by an automobile in 1912, the same year the Neptune Fountain was erected. Lincoln fell out of the buggy and later died at home of his injuries.

BANJO52 said...

Is this a time to bring up Wordsworth's sonnet, "The World Is Too Much With Us"? You can find it here:

I think it was Goshen where we spent a pleasant evening a few summers ago, while staying at Pokagon state park and exploring Amish country and Notre Dame. There were softball games in a city park not far from the main drag. Sound familiar?

David C. said...

Part of the link was missing in your comment. Here's the link to the Wordsworth poem. Yes, it's appropriate. And yes, it could have been Goshen, as it is in Amish country.

NemeanZeus said...

Thank you for taking me back to my youth. Every Sunday, I would walk with my father after church, past Poseidon, for Dad to get a bag of chocolate covered peanuts at the Olympia Candy Kitchen. I have often wondered what subconscious role that fountain played in deciding my life career: archaeologist in Greece.

Stephen M (


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