I chose the turtles of the Phelps Fountain in the Lyndale Park Rose Gardens as my subject for the weekly photo challenge From Every Angle. A cherished Minneapolis institution since 1908, the rose garden on the southeastern shore of Lake Harriet is the second oldest public rose garden in the United States. But the turtle fountain was not always there.
One piece of history that I learned recently: for decades, thousands of people gathered on the hillside adjacent to where the turtle fountain is now to watch a popular annual children’s pageant. According to the Minneapolis Park & Recreation Board, “The public visibility of the gardens got a boost beginning in 1917 when the first playground pageant was performed on the hill above the rose garden overlooking the lake. The playground pageants included performances written specifically for the occasion and featured children in costumes from every park in the city. The first year the pageant drew a crowd of 15,000 and in later years the performance was extended to two evenings and played to crowds of 40,000. The pageant remained a popular annual event, with a hiatus during the Depression, until 1941. The pageants drew such large crowds that in 1930 the park board considered building an 18,000-seat amphitheater on the hillside at Lyndale Park to accommodate pageant crowds and host other outdoor concerts. With the onset of the Great Depression, however, funds for such a project never materialized.”
Meanwhile, in downtown Minneapolis, the 1915 Edmund J. Phelps Fountain, with its bronze turtles, sat at the center of the Gateway Park’s Beaux Arts Pavilion. During the Great Depression, the park became a gathering place for the unemployed, homeless and transients moving through the area looking for work. Eventually, the city drained the water from the basin of the turtle fountain to keep men from bathing in and drinking from it. Turns out that the turtles in my neighborhood park’s fountain were mute witnesses to dire poverty and suffering.
The turtle fountain was spared when Gateway Park was demolished. In the early 1960s, a Perennial Garden was added just east of the rose garden. The fountain was relocated in 1963 from downtown Minneapolis to the east end of this garden.
The turtle fountain, a familiar neighborhood icon, is different when seen from every (historic) angle.
See more responses to the Weekly Photo Challenge here.
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