Central Park Vasbinder fountain

Editor's Note: This is an ongoing series which runs each Thursday morning titled the Richland Chronicles, by author Paul Lintern. It is set in the 1800s and tells the story of Richland County through the eyes of young people. The books are available from Lintern for $25 a set, tax and shipping included. Each book is about 120 pages written for intermediate readers (4th grade) with local illustrations. Volume I is Amelia Changes Her Tune. Volume II is Isaac and Wolf Paw Find Their Home. Volume III is Autumn Keeps Her Secret. Volume IV is Mr. Gamble Starts a School. Volume V is Jacob Blows his Horn. Volume VI is Cassie Fights the WarVolume VII is Emilene Adopts Her Family. Volume VIII is David Dances the Bases.

“Here eye shall be delighted by the glittering drops and glistening jets. Here ear shall be charmed by the harmonious fall and flow. Here desire shall be gratified by all the thirsty sons often. Here in this park the air shall be more balmy and more helpful to the weary.”

Natalie loved to hear Mr. Hedges speak. He was wealthy man in town, a leader, from a founding family, and had a good, booming voice that made you pay attention without making you scared, at least in a 10-year-old’s mind.

His speech at the fountain’s dedication made everything seem to fit together.

“Joy smiles in the fountain, health flows in the rills and the ribbons of silver unwind from the hills,” he said to conclude his speech.

I don’t know exactly what he said, but I sure do like the way the words sound, Natalie thought.

Colonel Burns, who Natalie thought must be related even though Father says not, accepted the fountain on behalf of the city, but not before saying, “Central Park was a hog wallow patronized by unretained porkers roaming at will and where meditative cows reposed in quiet through the shade of night, chewing their cuds of contentment,” to everyone’s laughter and applause.

The church bells had sounded throughout downtown at 9 o’clock that morning to call citizens to the park. It was July Fourth — the country’s 105th birthday — and the Square was becoming known as Central Park, because that is what it had become. It was no longer a cow pasture, a hog pen, a market, a courthouse entrance or even a horse hitching area.

It was a park.

Earlier in the year, Mayor Bigelow saw to the removal of the fence that had surrounded the square. It was done quietly and quickly, and to the dismay of local farmers, but the mayor stood his ground, opening the way for benches, green grass, a bandstand, some flowers, and a criss-cross of paved paths.

And now a fountain in the very middle of the park, surrounded by elegant trees and a gentle breeze.

A parade had made its way from Marion Avenue to the center of town, with two bands and a host of dignitaries.

Little Delmar Hightower was in one of the carriages, as winner of the grand prize in Natalie’s contest. He looked a little uncomfortable with all the attention.

But I’ll bet he doesn’t mind having that bicycle, she thought.

The other big prize winners were allowed to walked behind the carriage, carrying a banner.

The Mansfield Philharmonic Society sang the Star-Spangled Banner, all four verses, with many people joining in on the first verse. The park was filled with men in old uniforms, many of which did not fit their frames as well as they had 20 years earlier.

While the turnout was high and the event a celebration, everything was somewhat subdued because of the newspaper headlines from the day before:

President Garfield shot!

Crazed man fires pistol in Baltimore.

President’s life hangs in balance.

Ohio’s son inaugurated only fours months ago.

“Do you think the President will die, Papa?” Natalie had asked the day before.

“Doctors will do everything they can, but God can do more. We have to wait and pray and see what is to come,” he told her.

And so the waiting crowd gathered to honor the birth of the country, to pat themselves on the back for making such a nice park, and to pray for the recovery of the 20th President, and an Ohioan at that.

Natalie looked around to find many of her classmates at the event, even though most of them did not live in Mansfield. They were relishing the success of their contest and it had been suggested that they may be recognized at the dedication.

“Isn’t it beautiful?” Violet said as she stared at the fountain while walking up to Natalie.

“I didn’t know it would be so tall,” Harriet added.

“And that pretty woman at the top. Is that Miss Vasbinder?” Olivia asked.

Natalie laughed, then caught herself.

Well, maybe it looks a little like her.

“No, that’s just a typical pretty fountain lady, like the others,” Natalie said.

“Actually, it’s Hebes, the Greek cupholder to the gods on Olympus,” said Miss Vasbinder, who happened to be walking up to the speakers’ stand.

Oh, I am so embarrassed.

“Do you think she looks like me?”

“No, I mean, yes, a little, maybe?” Natalie stammered.

“It’s fine, Dear One. I am the last person I would want on top of the statue,” Miss Vasbinder replied.

“Good, because her name means ‘youth,’ and that’s more for you than for me.”

“Who are those women in the middle?” Harriet asked.

“They are the Graces. The Greek word is charis, as in charity. Those three remind us that all of life is a gift.”

Natalie started to explain what Uncle Lucas had told her, about the cornucopia and vase and a twine of roses in their hands, but before she could elaborate, she heard her name from the speaker’s stand.

“… and let’s bring up all those students who helped prepare this contest, and then we will celebrate the winners of the contest, and then, let’s bring up everyone here who participated in the contest, so they can be close to see the fountain start flowing,” a dignified man called out, who happened to be Dr. Bushnell, one of the members of the fountain committee.

Dozens of students came forward, and Natalie was lost in the shuffle, but was happy to have been recognized, without having to get up on the stand. She also found herself right next to the fountain when Dr. Bushnell called out, “Like Moses at the Rock of Maribah, let the water flow.”

There was a pause, and then a gurgle and then a … a trickle of water dripped out of the jar at the end of the outstretched arms of the woman at the top and dribbled into the top bowl.

That’s it? All that excitement and they forgot to see if it actually would work?