A statue of a boy standing with his feet apart, his right foot bare, pant leg rolled above his knee, holding a leaking boot with his right hand, is known by many names: the Little Fireman, the Immigrant, the Unfortunate Boot, and most commonly the Boy with the Leaking Boot. There are many of these statues throughout the world most of which stand in the centre of a fountain with water spraying from the toe of the boot. A few of them were actual drinking fountains.
The statues which were created as actual drinking fountains were purchased from J.W. Fiske and Co. and J. L. Mott Iron Works both companies from New York, NY. The description in the catalog stated that it was furnished complete with a ground basin fitted with drinking fountains. The drinking fountains were fitted with self closing faucets and pipes and also drinking cups. There were two sizes of basin offered; the larger fountain offered 8 drinking fountains and 16 drinking spouts; the smaller basin offered 4 drinking fountains and 8 drinking spouts.
In an attempt to prevent children from entering public bars to get fresh drinking water, Sergeant D. E. Nichols of the Salvation Army initiated public subscriptions to fund the purchase of a drinking fountain from J. L. Mott Iron Works.
It was erected in 1895 at Van Ness and Mariposa on the lawn in front of the Fresno County Courthouse. The statue stood in the centre of an octagonal drinking fountain with eight spigots to supply water. The pipes were cooled by blocks of ice, and the water was retrieved in tin cups attached by chains.
It was relocated in 1921 and after repeated damage and vandalism it was placed in storage. A lost item it was replaced with a bronze copy in 1947 and erected in a different location. In 1954 it was moved once more. Vandalised again with the loss of the boot, it was returned to storage in 1969. In 1997 it was again restored, and placed in the Fresno County Plaza on Tulare Street.
The drinking fountain in Houlton was purchased from J.W. Fiske Iron Works with a monetary donation from Mrs. Clara P. Frisbie in 1914. Located in Pierce Park the octagonal base fountain was erected in 1916. Eight drinking fountains supplied water with cups suspended on chains. The base offered troughs for animals.
The statue has been repaired and restored many times by volunteers with experience in metalwork and painting, and it was discovered during restoration that the original colour of the Boy’s shirt was green. Throughout the years since 1973 the Rotary Club has donated money to assist with the restoration. Local companies have donated materials and Houlton Water Company absorbs the cost of water and a security light for the fountain.
Stevens Point, Wisconsin
This statue was ordered from the J. L. Mott Iron Works of New York City and installed in 1895 in the center of the Public Square outside the fire station. The drinking fountain offered several side jets with suspended cups from which people could drink, and a walled basin near ground level for the animals. The statue has been damaged, vandalized and parts stolen over the years.
Within a year the fountain sustained damage when a team of horses and later a runaway mare caused considerable damage. A man driving in a horse drawn carriage also collided with it. The disappearance of the Boy’s leaking boot caused an uncontrolled spray. In an attempt to correct the malfunction a short piece of pipe was installed and a rubber tube was wrapped around the Boy’s torso and leg which gave him the nickname, The Snake Charmer. The fountain was repaired and the statue repainted in silver. Two years later one of the statue’s legs was broken affecting the flow of water leaving little in the basin for horses to drink.
In 1914 the city removed the fountain where horses had watered for 20 years. The statue which had been discarded in a field behind the Engine House was rescued by local firefighters and placed in sewer pipe outside the station. The missing boot had never been replaced and in 1936 it was decided that the boy should something in his hand. Five years later the statue was repainted and adorned with a creel and net, a rod under his left arm and a trout hanging from his right hand.
When Engine House No. 1 was relocated to the corner of Franklin and Division streets the statue was stored in the basement. An unsuccessful attempt to restore the boy by Art students at the University of Wisconsin led to its disappearance for nearly two years. Once again the fire department came to the rescue creating a pedestal and pool for the boy with his new concrete legs and vinyl boot. Each summer after 1975 he was dismantled for maintenance by the fire fighters.
Yet again vandals struck and in 1988 they pushed the statue off its pedestal causing decapitation and a hole in the torso. The cost to repair the statue was expensive and although a fund was started the money raised fell far short. Local craftsmen stepped in to repair the statue, volunteering their time and materials. The boy with the leaking boot was placed back on the fountain in a rededication ceremony in 1989.
Vandalism reared its ugly head in 1998 when the statue’s head was stolen although thankfully it was returned a few days later and once again restored locally. A concrete casting of the statue was made and erected in 2009 with a plan to house the original statue in a glass case inside Fire Engine House Number 1.