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Big hydrant.
World's Largest Fire Hydrant. In the background, on the right, is the Tunnelvision mural.

World's Largest Fire Hydrant (Gone)

Field review by the editors.

Columbia, South Carolina

In 1974 Warren Edward Johnson walked out of a supermarket in Columbia, South Carolina, looked up, and saw an opening in the clouds. Inspired by the sight, Johnson had his name legally changed to "Blue Sky." He later told a local news reporter, "I was doing a lot of LSD back then."

Big hydrant.

By the year 2000 Blue Sky had become a well-known artist, and was awarded the Order of the Palmetto, South Carolina's highest civilian state honor. He was also working on a new project for his hometown, marking the 25th anniversary of Tunnelvision, a transcendental trompe l'oeil mural that he'd painted on the outside wall of a Columbia bank. The new project, Sky said, was an idea that he'd had since 1980: a fountain celebrating the old-fashioned fireplugs that were once commonly seen along the city's downtown streets.

Sky labored in secret for months, called his project "Y2K," and hid it beneath an enormous silver tarp. The covering was finally lifted by crane, to the roar of fireworks and gyrations of an Elvis impersonator, on February 18, 2001 (Sky overshot his Y2K deadline, although his new date marked the anniversary of Columbia's destruction by fire during the Civil War). The unveiling was broadcast live on local TV.

Big hydrant fountain element.
The fireplug was built as an unorthodox fountain. Then the water was turned off.

According to Sky's official description of the event, the residents of Columbia were "tantalized with wonder, curiosity, and perhaps even fear."

What they saw was Busted Plug Plaza, the world's largest fire hydrant. Almost 40 feet tall, weighing 675,000 pounds, the steel fireplug was was built to withstand a direct hit from a tornado. Sky's son, Jesse Jet, told us that his dad purposefully over-scaled his sculpture to dwarf rival giant hydrants in Elm Creek, Manitoba, and Beaumont, Texas. Despite the passage of over 20 years, no one has built a fireplug any bigger than this one.

Known for his unconventional humor, Sky designed the hydrant to look tilted and broken, as if it had been knocked cockeyed by a gargantuan truck. Fake warning barriers circle the artwork, leading unsuspecting visitors to believe that the fireplug is damaged and under repair. Initially, water spritzed up from the rubble of rocks surrounding the sculpture, suggesting that there was a busted water main underneath. But the pumping system and motors gradually failed, and the water has been shut off since 2012.

Fulfilling Sky's original commemorative intent, the giant hydrant is positioned so that people can take snapshots with the fireplug in the foreground and the earlier Tunnelvision mural as a backdrop.

In 2013, Busted Plug Plaza was donated to the city. At first there was much talk of relocating it to another spot in Columbia. But the cost of such a move proved prohibitive, and the Fireplug has remained where Sky originally unveiled it, as off-kilter as ever.

Also see: Tunnelvision

World's Largest Fire Hydrant

Downtown. Either I-77 exit onto Forest Drive, which turns into Taylor St.; or I-26 to I-126, which turns into Elmwood Ave., then a quick right on Marion and five blocks south to Taylor. Center of Taylor between Bull and Marion Sts, in the AgFirst Farm Credit Bank parking lot, near Palmetto Medical Center.
Removed on February 23, 2023.

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