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The Boy and the Boot.

The Boy and the Boot

Who is this boy, and why does he hold aloft his leaking boot?

Boy and the Boot, Hershey, PA.
Boy and the Boot, Hershey, Pennsylvania.

No one really knows.

The mystery is partly why dozens of communities have been smitten by The Boy and the Boot, erecting the little statue as a fountain centerpiece in parks, on courthouse lawns, outside fire houses, and in hospital gardens.

The statue was created at J.L. Mott Iron Works in New York. Copies were offered for sale, through the company catalog, starting in 1875. Its original name, "The Unfortunate Boot," puts its focus squarely on the boot, not the boy, and suggests no lofty motive or inspiring lesson behind the sculpture. Yet some towns and wealthy benefactors saw a deeper meaning in these drippy civic centerpieces. Some believed that the boy was a real newsboy who drowned. Others said he was a Civil War drummer boy bringing water to wounded men. Still others thought he was a brave little fireman using his boot in a bucket brigade.

We're no 19th century footwear comedy experts, but to us the Boy is probably just a kid who walked into a stream, realized his boot was leaking, then took it off to see where the hole was. His backstory is unknown, but his predicament speaks to us, in a sort of post-nasal drip way....

The statue is always the same: right arm aloft, left hand in pocket, old-fashioned cap on head, pants held up by a single suspender. The position of the boot varies; sometimes the toe points left, sometimes forward, sometimes right (Usually the result of repairs from damage or defective dripping). The front of the Boy is sometimes completely stained from whatever impurities infuse the local water.

Boy and the Boot, Sandusky, Ohio.
Boy and the Boot, Sandusky, Ohio.

Boy and the Boot, Wadworth, Ohio.
Boy and the Boot, Wadworth, Ohio.

The statues were originally made of a cheap "pot metal" alloy, and most have required major maintenance (and accompanying upgrades with colorful paint jobs) over the years. Some have been completely replaced by copies made of tougher metal or fiberglass. And several communities have become so protective of their Boy and the Boot statues that they've moved them indoors, shielded from the elements and vandals. Their efforts are well-intended, but the proper place to see a Boy and the Boot is in the glory of an outdoor fountain.

We track about 25 Boy and the Boot statues on public view in the U.S. and Canada. Several others stand in private gardens. Others probably languish, forgotten, in city maintenance yards.

Boy and the Boot

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