02/14/05 — Opinion - The unveiling

View Archive

Opinion - The unveiling

By Gene Price
Published in News on February 14, 2005 1:56 PM

It was back in the late 1950s. I was taking part in a managing editor's seminar at Columbia University in New York.

One afternoon, the focus shifted to the most memorable stories participants had covered. One of the fellows had a dandy.

He was from a staid New England town with a widely respected university. The community also was proud of its forebears who had served in the Revolutionary War. Time, not necessarily performance in battle, had served one of the local "heroes" particularly well.

The historical society or some such group had led an effort to erect in the town square a statue of the hero rising in the stirrups astride his trusty steed and holding his sword high in the familiar "Charge!" mode.

The governor, the mayor and assorted other dignitaries, along with the high school band, would be there for the unveiling.

Over at the college dorm, some of the fellows felt it shaped up to be an exercise in boredom. They decided to enliven the occasion.

The night before the unveiling, they slipped over to the statue. They drilled a hole in the top of the hero's head. And another in the distinguishing part of the stallion's anatomy. This one was fitted with a cork stopped with a cord attached to the covering canvas.

Much of the remainder of the night was spent filling the horse with water.

Unveiling day was appropriately impressive. At the appointed time, the governor, with an elegant flourish, pulled the lanyard. The canvas dutifully fell away -- carrying the cork stopper with it!

There was a shocked and embarrassed pause as a stream of water poured from the under-part of the stallion and spattered on the base of the statue. When it appeared the horse's performance might be endless, the band leader, with commendable inspiration, raised his baton and his subjects struck up with the national anthem.

"Things probably would have gone fine," explained the editor relating the story, "but all of a sudden a resourceful spectator sprinted to the statue and, holding his hat to deflect the water, started making futile stabs with his finger to shut off the flow!"

The tuba and trumpet players began making sputtering noises through their instruments, the crowd was convulsing -- and the dignitaries headed for the shelter of their limousines.