(A photo of Worcester's infamous Turtle Boy statue that I just saw on Facebook inspired me to re-post from August 2010 my inside story of the 102-year-old statue, which has earned a web site, its own song and an endless number of smutty jokes. When you read Turtle Boy's story, keep in mind that this was written four years ago and some of the events celebrating him that are mentioned here may no longer be available.)
Once upon a time, (in 1905 to be exact), in the city of Worcester, MA, there was a wealthy woman named Harriett P.F. Burnside who worried about the poor horses who pulled carriages and carts all over town. And she wanted to do something to honor the memory of her late father, a prominent Worcester attorney. So she gave $5,000 to the city of Worcester to create a fountain in Central Square that would provide four drinking basins for the thirsty horses (and a lower trough for the city’s dogs.)
The artist chosen to design the sculpture that would be the fountain was Daniel Chester French, famous for the seated statue of Old Abe at the Lincoln Memorial, but he was so busy that he gave the job to his protégé Charles Harvey, who designed and sculpted it. When Harvey died, (slashed his own throat in Bronx Park because of “phantom voices of unseen persons who bade him take his life” as The New York Times described it in Jan.,1912) another sculptor called Sherry Fry finished it and it was unveiled to Worcester in 1912. By then automobiles were beginning to crowd out the city’s horses.
What the schizophrenic Harvey created was a statue of a naked boy riding on the back of a hawksbill sea turtle, who seems to be in mid-flight. Originally water gushed from the turtle’s mouth, but like many things in Worcester, the fountain outlived its usefulness, and in 1969 the sculpture was moved across the street to a spot behind City Hall.
The statue, universally called “Turtle Boy” by Worcester natives, has had a colorful career. In April of 1970, according to Albert Southwick of the Worcester Telegram, vandals struck and the extremely large and heavy statue vanished. Several months later it reappeared just as mysteriously. According to Southwick “It was said that the Worcester police had agreed not to prosecute whoever was responsible.”
Southwick also revealed that “many years ago” Margaret Getchell, daughter of a noted Worcester physician, wrote a children’s book “The Cloud Bird” of eight chapters—each chapter about a Worcester landmark. Chapter eight, “The Adventurer in Armor” tells about a girl named Dorothy Ann who approaches Turtle Boy and sees that he is struggling to hold the Turtle in place. The boy tells her the turtle is “a great adventurer. See he is girding up his armor now.”
Dorothy Ann learns that the boy is a faun who persuades the girl to climb on the back of the turtle with him. It immediately runs down the street “all four legs going so fast you could barely see them.” They reach the ocean, the turtle leaps off a high rock cliff and sinks down into the green waters below. The peculiar trio spend a day sporting in the water until the Turtle truckles back to Salem Square.
According to Wikipedia, “Turtle Boy has become a mascot for Worcester in a way analogous to the Little Mermaid in Copenhagen.”
But if you study my Turtle Boy photo above, you will see that, unlike the Little Mermaid in Copenhagen, our city’s mascot, like so many other things in Worcester, is a little weird. A hundred years ago no one smirked at the statue and made smutty remarks about the relationship of Boy to Turtle, but nowadays, when WAAF personality Hill Man declared Turtle Boy to be one of the 25 great places in Massachusetts and interviewed passers-by on camera as to what exactly they thought was happening between the boy and the turtle, most of them blushed and waffled about an answer.
The boy’s infamous love affair with the Turtle has made him a huge favorite. “Turtle Boy is the reason I decided to stay in Worcester” declared Scott Dezrah Blinn on the website “Worcesterturtleboy.com.” Yes, Turtle Boy has his own website. He also has a fan club on Facebook. A yearly Turtle Boy Music Award caps a series of third Thursdays when local musicians vie for the honor.
If you want more, I suggest that you check into the Turtle Boy website, created by Claudia Snell, and click on the video of the Roadkill Orchestra, Dr. Gonzo’s house band, performing their song “Turtle Boy” at Dr. Gonzo’s Xtreme Freaky Tiki Grilling Championship on 6/3/10. (Dr. Gonzo’s store, which features “Uncommon Condiments” along with musical performances, is also one of Worcester's landmarks.)
As you can see, Turtle Boy’s popularity is boundless among his followers in Worcester, who lovingly refer to their city as "Wormtown" and “The Paris of the Eighties”.