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Mythical masterpiece: Legends continue to surround Showalter Fountain


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By Cory Schmidt



Showalter Fountain, which depicts the mythical birth of Venus, has become an iconic statue on IU’s campus as well as a perpetuator of many IU legends.

Several myths surround the fountain, such as beliefs that the statue of Venus will awaken and walk around campus if a virgin graduates, or that former IU Men’s Basketball Coach Bob Knight has one of the stolen fish in his possession.

“(Knight) has never directly denied it, but sometimes I think he is smirking when asked about it,” said Danielle Mendelson, assistant director of admissions at IU.

But Showalter Fountain has a history predating Knight’s reign.

A fine arts professor named Robert Laurent, who joined the IU faculty in 1942, is credited with the fountain’s construction.

While on sabbatical in 1954, Laurent served as an artist-in-residence at the American Academy in Rome, where he was influenced by the essence of the city’s fountains.

Bronze casts of Laurent’s design were completed by the Nicci Foundry in 1958 and shipped to IU the same year.

In July 1960, the fountain’s building contract was authorized.

On Oct. 22, 1961, following the completion of the fountain, the fountain was dedicated
in a ceremony.

In his address, President Herman B Wells dedicated the fountain to Grace Showalter, whose contributions to the University in honor of her late husband, Ralph, funded the
construction.

Since then, Showalter Fountain has become somewhat of a cultural crossroad. It is a favorite hangout for students during breaks between classes and one of the most popular topics during campus tours.

The Office of Admissions organizes tours for prospective students and their families. These tours give potential newcomers the opportunity to learn about IU’s rich history, including the legends surrounding the fountain.

“The visitors love hearing about the fountain, and the Bob Knight joke gets a good laugh from the adults and avid basketball fans in the crowd,” junior and tour guide Elizabeth Haney said.

The fish surrounding the Venus statue have been stolen twice during IU’s history.
In 1987, they were stolen when IU won the NCAA men’s basketball tournament, and again in 2010.

“Rumor has it, after our men’s basketball team won the National Championship in 1987, the students stormed Showalter in celebration, stole the fish and hid them around campus,” Haney said.

The University threatened disciplinary action if the fish were not given back, and all but one were returned.

“Some say we won’t win another national championship until the fish is returned, while others believe the fish is sitting in Bob Knight’s basement and we won’t get it back until we apologize,” Haney said.

Senior and tour guide David Bock agreed that this myth gets a rise out of many on the tour.

“Most people laugh about the legends, especially the Bobby Knight comment,” he said. “That’s a popular parent joke.”

Senior and tour guide Laura Lavender even had an alumna on one of her tours who knew the story.

“One of the moms on the tour started laughing during the story, and it turned out that she had been one of the people that pulled the fish out of the fountain that night,”
Lavender said.

Despite whatever myths surround it, Showalter Fountain is much bigger than the multitude of legends and rumors.

“It’s not the legends that make the fountain unique,” Mendelson said. “It’s the fact that Culture Fest during Welcome Week happens at the fountain, as well as events for Homecoming. Shows at the IU Auditorium begin and start at the fountain. It’s on many IU students’ bucket lists to jump in the fountain.”

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Dave Fisher, Mark Hobbs, Jim Day, Jason Fish, and Mike Miller lift a Showalter fish onto a mat March 22 at Showalter Fountain. A fish was damaged Tuesday, becoming the most recent incident in a long list of vandalism of the fountain. Mark Felix Buy Photos

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