Those innovative ancient Greeks, still praying to Zeus and Apollo and Aphrodite, developed the fountain alongside the aqueduct, which brought clean water to cities. So beneficial was the gravity-powered device that the ancient Romans (among other civilizations) adopted it readily, improving and expanding its utilization.
So, what do Kansas City and ancient Greece have in common and why do we continue to build fountains, or work to keep them around if our modern water systems replaced the fountain as the primary water source? I’ll answer with this: tradition and mythology. Tradition and beauty now override the functional aspect of the fountain. Not only were they once used as a water source, but also to honor gods, animals or mortals; the custom has survived over thousands of years like few others have.
In early Kansas City days, fountains served a practical use as watering holes for dogs, horses and people. Often, the clean, clear liquid erupted from the mouths of lions – a rather classic animal in fountain adornment with many variations, including winged ones. More fountains were erected throughout the city, though eventually separate drinking fountains were installed for human-only consumption. During the mid 1800s, the spring in the center of the City Market in Kansas City, Mo., was the only clean water source for nearby residents. Kansas City’s first fountain was built at the very end of the 19th century, followed by another in 1904 at 3rd and Minnesota Streets.
Some of the original fountains have survived, such as the Woman’s Leadership Fountain on 9th Street, now over a century old. Over the years, Kansas City kept building them, often as memorials or with ornamental intent. The area’s collection of 200 registered cascades merits us the nickname “The City of Fountains” – second in number only to Rome, Italy, which boasts more than 2,000. That’s kind of a big deal. In the 1970s, the City of Fountains Foundation was inaugurated and has since overseen the care of our city’s many water-spewing wonders.
Another Kansas City shout-out to Greek culture and mythology was the Priests of Pallas festival, celebrated for nearly 40 fabulous years (late 1800s to early 1900s). The fest featured Pallas Athena (okay, a woman in Pallas costume) leading an outrageous parade, merriment, booze, extravagance and a grand masked ball – attempting to promote the city as its lesser-known nickname, “Athens of the West.”
Take a closer look at the Kansas City’s fountains standing in tribute to Roman and Greek mythology:
Pomona, 320 Ward Parkway
Pomona was a Roman goddess, overseeing agriculture – particularly orchards, farms and gardens. She is one of the few Roman deities without a Greek counterpart. She stands alone, in bronze, gazing off into the distance. The first farms were established in Missouri in the 1700s by French settlers, and in the early 1800s Congress granted more farmland, known as “Boone’s Lick.” Thanks, Pomona, for watching over the state’s now more than 100,000 prosperous farms.
Bacchus, 4701 Wyandotte
Bacchus is his Roman title, but you may more readily recognize his Greek mythological name – Dionysus. The god of wine, the grape harvest, ecstasy and indulgence, all qualities revered by the figures in the fountain at his feet. You know Bacchus/Dionysus suits Kansas City–we aren’t afraid of a good time.
Diana, 401 Ward Parkway
Diana was a Roman goddess, the counterpart to Greek mythology’s Artemis. Artemis is associated with the moon, as her twin Apollo (Greek and Roman) is with the sun. Diana/Artemis also was known as the ultimate huntress, her skill unrivaled.
Neptune, 308 W 47th St
The god of the horse and the sea in Roman mythology, Neptune ruled the oceans as Poseidon in Greek tradition. The “earth-mover” was one of three brothers born to the Titans Cronus and Rhea – Zeus (Roman: Jupiter) and Hades (Roman: Pluto), the others. These three were the most powerful gods in mythology; Jupiter/Zeus ruled over the heavens and earth, Pluto/Hades, the underworld, and Neptune/Poseidon, the waters of the world. KCMO was born on the water, so we all better saunter on over to 47th Street and give our respect to the powerful ole Neptune.
Mermaids, 4743 Broadway
Mermaids, a mythological creature of half-fish, half-human form, were often associated with danger and tragedy – a far cry from Disney’s The Little Mermaid. Known as the siren in Greek mythology, these strange and beautiful creatures lured sailors to their shores with a song so sensual and captivating that it left the seamen devoid of self-control. Upon landing, the sirens would devour the men whole. Check yo’self before you wreck yo’self, dudes.
Four Fauns, 314 Nichols Rd
The faun was a beast with the upper body of a man and the lower body of a goat. Pan from Greek mythology is a perfect example, though he was a god – most fauns were not. They were playful, mischievous forest creatures – a slightly more amicable figure than the closely-related satyr. At their judgment, fauns would either aid a lost and weary traveler in finding his way, or instill terror and bestow misguidance on the poor soul.
Muse of the Missouri, 8th and Main Streets
In Greek mythology, there were nine Muses. Each Muse was inspirational to an art form like dance, tragedy, comedy or poetry. This Muse was created in the same vein – she stands on high, watching over and encouraging success in her surroundings, the city that arose and prospered from the great Missouri river.