20402_curious falls ft.wav
7:54PM Feb 19, 2019
Archival News Sound
The Falls Fountain made a big impression on Mark Friedland.
I was working in the National City tower way up on the 20th floor and we had a meeting facing the river and it really stood out and it was beautiful. But I knew it was impractical.
And it made a big impression on the city at large, too, when it was first turned on in 1988.
What has 41 nozzles 1250 horsepower and weighs 200 tons? Well, you're looking at it right now! It's the Louisville Falls Fountain. "What did you think about it when it first came on?" "I thought it was very beautiful." "What did you think of it, sir?" "Oh, I think it's beautiful. It just looks like a shooting star that was in place, but all those little sparkles going out from... just beautiful really."
Rick Howlett from WFPL looked into the fountain's pedigree.
It was the idea of Barry Bingham, Sr., and Mary Bingham, his wife. He was, of course, the family and longtime owners of the Courier-Journal newspaper and other media holdings, WHAS TV and radio. They had been to a Lake Geneva, Switzerland then had seen a fountain that they were impressed by in the lake. They want to do something similar for Louisville.
They came up with the idea for a fountain that would be shaped like a fleur de-lis, a symbol of Louisville. It would sit in the Ohio River next to the Second Street Bridge.
He had support for it. He put up the money for it, more than two and a half million dollars. It was built and it was met with great fanfare at first.
Hey, why don't we all give a cheer for the fountain that they can hear on the other side of the river? Let's hear it for the fountain! (Crowd cheers)
But it didn't exactly go as planned.
It had some problems with debris and other issues. Some people started making fun of it after a while, and it never really connected with people, the way that I think that the Binghams had hoped it would.
Even when the fountain worked, it was only on display for six months out of the year. It had to be put in storage during the winter, and anytime the river got too high. After 10 years of on again off again functioning, something major seemed to go wrong inside the fountain. By then it was being managed by the local water company, and they brought in a marine surveyor named Greg Weeter who would determine the fountain's fate.
It was in September, October of 1998, I got a call from an insurance company because there had been some sort of a machinery damage, and the metro government was turning in an insurance claim. And we went down into the machinery space and it looked like there'd be been a major machinery failure because there was metal strewn everywhere like shrapnel.
There was a small problem with the fountain's variable speed drive.
It had, uh... exploded.
And it would cost too much to fix. The city sold it to a guy named Mike stamper for around $15,000. He had it hauled to a shipyard in New Albany.
And I think it was eventually sold for salvage. And probably got parted out for scrap.
Not exactly. We found the fountain, more or less in one piece, sitting in that same fleet where it's been since 1998. What is it doing here?
Absolutely nothing. (Laughter)
That's Michael McBride.
He took me to see the fountain The only way you can nowadays: by boat.
See that gray thing up here?
It's sitting near mile 612 point five on the Ohio River at McBride's fleet.
They said, do you have a place to put it? So we put it in one of our fleets, and it's been sitting in that same fleet ever since.
So why hasn't it been sold for scrap?
The problem with that would be getting it on to land so they could cut it up for scrap, because it's an octagon shape. It's not like you can pick it up on average dry dock and start cutting it up for scrap. So really by the time you took the expense to get it onto land which would cost tens of thousands of dollars, to get it cut up and to a scrap yard would probably cost money.
I took some pictures and showed them to our question after mark.
That's so cool! I didn't know it was still in existence.
If you don't have a boat handy, you can see the fountain from Google Earth. Just type in McBride's fleet in New Albany, and scroll north until you see a weird-looking grey octagon.
It looks a little bit like a flying saucer, you know? It looks like something some other worldly.
The question for this edition of Curious Louisville came from Mark Friedland. Reporting was done by Rick palette and me Laura Ellis. Production assistance by Ashlie Stevens. The newscast sound in this piece came from Morgan Atkinson's documentary, "Falls City." Don't forget you can ask a question of your own curiouslouisville.org.