PROVIDENCE, R.I. — Legend has it that anyone who sips from a 145-year-old public drinking fountain in Providence is destined to return to the city.
The ornate granite fountain has been dry for about a decade, unable to cast its spell on residents and tourists alike. But water will soon flow through it again.
The Gothic Revival style fountain in front of the Providence Athenaeum on a picturesque, tree-lined street filled with historic homes is scheduled to be turned on again at a party May 20. Its plumbing was fixed by the independent library and cultural center using donations from donors.
A wealthy neighbor, Anna Richmond, donated $600 in 1873 to build and maintain the fountain on Benefit Street, near Brown University.
It was a way to provide clean drinking water and encourage people to drink water instead of beer. It was also a symbol for the library, as a place to quench the “intellectual thirst of the community,” said Matt Burriesci, the Athenaeum’s executive director.
He said the fountain’s internal plumbing has been replaced and the water is safe to drink. Two bronze cups attached to the fountain in the early 1900s that were often stolen and spread disease were not replaced.
Historian Jane Lancaster, who wrote a book about the Athenaeum, said that she has often heard the legend of the fountain, but that no one knows how it started.
Some believe that Edgar Allen Poe cursed the fountain. But that’s nonsense, Lancaster said, as Poe died more than two decades before the fountain was built.
There’s a variation of the legend that anyone who drinks from the fountain will never leave Providence. Robert Arellano believes it.
Arellano vividly recalls drinking from the fountain on a hot day in 1986. He was drawn to the sound of water burbling as he walked to his admissions interview at Brown. He read the fountain’s inscription to “come hither every one that thirsteth.” So he did.
Months later, a new friend at Brown told him the fountain was cursed. After graduating, Arellano said he was in a motorcycle accident so he couldn’t take a job in Alaska. He went to graduate school at Brown, then worked there. His four-year plan in Providence stretched to 16 years.
Arellano, now a creative writing professor at Southern Oregon University, walked by the fountain last week when he visited Brown. Coincidentally the Athenaeum was testing it so the water was on.
“I won’t touch my lips to it,” he said. “Never again.”
Jesse Polhemus, on the other hand, wants to drink from it again. He lived nearby as a child.
“I remember thinking at the time, this is something magical and special about Providence,” he said. “I wanted to be part of it.”
Polhemus lived in Canada for eight years before returning to Providence a decade ago. He now works at Brown. Another sip from the fountain to mark his homecoming would be poetic, he said.
The Rhode Island fountain was fixed using about $20,000 in donations from longtime Athenaeum supporters Richard Gilbane and Candy Adriance.
Gilbane, a Providence native, now lives in Austin, Texas. He never drank from the fountain. But he wants to.
“To have anything pulling me back, connecting me to Providence,” he said, “that’s a complete positive.”
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