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Moving Mad Anthony Wayne
By Jim Sack
Fort Wayne Reader
Time to move the statue of Mad Anthony Wayne?
That is the talk at the highest levels in the community, and it’s about time.
Mad Anthony’s bronze likeness stands on a small plinth on a corner in Freimann Square where the peaceful park’s beautiful canopy of trees all but hides the city’s “founder” in plain sight. Might as well be in a tent so hidden is he in his leafy cocoon, invisible in soft greens as cars whoosh by, barely visible even in winter.
The same is true for the Civil War Memorial on Spy Run on the east lip of Lawton Park. Houses hide the approaching view, it is flanked to the near north by a nursing home, and seldom visited by anyone except Park Department weed terminators. The collection of statue and guns, balls and plaques is a bit too far from the street to be appreciated, if noticed at all. There is nowhere near to park without arousing suspicion.
So, the talk among city muckity-mucks is to move MAW and the memorial to the pretty, but underachieving Court House Green.
And the Green is underachieving, nothing close to the “highest and best use.”
Anyone who has ever been to a European city where equestrian heroes abound understands the point our leaders make – the Green does little for the city and the downtown. Currently, the Green shouts “keep off the grass.” It is more like your old aunt’s house where the good furniture is still under protective plastic; there to see, to admire, but not to use. The Green is a suburban-style show piece in the very center of the urban core. Its current design deters gatherings or use of the prime space. It is dead space used primarily by nicotine addicts from the Court House and for people walking from the City County Building to Berry Street offices.
Moving Mad, elevating him on a central plinth and surrounding that grand plinth with either a fountain or flower beds would good start on converting the Green into a useful community space. Perhaps a fountain would attract enough pennies to pay down part of the city’s debt or improve services in the county.
One vision calls for placing an elevated Mad and his faithful horse square in the middle of the plaza facing east. The vision goes on to call for paving most of the plaza with light gray limestone to echo our majestic Court House, perhaps with patterned inlays of darker stone.
The thinking continues that the plaza should be the site of flower markets in the spring and craft shows in the fall. It should sport a cafe or two where we might repose under broad umbrellas and sip a Chardonney on white linen or enjoy a coffee and luxurious layer cake of cream and small bits of fruit while watching flights of pigeons soar around the grand rotunda. Park corners would sport luxuriant flower beds that our superb Park Department staff design and maintain so very well.
Those who advocate the idea believe celebrating Mad Anthony on a large plinth in the center would make a dramatic statement about our pride of place and history, it would show the due respect for the namesake of our community.
Certainly, paving most of the Green would immediately make the plaza a center of activity. Adding a couple dining areas would allow tourists and locals to linger between downtown attractions and activities, something the Downtown Improvement District says is most important to revitalizing commerce in the downtown, and increasing tourism.
A friend from another country recently remarked that the center of Fort Wayne is a ghost town. Nothing happens, no one is there, our center is all but deserted during the day and completely deserted at night. She is not the only one who has commented on our desolate, deserted downtown. So, making such a bold change can only improve things, according to proponents of the moving Mad Anthony and the Civil War Memorial. And, the idea falls neatly in line with many of the other efforts underway to concentrate activity and generate revenue from the center.
The simple theory is that people attract people, but people appreciate somewhere to congregate. There are very few such meeting places in the community, especially downtown. There could be so many more, according to planners, to encourage the return of retail, and housing, and converting the Green to a functioning, inviting plaza would be a significant step in that direction.
City leaders are willing to put the plaza to work — the question is whether County and the overseers of the underachieving Green will get on board with such a grand and bold statement.