In 2009 I was a single parent to 3 little kids and was looking for ways to engage them in the world around them that did not involve a TV or video games. Being a lifelong resident of Kansas City I was well aware that we had one of the largest collections of public fountains in the world. Having always wanted to experience them all and being a nerd for documentation I thought this would be a fun avenue for the kids explore their hometown.
This was in the days before smart phone GPS so I purchased a street atlas of the greater KC area and sought out a list of fountains. To my surprise there wasn’t a definitive list available at that time and the best resource I could locate was a book published by the Kansas City Historical Society in the late 70s. While this proved useful, I found many new fountains had been added, some had been moved and sadly a few had been decommissioned. I made a list based on the book, personal knowledge and feedback from Facebook posts soliciting first had observations. The atlas soon become riddled with sticky notes, so a supplemental notebook was added to the arsenal to break the points of interest into routes each of which was assigned a different weekend with the kids. We kept it to no more than 3 or 4 hours as the attention of a young child is a fleeting thing.
We started our project in the most logical location, the Country Club Plaza. This was the highest concentration of fountains and offered plenty of other fun distractions for an outgoing family. Phaedra, then my youngest was still partially reliant on a stroller so we crisscrossed the shopping district being sure to check side streets and asking security and staff for insider info when appropriate. Each stop we talked about the layout and any significance of the statuary with me posing the kids questions about their likes and dislikes of each. They started to get into it rating the fountains for “coolness” and “playability”. We capped each visit off with a photo of the kiddos posing at the fountain.
I had only recently caved and purchased a cell phone but they were not as advanced as they are now and the camera on it was poor quality to say the least. As such we hauled around my Kodak EasyShare camera snapping photos and it could take a day or two for me to hook up the cable to my desktop PC and upload to Facebook. I knew enough then to realize I would want to keep those pictures and social media seemed like a good repository at the time. The feedback was immense with loads of comments and likes (this is before you had other responses options). I mean my kids were/are friggen adorable so that didn’t surprise me at all. I used this opportunity to ask for other eyewitness accounts of fountains to further fuel our plans.
Over time I got better at coordinating our “fountain hunting” as Dave put it and we would integrate it with a trip to the Zoo, the Renaissance Festival or back to school clothing shopping. Being the only driver I employed the sharp eyes of the kids to be on the look out for more fountains. We made a game of it to see who could spot them first and to this day 12 years later I’ll still call out, “FOUNTAIN, POINT!” as we drive around. Typically, this is met with, “Really Dad?”, “Wait, what?!” or a scoff.
We documented well over 200 fountains before our project started to lose steam and other interests took over (I discovered geocaching). These photos still reside on my FB page and I enjoy going back and looking at them reminiscing when the kids were little. I started to put them on a website a year or two later and despite the low resolution I got several hits till I stopped renewing it. I have considered revisiting this theme with my wife and youngest who didn’t get to participate in the first adventure. The relevant technology has improved greatly and if I can find the time I think it would be wonderful to do a then and now type comparison.