Where strange fact and stranger fiction collide
It’s a hot summer day in downtown Portland. I have been walking for a while and the heat is getting to me. Like an oasis before me is a fountain with four bowls, the water seems to be perpetually bubbling up. I lean over and quench my thirst. When I look back up she is standing there.
Her long black hair is in a bun, and she is wearing a white tee-shirt with a blue anchor embossed on it. “Do you know the history behind these fountains?” The Genius Loci of Portland asks me.
Of course I do, she is really only a figment of my imagination, so in reality everything she knows I know. But somehow I endowed her with my insatiable appetite to share fundamentally useless trivia. “Tell me.” I say basically trying to appease her.
She slides her thick black rimmed hipster glasses to the top of her nose. “The legend goes. That in 1912, Simon Benson was building a hotel.’ She points at the majestic Benson Hotel, then continues. ”When he noticed that he could get a lot of work done in the morning, but after lunch most of the work crews didn’t return and those who did, hardly did any work the whole afternoon. When he did a little investigating he found out that most of the men were getting drunk at lunch.”
I take another sip of the fresh water and say “Drunk?”
“Yes” She continues. “See most the saloons sold cheap food, with a lot of salt that made the workers thirsty, so they would try to quench it with the only think the bars offered to drink, whiskey.” I nod my head as the Genius Loci continues. “This general drunkenness in the PM lead to many crimes too. So Mr. Benson wrote out a check for ten thousand dollars, and paid for the first twenty Benson Bubblers. Now with the laborers having something to drink other than rotgut, he got his hotel built on time and the city’s crime rate was dramatically slashed.”
“It was?” I asked.
“Well that is the legend.” She replies sheepishly. “There is another legend that he was moved by a young girl screaming with thirst during a Fourth of July parade. Whatever was his motivation truly was he did have the first of the bubblers built.”
I nod well that much was a fact. “There is more than twenty here.” I say.
She nods. “Yes, there are total of Fifty-two. Well there are also seventy-four of the one blowlers. I mean I guess they are OK, if you want a drink of water, but they are not really Benson Bubblers.” She continued with a touch of snobbery in her voice.
“And they are unique to Portland?” I ask.
“Yes.” The Genius Loci proclaims. Then confesses “Well…there are two outside of Portland one in our sister city in Sapporo Japan, and one in a museum in Marysville, Washington, that was owned by a friend of Simon Benson. Other cities have asked for ones like this, Frisco, Seattle…But we told them no.” She said with a mischievous smile.
“That’ll teach them.” I respond.
“Yes it will.” She replied proudly. “Anyway in 1975, the cost of making Bubblers got so expensive that the city asked Benson High school to make two of them in their foundry classes.”
“High Schools have foundry classes?” I asked dead paned.
“They do in Portland or at least they did back in 1975.” The Genius Loci replied.
“Isn’t this kind of a waste of water?” I ask pointing at the always bubbling bubbler.
The Genius Loci shakes her head. “Not really, they turn them off after eleven at night and the water department says they use up only one-tenth of one percent of Portland’s daily water usage.”
I shrug I guess if Northern Oregon has anything with all the rivers and the rain it is water. I take another gulp of H2O. When I look up she is gone. Back somewhere in my subconscious, or where ever she goes when I am not imagining her. I am not sure how much of the legend is true but I do know this much, because of Simon Benson’s vision over a hundred years ago, I am not as hot and thirsty as I was.