In May of 1923, a water fountain was installed at the Illinois School for the Deaf (ISD). Create an image in your mind from this January 28, 1927, excerpt from “The Illinois Advance:”
(Colonel Oscar C. Smith, Managing
Officer, reports to the Governor)
“A sixteen foot crushed rock driveway has been constructed from Webster Avenue to the front entrance of the Administration Building with a large circle directly in front of the main entrance, in the center of which a concrete pool twenty feet in diameter has been built, a fountain erected in the center and the pool filled with pond-lilies and gold fish. Where the drive connects with Webster Avenue, two beautiful cut stone pillars border it. At the outer side of these is a rock base with urn mounted on each side.”
The fountain portrays a young male and female under protection of the rain from the umbrella that the male is holding. The fountain’s spurts of water burst from the top tip of his umbrella and run down the canopy to protect her from the “rain.”
This is the point in the tale when it turns into not only a love story but also a fascinating connection of people and events. Marene Mattern is the historian of ISD’s Alumni Association Museum and is also a 1968 graduate of the school. She began to research the statue and discovered that the statue had been given a name in the 1920s by Managing Officer Col. Frank D. Whipp – The John and Mary Fountain. However, Mattern didn’t know the why (who were John and Mary?), so she dug deeper. She found out that in the fall of 1926, Professor John T. Taylor began teaching at ISD and courted Ms. Mary Susan Black, who worked in the Practical Arts Department. On November 17, 1927, the two were married and the fountain was so-named because “of the umbrella that John Taylor always carried. He carried the umbrella on his arm and used it to protect Mary, the love of his life,” tells Mattern. Elaine Cady is the Curator of the ISDAA Museum and 1958 graduate of ISD. As an ISD Elementary child, Cady remembers personally seeing John carrying the umbrella and that he was always talking to the children who just adored him.
The fountain was removed during the 1938-1939 driveway renovation fronting the eastern face of ISD’s Main Building and was homed at The Jacksonville Developmental Center (JDC). At some point, Mattern says there was an auction and a Passavant Hospital employee purchased the forgotten fountain from JDC. The fountain was essentially “missing” since 1950, adds Mattern. It was tracked down after 40 years when Curt Heinemann, Dean of Boys at ISD at the time, walked into the office of the then Superintendent and noticed old photos of the fountain on his desk. Superintendent Peter Seiler informed Heinemann that the school was trying to find the misplaced fountain, and Heinemann coincidentally knew its location. A friend and employer of Heinemann’s just happenened to be the current owner – Bob Scott was his name, and he had it stored in a crate in the basement of Passavant Hospital. Scott’s parents actually both attended ISD, and he had purchased it in their honor, with plans of cleaning it up for display, says Heinemann. Heinemann was able to convince his friend to return the fountain to its “home.” The ISD Alumni Association Museum was gifted The John and Mary Fountain, and it has been back with the school since. But, Mattern was still digging. In the summer of 2013, she “had a feeling” that Mary Susan Black Taylor could be related to ISD’s Chief Engineer, Chuck Black. When she approached him, Black was “a bit shocked,” saying, “I knew John (Taylor) had been out here, but if not for Marene Mattern’s curiosity, I would have had no idea.” It turns out that Mary Susan Black Taylor was the great-aunt of Chuck Black; in fact, “she was my favorite,” says Black.
The hard work of Mattern and continued connections throughout the life of the fountain seem to be a way for The John and Mary Fountain to come back to ISD – to the start of the love that deserved naming the fountain. This representation of “one of the romances of the life of the school” is located in ISD’s Main Building, having been re-dedicated during Homecoming on September 21, 2013. Chuck Black adds, “It was really neat to find out. It’s funny how small the world is. I was happy to discover (the connection).” Presently, ISD’s Career and Technical Educational Center (specifically, students in wood shop class, under the direction of instructor and past ISD graduate, John R. Harper) has created a new basin for the fountain with hopes to bring the fountain back to a functioning fountain that could be displayed in the central lobby of the Main Building.