scorecardresearch Skip to main content

Traffic island figures get a pardon from Somerville mayor

A Woody Woodpecker ornament and other wood cutouts have appeared on a traffic island in Somerville.Steve Annear

City officials didn’t know where the wooden cartoon figures of black and brown rabbits, bulldogs donning blue overalls, and young children with rolled-up pants carrying fishing poles came from.

And when a complaint came in from an unamused resident, city workers were poised to remove the colorful lawn ornaments sprouting from the cobblestone traffic island near Union Square.

But after considering the artistic merit of the garden trinkets, Mayor Joseph Curtatone on Thursday wielded his powers, giving the decorations a last-minute reprieve.

“This appears to be a case of guerrilla art, or guerrilla decorating if you prefer,” city spokeswoman Denise Taylor said in an e-mail. “The mayor has decided to grant the wooden ducks and bunnies and other items a pardon. No decorations are to be removed.”


The wood cutouts appeared at the site sometime this month. It’s unclear who put them there, Taylor said.

Following the complaint, DPW workers trekked to the traffic island, a small plot at the intersection of Bow Street and Somerville Avenue, to take the ornaments away.

Realizing that items beautifying the patches of mulch beneath the four trees on the island might have been expensive to make or purchase, the workers put up two signs in search of the owner.

“The items on this island need to be removed within 48 hours,” the sign, handwritten in black marker and attached to two sawhorses, said. “Any ? call us.”

After the Globe asked for comment about their pending removal, news of the ornaments’ fate reached Curtatone’s office. The mayor went to the site, and then personally took down the DPW’s signs. The whimsical event was live-streamed on the city’s Facebook page.

“Although the inhabitants of this island may break some occupancy codes, they pose no risk or public nuisance,” Curtatone said. “In fact, I think, they resemble the diversity of the city in their own special way. So we hereby pardon their stay and occupancy for as long as they want.”


David Norris, owner of Odds and Ends Thrift Shop, which is directly across the street from the lawn objects, seemed ambivalent about the decorations.

“I think they’re fun to a certain extent,” he said. “But I wouldn’t miss them.”

The island is not just home to the quirky display. A plaque on a pedestal at the tip of the small plot displays information about a historic hoax that occurred there in 1832.

It was then that Jonathan W. Niles, a Boston resident, claimed he had unearthed the first-ever complete skeleton of an anchisaurus, a small, plant-eating dinosaur with tiny arms, near the site.

According to the information on the plaque, Niles’s discovery was debunked more than 30 years later, when Alfred Worchester, a student from Harvard Medical School, inspected the bones and concluded the findings were fake.

“Worchester stated that Niles had merely arranged the bones of a German Shepherd and a common horse together in a convincing manner,” the sign reads.

Luckily, the lawn ornaments won’t go the way of the dinosaurs.

Steve Annear can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @steveannear.