A small turtle sculpture sparks big controversy on Beacon Hill
The fire truck rumbled through the narrow streets of Beacon Hill, clamoring to a stop in front of a small playground on Myrtle Street.
As residents gawked and children played nearby, multiple firefighters jumped to action.
The emergency? A 4-foot bronze playground sculpture called “Myrtle the Turtle,” which had apparently gotten a little hot under the early summer sun, prompting a call from a concerned mother.
“A full-on fire truck,” recalls Judith Bullitt, a Beacon Hill newcomer who witnessed the episode earlier this week while at the playground with her grandson. “I was kind of incredulous.”
But in well-to-do Beacon Hill, where mole hills have a habit of becoming mountains, the installation of a small bronze turtle at a neighborhood playground has developed into a roiling controversy.
Earlier this week, a Globe story detailed the handful of recent complaints the city had received indicating that the turtle was absorbing too much heat from the sun and burning children who touched it.
Since then, the anti-turtle sentiment has only grown, as a group of Beacon Hill parents launched an anonymous campaign to have the turtle removed, despite pleas by the sculpture’s renowned 90-year-old creator and her supporters to find a way to keep it in the park.
“Nobody wants it because it’s so dangerous,” one caller grumbled to the Globe this week.
“Parents were never asked,” complained an anonymous e-mailer. “It just showed up.” (Why neighborhood parents would need to be consulted about an installation at a public park was a question left unanswered.)
“I think that Myrtle was a huge mistake,” said yet another caller who declined to give her name. “I think that it’s not appropriate for a tiny urban playground, where children should be free to run around.”
Just how polarizing has the turtle become?
On Wednesday, various women occupying the park with small children declined interviews about Myrtle altogether, for fear — apparently — of being pulled into the neighborhood’s current quarrel.
“I kind of want to steer clear of the controversy,” explained one woman, sitting with an iced coffee at a table at the playground.
“I’d rather not,” said a woman putting sunscreen on a young child.
One woman was happy to share her opinions on the matter — namely, that “Myrtle the Turtle” was a menace who would be far better off at another park, down the street.
“It would be great to find it a new home,” she said. “It’s burning children.”
But when a reporter asked for her name, she declined — and quickly hustled away.
The turtle, which has been temporarily covered in a blue tarp that looks a little like a bodybag, has presented a tricky issue for city parks officials, who are trying to determine a long-term solution.
Named after the New England Aquarium’s 560-pond green sea turtle, Myrtle, the sculpture was a gift from the Beacon Hill Garden Club, which raised funds to pay for it. It is the creation of renowned local sculptor Nancy Schon, whose work includes the famed “Make Way for Ducklings” sculptures in the Public Garden as well as the “Tortoise and the Hare” piece in Copley Square.
This week, Schon issued a public plea urging city officials to find a solution to the issue — planting trees to shade the piece, or constructing a small canopy — that would allow the turtle to stay. She also created a petition to save the sculpture, which by Thursday morning had amassed more than 700 signatures and dozens of messages of support.
“I have done nothing but cry about this,” said Schon, reached by phone Thursday. “I don’t want to hurt children. What I do is make kids happy, and I just feel so terrible that this has happened.”
Ryan Woods, a spokesman for the city’s Parks and Recreation department, said it was the first time in 13 years he’d heard of complaints of bronze statues burning residents — but that the city was dedicated to making the park as safe and welcoming as possible.
“We’re taking it very seriously,” he assured.
Despite the vocal opposition, however, Myrtle’s presence has been welcomed by many of the playground’s visitors.
Carinna Matta, who works on Beacon Hill and has been coming to the playground for about two years, says moving the sculpture to a shaded corner of the park would be a sufficient solution.
“It’s very cute,” added Pat Coe, as she pushed her granddaughter in a swing, suggesting that moving it out of the sun and away from the playground’s heavy foot traffic would be a fine fix.
As for the children that populate the park, the sudden covering of a beloved piece has not been well-received.
“They loved that turtle,” said Mimi Thermidor, a preschool teacher in the area who has taken to telling her inquisitive youngsters that Myrtle is sleeping. “They have us take pictures of them on that turtle.”
At the moment, city parks officials are discussing the possibility of adding a canopy — and Woods said he hoped to have a final plan in place within the next week or two.
If the city does take the step of permanently removing the turtle, however, it already has a potential landing place.
In an e-mail to the city of Boston on Thursday, Newton City Councilor Vicki Danberg said she’d be happy to take the turtle.
“I understand that some parents want famous sculptor Nancy Schon’s Myrtle the Turtle removed from the Beacon Hill playground where it is beloved because it is too hot for their children’s bottoms,” she wrote. “If they succeed in convincing you, I’ll pay to have it moved to the Newton Centre Green. We treasure Nancy Schon and all of her sculptures and we can take the Heat!”