For a quarter century, “The Little Mermaid” statue and fountain has graced the corner courtyard of Festival Hall, a charming and apt enhancement to the festival grounds and a tribute to the Danes of the community.
The diminutive stone figure is a replica of the bronze Little Mermaid that is perched on a granite rock in Copenhagen’s Langelinie waterfront, welcoming visitors to the harbor for more than 95 years. A national treasure of Denmark, it is reported to be the most photographed statue in the world, and four nations have put her likeness on commemorative stamps, including: Denmark, Japan, Korea and Mongolia.
Born out of Hans Christian Andersen’s imagination in 1837, when he wrote the classic fairy tale of the same name, the statue sits about four feet high. Half human, half fish, a sea creature with a woman’s head, she gazes longingly toward land, dreaming of her prince and of one day joining the human race.
She came to the Langelinie waterfront in 1913, after Carl Jacobsen, the founder of Carlsberg Breweries, became enchanted by the story during a performance of The Little Mermaid by Copenhagen’s Royal Theatre ballet company. Jacobsen commissioned well-known sculptor Edvard Eriksen for the bronze piece that now graces the harbor.
The mermaid’s face takes its sweet countenance from its model, Danish prima ballerina Ellen Price, and her lithe body from the artist’s wife, Eline.
Like her Junction City sister in years past, Copenhagen’s Little Mermaid has also been the victim of vandals, often on a weekly basis, and is sometimes “out for repairs.” She has been toppled into the sea twice, her arm broken off and even decapitated in 1964 by Danish artist, Jorgen Nash, who hid his crime for 30 years; and then again in 1998.
Because the statue means as much to Danes as the Statue of Liberty does to Americans or The Eiffel Tower to the French, the “homicide” was nearly regarded as a national disaster.
Here in Junction City, the destruction of its own Little Mermaid five years ago was viewed with sadness and responded to with a little good ol’ Scandinavian rectitude. Although the vandals were never discovered, within a few weeks, the community’s second “The Little Mermaid” was on her way home.
Today, she continues to welcome visitors to her quiet corner of the festival, Scandinavian style. Be sure to stop by and see why she’s been beguiling young and old for nearly a century.
– By LaRae Ash