To Dye For

On the morning of May 21, Philadelphians awoke to find that a prankster had dyed the water in the fountain at JFK Plaza bright pink. Rather than causing a hue and cry among city leaders, however, the stunt inspired them.
by | August 2003

On the morning of May 21, Philadelphians awoke to find that a prankster had dyed the water in the fountain at JFK Plaza bright pink. Rather than causing a hue and cry among city leaders, however, the stunt inspired them.

Since then, park officials have tried their own hand at coloring the water in several of the city's fountains. Philadelphia's annual Welcome America Festival, which is touted as the nation's largest Independence celebration and ran from June 27 to July 6, provided the perfect opportunity. After pondering whether to use lights to color the water or to follow the prankster's lead and use dye, officials decided to do both.

Fountains along Benjamin Franklin Parkway, where many of the festival's events took place, were colored with a blue algaecide. Officials also used lights to color the water red, white and blue at night at Logan Circle, site of the city's most prominent fountain. "Everybody I've heard from says it looks great," says Barry Bessler, chief of staff of the Fairmount Parks Commission, Philadelphia's parks agency.

While park officials co-opted the prankster's idea, they insist that the original dye job was an act of vandalism. They note that while the city carefully selected its coloring agent to be harmless, dye could damage the marble in some fountains or be unhealthy for people wading in the water. After the initial incident, the fountain was drained and scrubbed as a precaution.

However, the prankster isn't likely to wind up in an orange prison jumpsuit anytime soon. "At this point, I don't know quite honestly how much investigation is going on," Bessler says.

Josh Goodman
Josh Goodman | Former Staff Writer | mailbox@governing.com