Detroit girl turns 104

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No, not a real girl: This one is made of metal. She's the girl depicted by the Children's Temperance Fountain inside the Anne Whitcomb Scripps Conservatory on Belle Isle. She was unveiled and dedicated with great ceremony on June 11, 1910, 104 years ago today.

Temperance fountain in Tompkins Square Park, New York, N.Y.

What exactly is a "temperance fountain"? Well, in the decades leading up to Prohibition, civic-minded reformers crusading against alcohol funded "temperance fountains" all over the country. This statue was the work of the Loyal Temperance Legion under the leadership of Elizabeth Stocking, funded by Detroit children raising $2,500 for the statue a penny at a time as a "plea for temperance." The statue, which was made by a French artist, was restored in the 1960s and returned to the conservatory with a new pedestal.

As with today's War on Drugs, appeals to "think of the children" sidestepped the harsher realities of opening up a lucrative black market for gangsters. The gentle symbol of temperance helped usher in Prohibition, which was anything but kind and tender. In the 1920s, under alcohol prohibition, a collective geyser of human blood erupted in Detroit, with hundreds of casualties as warring factions made their bid for the illegal business.

These days, as prosecuting a tough drug war becomes less popular with the American public, perhaps it's a good time to look back at this old girl and the simplistic solution she represents. In the words of America's most brilliant and cynical newspaperman, H.L. Mencken: "There is always a well-known solution to every human problem — neat, plausible, and wrong."

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