Albany's Evil Nazi Drinking Fountain

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Humor  |  House: Booksie Classic
A brief pilgrimage to the only water fountain in the United States installed as pro-Nazi propaganda.

Submitted: June 03, 2016

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Submitted: June 03, 2016



Albany’s Evil Nazi Drinking Fountain


by Harris Proctor


Of all the dirty secrets that the city of Albany has managed to keep, the strangest might be the Nazi drinking fountain located in the bus terminal.  As far as I can tell, it is the only public water fountain- a bubbler as my dear Nana would say- gifted by fascists to any municipality in the United States.  Next to the vending machines full of overpriced bags of preservative-laden, diabetes-inducing fat and salt, one can find free water provided by the city of Albany.  Funneled through an anti-Semitic block of chrome.  It is elegant and ornate by any standards, let alone Albany bus station standards.  It seems harmless at first glance.  Even at second glance.  Yet I can’t help but stare at it and wonder if it should exist at all.


I’m standing next to Ruth Cohen, assistant director of the Capital District Center for Preservation, listening to her give me the history of the accursed bubbler.  I don’t have the heart to tell her I read all about it on the way up from the city.  Yes, I rode the bus.  It wasn’t all that bad except for the occasional waft of other people’s farts.  The bus was surprisingly comfortable and clean, and the ride was smooth and fairly quick.  Less than 3 hours.  The Albany bus station is atrocious.  I think people’s take on bus travel is soured by dumps like this.  And its only redeeming quality seems to be a historical curiosity provided by Hitler’s American fan club.


I wonder if, having come all this way, I should just have a sip.


I find myself staring at a bubbler because my friend and mentor, Karl Jabbar, refuses to ride in any cars made by a certain automobile company started by the Fuhrer.  I refrained from pointing out to Karl that, at 850 pounds, he could probably not fit into any of their undersized vehicles.  He stands (so to speak) on principle, arguing that the cars are the descendants of a regime that tormented and murdered his Romani brethren.  While I feel for those people who have endured genocide, I can’t blame the cars.  Karl can, and he brought up the drinking fountain, though he remembered it wrong and thought it was a wishing well in Hartford.


The fountain is about four feet high, a foot deep, eighteen inches across.  The sides are covered with raised decorations: eagles, laurels, four-pointed stars.  There is a large pedal along the front of its base.  Besides being very shiny and ornamental, it reminds me of the bubblers scattered around the old and dying department stores I went to when I was very young.  I can remember my Nana or some other adult picking me up so that I could have a drink.  I don’t think any of those were installed by hate groups.  Who knows?  Maybe the Klan did all the plumbing for Jordan Marsh.  Ruth is diving into the history of the German American Bund’s propaganda campaign.


“They were pretty bad all around.  The group was poorly organized and never very popular.  People knew the Nazis were trouble, but the hope was that they were Europe’s problem.”  The Bund, as the Nazis were called in America had pockets of activity in New York and Chicago.  Similar groups operated in Canada, Britain and other extremely white places.  Their views on white supremacy found a devotee here and there.  One such recruit was a wealthy Albany recluse named Wesley Stahl.  Stahl came from a line of wealth that began with the Erie Canal and extended into the mineral spring resorts in Saratoga.


“Wesley Stahl was obsessed with water.  He is rumored to have bathed before and after every meal.  He was also obsessed with a Jewish conspiracy to poison the water supply.  And he was a quarter Jewish.  His maternal grandmother was from Lithuania.”  While the Bund was determined to make public displays of their Aryan pride and their commitment to American society, the fountains were Stahl’s brainchild.


“He saw them as something of a baptismal font,” says Ruthie.  “He was cut from the same swath of occultism as Himmler and other Nazi mystics.  Stahl seemed to genuinely believe that the sacred symbols on this fountain would purify the water with Aryan magic.”


I wonder if I need to take a sip.


I had heard of Nazi quests to find Atlantis and Shangri-La.  I seem to recall a film from my childhood where Germany was trying to retrieve the Ark of the Covenant, and I recently saw a documentary about Hitler’s need to possess the Spear of Longinus.  I had no idea the fixation on the supernatural extended to bus station beverages.  I remember seeing faucets in Catholic shrines labelled “Holy Water.”  Little old ladies fresh from their morning novenas would stop and fill up.  Someone should put an “Evil Water” sign up here.  The corner of my brain that hangs on to fear of the dark thinks the water might really be evil.


“The Bund needed propaganda.  People saw them as un-American.  Stahl steered their activities toward the water fountain.  He was their primary source of money, so he could call those shots.  They wanted gazebos, but he put his foot down on the water fountain.  He commissioned at least four, but this is the only one that ever was installed.  It was in the old terminal until the sixties.”  The new terminal has the brutish functionality of an urban facility from the 1960’s.  It could double as a mock-up of Hitler’s bunker.  Perhaps it was intended to be Albany’s city hall.  Ruthie breaks out a flashlight and starts aiming it at the fountain.


I ask her if she needs a hand.


“No.  I’m just trying to show you something.  They say that when the setting sun hit the face of the fountain, you could make out a swastika.  That was in the old terminal.  There isn’t much natural light in here.”  She’s right.  No rays of sunshine in this bus depot.  I notice about a dozen figures of what appear to be men with antlers holding clubs amid the swirls and lines on the façade.  It is a strange mix of classical and art-deco motifs.  Striking.  Bizarre.


I invite Ruthie to join me for a cup in the coffee shop.  I’m tired of watching her struggle with the flashlight, and I need to ask a nice Jewish lady why she is invested in a Nazi antique.  I take another glance at its intricate surface.  Strange lines intersect.  The patterns are at once foreign and familiar.


I consider taking a sip and decide to wait until after my coffee.


“I’m not exactly sure why I work to preserve it.  I don’t think there is one and only one reason.  I know that the people who paid for the fountain were bigots.  But the craftsmanship is amazing.  Have you ever seen anything like it?”


Absolutely not.


“We could scrap it or send it to a museum.  I don’t think they would use it as a drinking fountain, though.  And that is what it is.”


I ask her if it is not a symbol of hatred and violence.  Are such things to be preserved?


“A symbol is what you put into it.  Like a flag.  If the aliens land, and we hand them a Confederate Flag, they might think it is a tablecloth or a towel.  They would just see a piece of fabric.  Most of the people who drink from this thing don’t know what it is supposed to be.  They only know what it is.  A beautiful drinking fountain.  Most probably don’t even notice how beautiful it is.”


The coffee is horrible.  It smelled really good and it tastes like it was brewed when the station opened.  My mind is awash with symbols.  Men with antlers.  Flags.  Stars and Bars.  Wishing wells.  Swastikas that you only see when you aim the sun through a special amulet.  Fountains that convey American pride and Nazi magic.  After the “Night of Twenty Daggers” when German agents eliminated international embarrassments like the Bund leadership, the fountain propaganda project dried up.  This one fountain kept on flowing, quenching thirst and warding off would-be Zionist attempts to contaminate our precious bodily fluids.


Wesley Stahl is said to have inspired the titular character in The Man in the Dark Window.


“Do we burn everything that Hitler touched?” asks Ruthie.  “Even the forests and the mountains?  The Eiffel Tower?  Stalin spent a lot of time in the Kremlin, should we take a wrecking ball to it?  Does Jeffery Dahmer’s spatula become evil just because he owned it?”




“A lot of terrible decisions were made in the White House.  I don’t blame the building.  I think ignorance is the source of a lot of our problems.  I think it’s ignorant to blame an object.  It is easy because the object is tangible.  Throw away the water fountain and white supremacy becomes a thing of the past, right?  This is part of our history.  All of us, not just Albany.  We have to own our history if we are going to reach the future.”


Ruthie Cohen is a retired history teacher, and she looks and talks the part.  She reminds me a bit of my Nana.  She works with her group to maintain and promote historical sights around Albany.  She is the reason the fountain stays shiny.  I ask her why the fountain is so secret.  Next to nothing has been written on it.  It languishes in obscurity.  Some of its biggest detractors are under the impression that it’s actually a wishing well located a hundred miles to the southeast.


“There is plenty of information available at the Preservation Center.  I dedicated a chapter to it in my book about Albany’s strange history.  You can buy a copy at the Center.  Beyond that I don’t know what to do.  We can’t throw a parade for the Nazi plumbing fixture.  The city budget is pretty tight as it is.  A couple skinheads held a rally here in 1985.  It was mostly a half hour of ignorance with a bullhorn.  A British television show filmed an episode here a little after that.  Strange phenomenon, that sort of thing.  An English guy with a big gap in his teeth and bad hair thought the Holy Grail was hidden inside.  He wanted to saw it open.  I told him to beat it.”


My bus is departing soon.  Ruthie and I say goodbye.  She is chastising me because I’m headed straight back to the city when I could be exploring the Capital District and its wealth of history.  I take her criticism with the same sheepishness I felt when Nana was telling me to get a haircut.  She tells me not to be afraid of symbols. 


“Drink the water,” she says and leaves me alone in a bus station coffee shop.


Maybe it’s time for a sip.  I head back to the fountain.  A grandma is holding a small child up to drink from it.  I wait my turn.  Then I see the kid’s face is covered in snot.  You couldn’t pay me to drink from that thing now.

© Copyright 2018 Harris Proctor. All rights reserved.

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