That Mysterious Boy with the Boot By Brian Rubin
So what’s the story with that ‘Boy with the Boot’ statue, anyway?
The centerpiece of the Village of Ellenville, the statue of the boy stands atop a pedestal in a fountain in Liberty Square, at the spot where Liberty Street, Canal Street, and Bogardus Place meet. The boy proudly holds his leaky boot for all to see, water flowing from its tip during the warmer months. He’s become such an important icon of Ellenville that the Shawangunk Journal adopted him as its mascot.
But where did he come from? Those who’ve travelled across America may have run into other statues that bear a remarkable likeness to Ellenville’s Boot Boy. According to Marion Dumond, Chair of the Village of Ellenville’s Historic Preservation Commission, there are hundreds of renditions of the boy with the boot in existence all over the world. The website RoadsideAmerica.com writes that the Boot Boy has incarnations all over the nation. Sandusky, Ohio; Hershey, Pennsylvania; Fresno, California; and New Orleans, Louisiana are among the many American locations listed. Some even theorize that the statue first appeared in Europe.
No matter where it came from, however, we do know how and when Ellenville got its own Boot Boy — or maybe that should be Boot Boys.
"The American statues of the ‘Boy with the Boot’ were produced at the J. L. Mott Company," says Dumond. The statues were manufactured in the late 1800s; and, during that time, the Village of Ellenville had not one, but two renditions of the boy.
"One of them belonged to the Scoresby Hose Hook and Ladder Fire Company, and one of them belonged to the Brodheads," Dumond says. "At that time, Henry Brodhead worked for the J. L. Mott Company. He brought the first of the ‘Boy with the Boot’ statues to the Ellenville area and placed it outside his home, which is a stone house out on Leurenkill Road."
Brodhead placed his statue in front of his house, while the fire company at Scoresby Hose put their statue in a fountain within a small, triangular park (like the one at Liberty Square) where Liberty Street met Route 209. Eventually the Department of Transportation widened Route 209, however, taking a substantial part of the park with it. For this reason, and the fact that it was beginning to deteriorate, the statue was put away. The statue owned by Brodhead, too, succumbed to the ravages of time, and was eventually removed from its display.
So how did our current Boot Boy make his way to Liberty Square? Back in late 1997, Ellenville-resident Iris Friedman approached her friend, Phillipsport sculptor Matt Pozorski, about casting a new ‘Boy with the Boot’ for Ellenville — a proposition to which the artist readily agreed. Pozorski worked with the original Scoresby statue, which he then restored in return for being allowed to work with it. The statue is now on display at the Ellenville Public Library and Museum.
"I pulled a mold, or a series of molds, off of the original, and used those," says Pozorski of the process. "I poured wax into them, to make wax patterns, so I could do wax casting, cast it into bronze, and welded all the parts together."
Of course, the boy’s identity — or what his story is — remains shrouded in mystery.
"Nobody knows . . . there are as many tales, stories, fables as there are statues," says Dumond. "Nobody knows who made the first one, so nobody has ever been able to interview the designer of the original statue."
Both Dumond and Pozorski have heard stories explaining the Boot Boy’s origins.
"The story I was told by someone who was sure that it was absolutely true, was that the little boy came on a [Civil War] battlefield after a battle and there were injured soldiers calling for water. And he had nothing to carry water in, other than his boot, which had a hole in it. And he went to a nearby stream, filled his boot, and of course, lost a good share of the water by the time he got back to the battlefield.
Pozorski’s stories link the statue’s imagery to firefighters.
"I looked into it a little bit at the time . . . near as I was able to find out, the image was popular with volunteer fire companies in the late 1800s," he says. "I heard two similar stories about the origin of the image. One was that in some small community there was a fire, and a bucket brigade was formed, but there weren’t enough buckets to go around, so some young man took off his boots and used them as buckets.
"The other story I heard was the same basic setup — a small community, a fire, volunteers turn out, and of course there’s water splashing all over the place. After the fire’s put out, in the first moment of calm, the young volunteer takes off his boots to drain the water out of them."
Regardless of the boy’s significance, or how many other boys that can be found around the world, the Boy with the Boot and Ellenville have become intertwined.
"It’s come to be associated with the center of town," says current mayor of Ellenville, Jeff Kaplan, who was born and raised in the village. "You know you’re home when you see the Boy with the Boot."
"There is a charm that seems to touch the people who see the statue," says Dumond. "The little boy is very personable."
Pozorski has a theory of his own as to why the Boot Boy has become so important to the village and its residents.
"It’s a very child-focused community," he says, "and it’s a young man. Part of that is that we’re all very engaged in our children. To use a cliché, the kids in Ellenville really are raised by a village…we also rely on our kids. A lot of the high school kids are involved in the fire companies, and the young men and young women of Ellenville are kind of expected to step up in community service, and volunteerism is huge in Ellenville."
The artist also sees the boy’s appeal from another interesting angle — one that looks to the village’s reputation as making a lot out of a little.
"The boy has a hole in his boot — this is not a wealthy child, and part of the charm of Ellenville is we do a lot with what we’ve got."