Charles Y. Harvey was back on top of the world. He had been asked to sculpt the bronze centerpiece of a fountain designed by none other than Charles Bacon, whose public monuments and private houses brought the glories of the classical world back to life as if the spirit of Phidias were alive and well in New York City. And now the clay sculpture around which the mold would be formed was nearly complete.
Harvey was a promising artist. It was none other than Daniel French – another leader of the neoclassical movement – who recommended him for the American Academy in Rome. “He will one day be great,” said his master, Augustus Saint-Gaudens, “if he ever can learn to mange that delicate temperament of his.”
It was true, Harvey had suffered delicate nerves since his boyhood in the Berkshire hills. His time in Rome had been marred by a certain episode… but no matter. He was now shining, invincible. He had created a masterpiece. He was now ready to show the work to his close friends, Clifford Carlton and Sherry Frye. He brings them to his studio where the statue is covered with a cloth.
“It is for a fountain dedicated to a dead judge, fellow named Burnside, out in Worcester.”
“Oh, that is in Connecticut!” exclaimed Frye, “How wonderful to do some work in your home state!”
“Massachusetts, actually.” said Harvey. “Worcester is in Massachusetts, about 40 miles west of Boston. I am from Massachusetts too, Great Barington, but no matter, let me explain the piece. It will sit in a city park atop a pink granite basin and surrounded by elms. The benefactress, daughter of the deceased judge, wanted something in the classical style that expressed youth, joy, and love for life…”
“Charles, the anticipation is killing us, show us the piece!”
“Alright my friends… voila!” and Harvey pulled the cloth from the statue: a boy, life-sized, mischievous smile on his face, catching a sea turtle and attempting to ride its back.
“Why Charles, he’s beautiful.” The friends stood about congratulating him and each other, looking again and again at the beautiful boy and his turtle.
Then the friends noticed. The first time you saw it, you brushed off the thought, the same way you might ignore a curse word overheard on the street. But once seen, it could not be unseen.
Perhaps, Carlton thought to himself, it is only my admittedly deviant imagination. If it hadn’t been for that time in boarding school… Perhaps a normal person, someone more innocent than I, would not even imagine…
Meanwhile Frye was thinking: Am I seeing what I think I’m seeing? It must just be the angle, I am sure if I stood over here, yes, no… no, it is still there. Oh my, I can’t NOT see it now.
And the look on the boy’s face grew less puckish and more sadistic. The distress on the turtle’s face inspired no mirth, only horror.
Frye and Carlton were somber as they left. Keeping up the pretense of liking the statue had proved exhausting. Neither man could bring himself to mention to the other what he had seen, how could he? Each thought only too himself: perhaps I am the only one. Perhaps the people of Connecticut will never notice what I just noticed.
Late that night Harvey took one last admiring look at his Boy With a Turtle and a little conceit overcame him. He picked up a small hammer and said “My boy, though I am no Michelangelo, speak!” and he gave the clay boy a tap on the knee.
“Heh heh.” said the clay boy “Charlie, whaddaya think you’re doing?”
The hammer clattered to the floor.
“So I am your masterpiece, huh? You’ve spent how many months on me? I hope you didn’t buy the bronze yet, fella. Oh, you did? People are going to be wondering about this Burnside guy’s proclivities for a looong time, if you know what I mean.”
“What… what are you talking about?”
“Look at me Charlie! Look at me good! Look at what has bubbled up from your twisted psyche. Look upon the horror that has issued from your hands!”
Then, as if a veil was lifted from his eyes, Harvey saw it… through how many sketches? How many miniatures? Had it been there all along?
Harvey stared, as if for the first time, at the expression on the turtle’s face.
Then the turtle spoke: kill me… kill me, please…
Charles Harvey was found the next morning on the west bank of the Bronx River, his throat cut, a bloody razor in each hand.
Sherry Fry was asked to finish the statue, and he accepted only that his friend’s estate would receive payment. He oversaw the creation of the mold and the pouring of the bronze. His students finished the details and, without ever looking at the finished product, he had the statue shipped to New Haven, Connecticut. Six months later after the confusion was straightened out, the statue was sent to Worcester where it was joined to Charles Bacon’s granite base. It was installed in Central Square without ceremony in the October of 1912, to the chagrin of the whole city.
It defiles Worcester to this very day.