By Emily Wolfe
Mary Schenley wasn’t a pagan, but she found plenty of other ways to shock the upper-class society into which she was born in the nineteenth century. Born Mary Elizabeth Croghan in 1826, she eloped with a British army captain three times her age when she was fifteen years old and divided the rest of her life between Pittsburgh and London. The Mary Schenley Memorial Fountain, also called “A Song to Nature,” was built near Schenley Plaza in her memory in 1918.
The sculpted bronze fountain depicts a nymph, Harmony, playing the lyre to waken the reclining Greek god Pan, a half-goat deity associated with pastoral living and the wild.
Pan experienced a new popularity in Western art in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Commonly associated with music and sex as well as the wilderness, the god was often depicted wandering through the forest, playing a set of pipes. One legend about the god held that when suddenly awoken from an afternoon nap, his angry roar could inspire a stampede of creatures through the forest—the source of the English word panic. Here, however, Pan is waking calmly to the sound of Harmony’s lyre. Four bronze turtles form a ring around the pair of figures, each spitting a steady stream of water into the granite basin when water is flowing through the fountain.
Today, the fountain sits in front of the Frick Fine Arts building, the home to the University of Pittsburgh’s Departments of History of Art and Architecture and Studio Arts. Somewhere beneath the granite base rest the buried remains of Oakland’s Bellefield Bridge, which was demolished in the early twentieth century and now helps support the fountain. The bronzework is the work of sculptor Victor David Brenner, best known for his design of the Lincoln penny.
Schenley was a lifelong patron of Pittsburgh parks and nature, best remembered today as the philanthropist who donated 300 acres to the city to create Schenley Park. The park, plaza, and fountain aren’t the only places in Pittsburgh that bear her name: Look elsewhere around the city for Schenley High School, the Schenley Bridge, the Schenley Tunnel, and the Hotel Schenley (now the William Pitt Union, the student union at the University of Pittsburgh.)
“Running Fountain,” Wikimedia Commons. The fountain in warm weather, again with the Cathedral of Learning in the background.
Cartwright, Mark. “Pan.” Ancient History Encyclopedia, 14 Feb. 2013, www.ancient.eu/Pan/.
Ieraci, Ron. “Mary E. Schenley Memorial Fountain/Song To Nature.” Friends of Panther Hollow Lake. 21 June 2015, friendsofpantherhollowlake.blogspot.com/2015/06/mary-e-schenley-memorial-fountainsong.html.
Pitz, Marylynne. “The Shocking and Romantic Life of Mary Schenley.” Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, 10 June 2013, newsinteractive.post-gazette.com/thedigs/2013/06/10/the-shocking-and-romantic-life-of-mary-schenley/.
How to Cite
MLA: Wolfe, Emily. “Mary Schenley Memorial Fountain.” ReligYinz: Mapping Religious Pittsburgh. University of Pittsburgh, 14 January 2021, https://religyinz.pitt.edu/mary-schenley-memorial-fountain/.
APA: Wolfe, Emily. (2021). Mary Schenley Memorial Fountain. ReligYinz: Mapping Religious Pittsburgh. https://religyinz.pitt.edu/mary-schenley-memorial-fountain/.
Chicago: Wolfe, Emily. “Mary Schenley Memorial Fountain.” ReligYinz: Mapping Religious Pittsburgh. University of Pittsburgh, 14 January 2021. https://religyinz.pitt.edu/mary-schenley-memorial-fountain/.