Rittenhouse Square’s goat population is about to double.
“Billy,” the small, cast-bronze beast that has been a fixture there for more than a century, is immensely popular among pint-size denizens of the park. Soon, the original “Billy” will be moved to the nearby public library, and a new statue, less time- and child-worn, will replace it in the park’s southwest corner.
After all those decades of children scrambling over it — or, on a recent Wednesday morning, scrawling on it in chalk of many hues — “Billy” is showing its years. Delicate hoofprints that once festooned its base are long gone, its horns are eroding, and much of the detailed fur has been scoured off its back by tiny hands.
So the City of Philadelphia has decided it’s time to put “Billy” out to pasture — or, more specifically, into the library.
“ `Billy’ is over 100 years old, and since its installation `Billy’ is something children have loved to climb on — all day and all night,” said Margot Berg, director of public art for the city.
A family member of Eli Kirke Price II, the original donor, offered to recast the statue to ensure that the children of Rittenhouse Square will always have a metallic goat to play on.
There are two other versions of “Billy,” one at the Smithsonian in Washington, D.C. — where climbing is keenly discouraged — and one in Camden’s Johnson Park, at the Walt Whitman Art Center. A rubber mold for the new Rittenhouse “Billy” was based on the Camden goat, rather than the one in our nation’s capital.
That mold will be sent to a local foundry, Independent Casting, where a new bronze “Billy” will be crafted, then installed in Rittenhouse Square. A Philadelphia Museum of Art conservator will then touch up the old statue and place it in the children’s room at the Philadelphia City Institute library branch, where it will sit atop a perch far from grubby little hands but in the company of a stately bust of Robert Frost.
The switcheroo will occur in September, amid festivities hosted by the Friends of Rittenhouse Square.
The Philadelphia Art Commission approved the plan Wednesday, but a lone dissenter insisted that the old “Billy” should remain in place forevermore.
“In my opinion, it should stay there, my son and my grandchildren played on this one,” said Joe Laragione, a silver-haired painter who sits on the commission. “It’s a beautiful thing to have something that old in the park, and it would be less dangerous than a new one would be. For those reasons, I don’t think this makes any sense.”
Much of the rest of the meeting was consumed by philosophical debate over the relative hazards of newer bronze goats, as opposed to their more care-worn counterparts.
“It’s not going away,” commission member Natalie Nixon noted conclusively. “History is not static.”