The Alice in Wonderland sculpture by José de Creeft is one of the most popular public artworks in Central Park, perennially surrounded by children and selfie-seeking tourists. What many of them don’t know is that only a short walk away stands another, older monument inspired by the curious fantasy world of Lewis Carroll.
Smack in the middle of a run-of-the-mill playground facing Fifth Avenue, the Sophie Loeb Fountain was commissioned by philanthropist August Heckscher in 1936 to honor his longtime friend, the social-welfare advocate Sophie Irene Loeb, the “godmother of American children” who died seven years prior. Together, they once campaigned for the addition of children’s playgrounds to Central Park.
Created by American sculptor Frederick Roth, the white granite fountain features 13 characters from Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, including the famous Hatter, the Queen of Hearts, the White Rabbit, and the Cheshire Cat. Avid readers of Carroll’s books may also recognize the Duchess, the Gryphon, the Frog Footman, and Father William, who is seen balancing an eel on his nose. Alice herself is depicted with a flamingo croquet mallet in her arms, looking slightly older than her literary self.
Originally installed in Heckscher Playground as a drinking fountain, the memorial was relocated to the Levin Playground in 1986, where the Central Park Conservancy adapted it into a water play feature. Though the figure of Loeb herself is not directly represented, her name is on the pedestal of the fountain. Inscriptions such as “In the depths of despair may I never lose hope” honor her dedication to social justice and the “home for every child” that she created.
Know Before You Go
The fountain is just west of 77th Street.