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Go Behind The Scenes As Water Returns To The Union Terminal Fountain

Tana Weingartner
The Union Terminal fountain has no official name, but museum officials say the return of water to the fountain has been a sign of summer for more than 80 years.

Built at the same time as Union Terminal in 1932, the fountain in front of the iconic train station echoes the famous art deco design. Cincinnati Museum Center officials say the return of water to the fountain is an annual rite of passage signaling the beginning of summer.

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Sitting two-and-a-half stories below the Union Terminal fountain, this pump room consists of all the fountain's original workings. The blue make-up tank (far left) holds 15,000 gallons of water. The fountain itself holds 30,000 gallons. All the water recirculates through this room. Twenty-six pipes, to the right of the tank, feed water to the fountain's various spouts.

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Chief Engineer Mike Reed leads a team of eleven people responsible for keeping the entire building running year-round. Many of the valves are leaky. The lower portion of the fountain extends over the Dalton Street tunnel and sometimes leaks on the road below. Much of the fountain's inner workings are scheduled to be replaced as part of the Museum Center renovation.

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This valve, complete with wrench lever, controls the fountain's center spout. Reed says the center spout is usually kept at about 12 feet high, but it can be turned down as low as three feet or as high as 100 feet.

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Each of the fountain's brass fixtures is original. The fountain is cleaned weekly, has a sand filtration system, and the water is treated just like a swimming pool.

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A crowd gathers Friday morning as the fountain is officially turned on for the summer season. Mike Reed says humans aren't the only ones who like the fountain. He says several ducks make their nest near it each summer, adding that his crews sometimes have to rescue baby ducks who wander away and fall into the nearby storm drains.

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Children play in the water after the fountain was turned on Friday. These kids were soaked by the time they were finished playing.

Credit Tana Weingartner / WVXU

A strong wing blowing water from the center spout quickly chased these little girls down from their perch.