A few weeks ago, I stumbled upon an event the rarity of which ranks somewhere between the Transit of Venus and a life-affirming debate on Facebook: A fountain in New York’s Madison Square Park had been drained and cleaners were hard at work collecting the change at the bottom.
Since the fountain is near The Atlantic’s Manhattan office and adjacent to the world’s first Shake Shack, I’d seen many a tourist discharge his or her spare change into the water over the years. And I had always casually wondered what became of it. It turns out, one of my wishes was now coming true. I approached one of the workers, who was vague on the details.
According to him, the money collected in the 149-year-old granite fountain generally goes to charity when there is enough of it; when fewer coins remain, however, he said the workers are free to keep it. About $20 had been collected so far, perhaps enough for the two men to get Shack Stacks, fries, and shakes nearby.
The Madison Square Park Conservancy, which maintains the park, did not respond to more formal inquiries about its leftover-change policy, but some clues may lie in the practices of its uptown peer Bryant Park. Back in 2012, Jerome Barth, then the park’s director of operations told The New York Times that the money collected from the fountain “goes to the cost of cleaning the fountain.” Given that both parks, like most of New York City’s bigger parks, are governed by nonprofit organizations, a claim that the money goes to charity is technically true.