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Statue of Scottish poet Robert Burns returns to Back Bay Fens after four decades

Visitors at the restoration event for a statue of poet Robert Burns, which was moved from Winthrop Square to the Back Bay Fens. CONOR KELLEY/ DAILY FREE PRESS STAFF

By Mia Khatib and Angela Yang

A statue of Scottish poet Robert Burns and his dog has been returned to the Back Bay Fens after spending the last four decades in the Financial District’s Winthrop Square. A public event on Wednesday celebrated the statue’s return to its original location in the Fenway neighborhood, two months shy of the statue’s 100th birthday.

The celebration was hosted by seven local organizations, including the Fenway Civic Association and Fenway Alliance, as well as the City of Boston’s Department of Parks and Recreation and Office of Arts and Culture, among others.

The statue was quietly moved to the Financial District one night in 1975 as a favor from Mayor Kevin White to developer Ted Raymond in 1975, Vice President of FCA Matthew Brooks wrote in an email. However, it is being returned to the Back Bay Fens as part of a deal between the city and developer Millennium Partners, who is building a tower in Winthrop Square, according to the Boston Globe.

Evan Bradley, marketing and communications coordinator for Emerald Necklace Conservancy, said having the sculpture returned is exciting for the culture of the city.

“So many people came out on a weekday afternoon and with inclement weather booming,” Bradley, “and we still had a big crowd to celebrate the homecoming of what’s really, I would say, personally, my favorite piece of art in the city.”

The event featured guest speakers from the groups that organized the event as well as performers that sang and read poetry. Brooks said organizers aimed to mimic the original dedication event in 1920.

Maureen McMullan, a Scottish singer who performed at the event, said Burns inspired a nation with his poetry.

“Robert Burns really symbolizes so many things and, in his own words, was the common man, someone who came from extremely humble beginnings,” McMullan said. “Particularly in Scotland, there is this sense that one should not necessarily get above one’s station. And Robert Burns didn’t subscribe to that.”

Performer Jeremy Bell said he has hosted the Burns supper, a traditional Scottish celebration held annually in January to honor the late poet’s birthday, in both the U.K. and U.S.

“I just found Americans, poets and singers and anybody who’s into the arts just love what Robert Burns wrote,” Bell said. “So it really resonates with a lot of different people and they love coming together.”

The statue was sculpted by Henry Hudson Kitson to recognize the significance of Burns’s literary works. Several streets in Boston, such as Kilmarnock and Queensberry, were named after locations featured in his writings.

“As the statue was meant to be in our neighborhood and is a significant work of public art taken from the neighborhood without consent, its return is correcting an injustice,” Brooks wrote. “Having a statue memorializing such a figure surrounded by numerous institutions dedicated to the creation, advancement, display and performance of the arts is fitting.”

Brooks wrote that FCA is connected to the statue because the organization protested its removal the day after its disappearance in 1975, once they realized it was gone. 

“To our organization, having the statue returned is restoring a missing jewel to the Emerald Necklace and symbol of respect of the Fenway, as the removal in 1975 was a symbol of disrespect to the neighborhood,” Brooks wrote. 

Brooks said the performers were provided by the Berklee College of Music, the National Trust for Scotland and the USA Foundation. Meanwhile, local organizations provided logistical support such as the sound system, catering and printed flyers.

Fenway resident Bonnie Jones, 73, said she wasn’t aware of the history of the statue.

“Now that I know the history, I think it’s important that it is back where it was originally placed,” Jones said. “I hope that it will get a lot of attention by passers by and I think that those of us who live in the same way will surely have to pay attention to it and be glad that it’s here now that we know that it belongs here.”

Ruth Khowais, 76, of Fenway said the statue never should have been relocated and that the event was more enjoyable than she expected.

“It was excellent and very informative,” Khowais said. “I learned a lot of information about Robert Burns. The singing was wonderful and the poetry reading was wonderful.”

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