As far as public parks that honor celebrities go, Lucille Ball Memorial Park in Celoron — a small lakefront village in westernmost New York — is relatively unassuming. Sporting a playground, boat launch, band shell, pavilion and picnic area, the idyllic 7-acre park is situated on the shores of Chautauqua Lake adjacent to the site of what was once the Celoron Park, a historic amusement park on par with Coney Island during its heyday in the early 1900s.
While Lucille Ball Memorial Park isn’t home to any pulse-raising, scream-inducing attractions found at the old Celoron Park, it does boast one completely terrifying feature: a statue of Lucille Ball herself.
More closely resembling a grimacing ogress, Steve Buscemi or Lucille Ball if she were to have undergone about 110 Botox injections, artist Dave Poulin’s statue was quietly unveiled in 2009. For the most part, it didn’t attract widespread attention.
At the time, many Celoron residents were happy to overlook any aesthetic shortcomings. They were just proud to be living in the hometown of a television-revolutionizing comedian and studio executive who shattered Tinseltown’s glass ceiling all the while eliciting some of the biggest chuckles of the mid-20th century. Although the statue did ruffle the feathers of some Lucy fans, for the most part Celoron residents didn’t care all that much if the statue looked nothing like Ball — their love for Lucy was unconditional.
That steadfast Lucy pride turned to embarrassment and anger last year when the statue, largely overlooked for nearly a half-decade, went viral and “Scary Lucy” was born.
It didn’t take long for the sculpture, based on a scene from a 1952 episode of "I Love Lucy" titled "Lucy Does a TV Commercial," to become a tourist magnet and a subject of consternation. Seemingly overnight, Celoron had become more famous for a perfectly hideous bronze statue than for being the birthplace of the iconic entertainer that said statue was supposed to memorialize. The former tourist destination of Celoron was on the map once again — but for the wrong reasons.
“Before that people just got to the fact that they walked by it and went, ‘Meh, it’s just a statue, it’s not a big deal,’” Celoron Mayor Scott Schrecengost explained to the New York Times. “Then when it went viral, it was a whole different story.”
Soon after, a “heartsick” Poulin came forward, referring to gargoyle-Lucy as “by far my most unsettling sculpture, not befitting of Lucy’s beauty or my ability as a sculptor.”
In an April 2015 letter published by the Hollywood Reporter, Poulin explains that he had offered to redo the statue for the village, free of charge, even though he created the Lucy statue as a private commission for two friends who later donated the statue to Celoron. Instead of moving the donated statue into storage where it would never be seen — or mocked — by the public, village officials made the somewhat questionable decision to place the statue prominently in the park.
“I take full responsibility for ‘Scary Lucy’ though by no means was that my intent or did I wish to disparage in any way the memories of the iconic Lucy image,” wrote Poulin.
“I understand if the community is upset and had suggested years ago they remove the sculpture so as not to continue to anger people. It puzzles me when an art work is donated to a community, they accept it, and then get angry and insist you redo the art work at your own expense. To create a life-size bronze is a consuming and expensive endeavor. I am willing to put my time and money into redoing the Lucy sculpture and feel confident after ten years I can do a much better job. I only wish I had moved more quickly in making the situation right.”
However, Poulin, who reportedly received death threats over the work, was never given a second chance to remedy an artistic misstep that he never imagined would go public — and in Lucy’s hometown, of all places.
Instead, the village launched a bid for a new, more flattering Lucy statue. That commission, selected from a pool of nearly 70 applicants reviewed by a panel of village officials and so-called “Lucille Ball experts,” was unveiled at Lucille Ball Memorial Park this past weekend to mark what would have been the First Lady of Comedy’s 105th birthday.
And, yes, this Lucille Ball statue, clad in pearls, polka-dot dress and 3-inch heels, actually bares a passing resemblance to Lucy.
“Lucy fans are all hugging me and saying, ‘Thank you,’” Carolyn Palmer, the sculptor selected to create the “New Lucy” statue, explained to the Times. “They’re all very passionate about Lucy. They feel somehow that she was desecrated before."
Palmer, whose other creations include the Wright Brothers, Pope Francis and Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt, worked nine months on the privately funded Lucy commission. “She is 100 percent bronze. She is 750 pounds and the pedestal is maybe another 750 pounds, so she's not going anywhere!" Palmer told CNN. "I pretty much put my all in her and I am very happy.”
And you know who else isn’t going anywhere?
Despite all the backlash and an adoption offer from the in-progress Comedy Museum in nearby Jamestown, village officials have opted not to replace Paulin's grotesque Lucy statue. Scary Lucy is staying put — after all, she's done wonders for regional tourism over the last year. For now, the statue has been relocated a couple hundred feet down the path from Palmer's statue.
While locals and Lucille Ball fans from further afield will no doubt appreciate Palmer's glamorous new addition, others will likely continue to visit this small lakeside village in western New York just to catch a glimpse of a Hollywood icon reimagined as the snake-monster from "Beetlejuice."