Have you ever tossed a few coins into a fountain and made a wish? This is a common experience nearly all of us can share in. The tradition traces back thousands of years and spans a variety of cultures. While today this practice is seen as a harmless superstition, it was once done as an offering to the gods to show thanks for a source of clean drinking water.
But what becomes of these coins that are tossed into fountains?
Where Wishing Coins Go
For those who hold onto the whimsical childhood belief that these coins ascend to the great beyond, I hate to burst your bubble: coins thrown in fountains and wishing wells lead far more mundane lives than our youthful fantasies would suggest.
That doesn't mean they have a nefarious or inconsequential end, of course. In virtually all cases, change that is donated to public fountains are given to charity. This is even true of private fountains, such as those in front of corporate offices. That being said, in some scenarios, the coins are used to fund the organizations that maintain the public parks where the fountains are located (which technically makes them charitable donations, as well). In other circumstances, the workers who are tasked with gathering up the money are allowed to keep it for themselves. However, in general, the coins thrown into fountains at theme parks and Las Vegas casinos are given to charity.
Not surprisingly, these coins are often pilfered by the homeless (or simply the greedy). In places like New York City and Kansas City, which both boast a large number of public fountains, officials report that there are few protocols in place for collecting the coins because they are frequently already taken by enterprising locals. In this sense, the donations still end up helping those in need. Yet in one prominent case, a man in Rome was scooping up thousands of dollars per day from the famous Trevi Fountain using a magnetic wand. While the introduction of the new euro coin eventually made this entrepreneurial tactic ineffective, he was finally arrested in 2002.
As with any ritual or superstition, there are customary ways of tossing your change into the fountain, such as throwing them over one's left shoulder with the right hand. Obviously not everyone observes these guidelines. In one particularly egregious case, I saw a pair of young children imploring their father to give them money to throw in the fountain at the mall. This gentleman was clearly a "high roller": he didn't have any change, so he gave them each a $1 bill. The children awkwardly flung the paper money into the fountain and watched in disappointment as the bills bobbed along the water's surface. (When they were gone, my sister quickly retrieved the cash and dried it off! Sadly for all involved, this is a true story.)
Clearly, there's no replacement for the satisfaction and wonder associated with making a wish after tossing coins in a water fountain.
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