In the early 19th century, it was often safer for New Yorkers to drink alcohol than water. The island's water sources were contaminated with the germs of cholera, dysentery, and typhoid fever, diseases that killed thousands annually. But in 1842 an engineering marvel, the Croton Aqueduct, brought a large supply of fresh water into Manhattan. Bethesda Fountain in Central Park (a.k.a. Angel of the Waters), unveiled in 1873, is a belated celebration of the Croton Aqueduct: the cherubs above the fountain basin represent Purity, Health, Peace ... and Temperance.
This sculpture is an inexpensive zinc copy of a work by Danish sculptor Albert Bertel Thorvaldsen. The building atop which it sat held a fountain. Temperance advocates hoped that public availability of water would encourage New Yorkers to stop guzzling alcoholic beverages.