I was cleaning out the bookmarks on my browser (sort of) when I came across an article from April of 2019 entitled, “’It went in beautifully as the postman was passing’: the story of the Headington Shark.”
Honestly, I have no idea how I let this one slip through the cracks. I love public art, and I love, even more, people who zig when everyone else is zagging. This was a story that screamed out to be blogged about.
It appears that much of the neighborhood of Headington, in Oxford, U.K. is a place where all the townhouses look alike. I personally couldn’t live in an area like that. It would drive me nuts. And apparently the late Bill Heine, a writer and broadcaster and former student at Oxford, felt the same way.
Heine, the owner of the townhouse, commissioned his friend, John Buckley, a sculptor, to do something to liven the place up. He proceeded to install a 25 foot long shark on the roof, which looks as though it fell from a great height. That seems rather random.
The simple answer is that Heine really liked sharks, but he also wanted to make a statement about war, and about feeling helpless when unexpected things drop from the sky. According to Wikipedia, the work was unveiled on August 9, 1986, which was the 41st anniversary of America dropping a nuclear bomb on Nagasaki.
I think it’s a delight, and apparently I’m not alone. Tourists flock to the shark to this day. But the Oxford City Council was not nearly as amused. They tried to get it removed for reasons of safety, but upon professional inspection, the shark, which weighs about 440 pounds, is structurally sound. The federal government then got involved, and there were some public hearings, in which it was made quite clear that the shark had become a beloved resident of the community, where it still resides to this day.
Heine died in 2019 at the age of 74, and by that point his son had already bought the place to keep the shark safe. He now operates it as an AirBnB. Naturally I had to pop over to the website and check it out. It sleeps 12. It’s a beautiful place, not far from the city center. I was disappointed that the shark’s head doesn’t emerge from the ceiling of one of the rooms, but I suppose it would be rather hard to get a good night’s sleep under those circumstances. The place costs about 220 pounds a night to reserve, with a 3 night minimum, but it would definitely be a fun travel memory.
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