When SouthCoast Lawns Featured Bathtub Marys and Yard Shrines
Like many things that change with the generations, the popularity of yard shrines and so-called "Bathtub Marys" is on the decline. On a Sunday drive through deep Catholic neighborhoods in Massachusetts and Rhode Island, however, a keen observer might still find a few displays here and there.
Much has been written about the yard shrines over the years. There is even a Facebook page or two, such as Bathtub Marys of Somerville, that document the shrines designed by devotees.
In a piece titled "Our Lady of the Clawfoot Tub: The History of Bathtub Madonnas," DustyOldThing.com stated, "There was a time when decorating outdoor spaces with statuaries was considered elegant, and those who shied away from lawn jockeys and pink flamingoes often chose to pay tribute to their favorite religious figures instead, like Saint Francis of Assisi or the Madonna."
Many homes underwent modernization after World War II. In many cases, old bathtubs were torn out and replaced with a "new-fangled shower-tub combo with sliding glass doors," there was an issue of what to do with the old clawfoot tubs that were "extremely hard to recycle."
Some used the tubs to create yard shrines on their property.
Still others like Cheryl Enos Lopes of Fairhaven presented shrines using materials such as concrete to create what has become known as "Mary on the Half Shell."
While Bathtub Marys are worldwide, DustyOldThing.com reported that "The tradition of using the old tubs as part of an outdoor shrine to the Virgin Mary is said to have originated in Fall River, Massachusetts."
I cannot independently verify the authenticity of that statement, but I suppose it's not a bad rap for the city.
Atlas Obscura presented a piece in 2017 about an anthropologist who spent a decade photographing the "unlikely states."
Growing up in the New Bedford area in the 1960s and '70s, it was not unusual to see the front yard decorated with wooden wishing wells, lawn jockeys, colored glass balls on pedestals – and of course, the yard shrine.