A folly, in landscaping terms, is a ornamental building or tower with no practical purpose built in a large garden or park. Around 1961, Mr. and Mrs. Henry S. Booth placed a small folly on the grounds of Cranbrook. However, for anyone wanting to play a joke on a friend, this folly has a very practical purpose.
Weeping Zeus (or more formally Zeus of Otricoli [Roman copy of Greek original]) is a marble bust comprised of the shoulders, chest, and head of the Greek god, Zeus. The chest is carved to resemble draped cloth. The curly hair has a wreath in it, and the beard is curly with a full mustache. The bust is set on top of a concrete block column.
This sculpture has an interesting and complex history. It was carved of Carrara marble in Italy in the early 19th Century and soon afterward became a decorative feature of the manor house of Abercairny, Crieff, Perthshire, Scottland. It remained there for well over 100 years until it sold at auction. Henry Scripps Booth purchased the bust in 1961 from Michael Brett of Broadway, England. Brett had purchased it from the Abercairny the year before. The manor house, once visited by Queen Victoria, was demolished in 1960, hence the sale of sculptures from the estate.
Here at Cranbrook, it would seem the father of the Greek gods finds the peace of this Michigan mountain dull in comparison with the revelries of either Mt. Olympus or his later home in the Scottish Highlands. It is reported tears well up in his eyes and sometimes gush forth. The sculpture became a folly (and why we call him Weeping Zeus) after Henry had holes drilled through the eyes to allow water to flow (squirt, really) out.
In reality, he’s not crying on his own. Have your guest stand in front of Zeus while you, as their friend, stand on the special stone that activates water to splash the guest from Zeus’s eyes.
As Summer comes to a close, invite that one friend who always pulls tricks on you for a beautiful walk through Cranbrook House Gardens and introduce them to Zeus.
– Leslie S. Mio, Associate Registrar
Note: Weeping Zeus is located on the Mountain in the Cranbrook House Gardens, up the stairs directly opposite the House’s front door. Cranbrook Gardens is open daily from 9:00 am to 5:00 pm, May 1 through October 31. Admission to Cranbrook Gardens is FREE for the 2018 tour season, courtesy of presenting sponsor, PNC Bank, and sponsors, All Seasons Independent Living, fleurdetroit, and Roberts Restaurant Group.
As Henry S. Booth’s granddaughter, I have fond memories of Grandfather taking my sisters and I on long walks on the Cranbrook grounds when we were small, and visiting the Weeping Zeus was always a highlight. Grandfather would tell us to gaze at Zeus, and magically, it would squirt us with water! It took a few years before I noticed that Grandfather was always stepping on a particular stone to activate the fountain. Such was his quirky sense of humor. I didn’t know that it was purchased in England from a Scottish Highlands estate. Thanks for filling in the history of “The Weeping Zeus” for all lovers of Cranbrook!