When Eli Kirk Price II saw sculptor Albert Laessle's Billy, the bronze goat, at a show at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts around 1914, he thought it was perfect for Rittenhouse Square.

But the other board members of the Fairmount Park Art Association felt differently, according to Nancy Heinzen, a member of the Friends of Rittenhouse Square and author of the book The Perfect Square.

"The people on his board revolted against it," she said. "They said the goat was too small, it wouldn't fit, it was silly."

Over time, the board forgot about Billy. The statue was purchased in 1919 for $800 and given to the city by an anonymous donor.

"The sculpture all of a sudden showed up in the square one day," Heinzen said. "Nobody knew where it came from, but people had a suspicion it was Price."

Well, that really got people's goat.

"The Public Ledger art critic said: 'The animal is not only an insult to the intelligence of art lovers. It's positively vulgar,'" Heinzen said.

Yet somehow over the last 99 years, Billy, the goat that nobody wanted, became one of the most beloved features of Philadelphia's most famous square. He's a meeting point, a focal point, and the first thing that Rittenhouse Square caretaker Carlos Rowland cleans every morning because that's where all the little ones come to play.

"What makes him different from other Philadelphia symbols is, he's very approachable," Heinzen said. "You can walk right up to him and climb on him. He was never put on a pedestal — that's why he got so worn."

A child is enamored of Billy at Rittenhouse Square.
DAVID MAIALETTI / Staff Photographer
A child is enamored of Billy at Rittenhouse Square.

After 99 years, Billy the goat — who some might argue is the GOAT — is being put out to pasture and replaced by an exact replica on Friday. A celebration on the square will be held in Billy's honor Saturday.

A bronze cast was made of Billy's twin, which sits in Camden's Johnson Park. The other known Billy statue in existence is at the Smithsonian in Washington.

An anonymous donor gave the $20,000 required to create the replica, Heinzen said. The city's Office of Arts, Culture and the Creative Economy oversaw the conversation and recasting of the statutes.

The old Billy was moved just across the street for safekeeping, to the children's wing of the Free Library of Philadelphia's City Institute branch. Over time, Billy's metal has thinned, making him more vulnerable, and he's developed a patina, making parts of him appear to have been tipped in gold.

"You know the story of the Velveteen Rabbit, how he was so loved that he became real?" Heinzen said.  "Billy was so loved by little chubby hands caressing him — he was so loved he turned to gold."

An unveiling ceremony for the new statue will take place at the park at 11 a.m. Friday. At 11 a.m. Saturday, a free event open to the public will be held at the square, but registration is required. The celebration will include a petting zoo, live entertainment, and, of course, Billy the goat.

"I'm sure there'll be a beeline for him the day he's unveiled," Heinzen said.