The bronze is officially named Boy with a Turtle but is known to locals as Turtle Boy. Turtle Boy has become an unofficial mascot for Worcester, much in the same way the Manneken Pis is for Brussels. The Burnside Fountain's popularity is derived mostly from viewers' incorrect interpretation of the statue. Over its 100-year existence, it has been referenced in stories and songs, as well as having a music contest and a microbrew named after it.
The Burnside Fountain is 12 feet (3.7 m) wide, 5 feet (1.5 m) tall, and consists of two parts, the basin and the sculpture. The pink granite basin is rectangular and has four large bowls, two on either end, carved into its top. These bowls were originally designed as water troughs for horses, and a smaller, lower, bowl located on the rear of the fountain was designed for dogs.
The bronze sculpture sits on a circular base in the middle of the basin. The sculpture is officially known as Boy with a Turtle, as its figure is of a young boy, in the nude, riding a sea turtle. In 1986 the Worcester municipal parks and recreation department described the statue with the sentence, "The boy holding the turtle, his hair flying, a sly smile on his face, is charming and disarming."
Samuel Burnside was a prominent lawyer in Worcester who studied law at Dartmouth College in the early 1800s. Burnside had three daughters, Sophia, Harriet, and Elizabeth, who went on to be called by Frederick Clifton Pierce "the most notable figures in the life of Worcester." The notability of the three daughters was due in part to the prestige and wealth Samuel Burnside had accrued as Chief Justice of the Court of Common Pleas. Both before and after Samuel Burnside's death on July 25, 1850, his three daughters were known for charitable works, having donated public gardens and a library to the city of Worcester. One daughter's most well-known donation to the city came in the form of a bequest in her will. In 1904, Harriet Burnside died and left $5,000 in her will to the city of Worcester to build a fountain as a memorial to her father.
When Burnside bequeathed the money for the fountain, she asked that it be designed for use as a drinking trough for horses and also for dogs. The commission was originally intended for Daniel Chester French, but, according to a paper by Zelotes W. Coombs, French turned down the commission due to "pressure of other engagements, however... he did supervise the work." French assigned the design of the basin to Henry Bacon, who would later work with French on the Lincoln Memorial. The sculpture was assigned to Charles Y. Harvey, a graduate of the American Academy in Rome, who had worked with Augustus Saint-Gaudens on the Robert Gould Shaw Memorial in Boston.