The last time I visited the Boston Public Garden with a four-year-old to view the setting of the book Make Way For Ducklings was with my daughter, Jennifer, and the year was 1984.There was a lot of me invested in that trip, as I dimly recall, because I had read that book over and over and over again to her for months. It was her favorite at the time, completely memorized. My parental mind told me she was wildly excited at seeing the real thing. The reality more likely is that I was way more excited about it all than she was. I don’t know if I have any photos from that visit. My memory tells me it went well.
I revisited the Garden this summer, with my daughter and Margeaux, HER four-year-old. For me it was mentally perfunctory by comparison to the original trip. The book, read to Margeaux a few times by her grandma and mother, had only been in the house for a day or so. I hadn’t even read it to her yet myself.
I am happy to report that thirty years later, 73 years since Make Way for Ducklings was first published, it’s all still there, sort of.
Sure, the swan boats, started in 1877 by Robert Paget and still run by his family, continue to ply the waters regularly. And the island the ducks finally called home is still right there in the lagoon. (And of course the Cheers bar is still there across Beacon Street.)But the duck tracks on the sidewalk tracing the walk up from the Charles River that I recall from my first visit are gone. Taking their place I suppose is the very nice, and terrifically photogenic, Nancy Schon sculpture of the parents and their eight offspring. It’s at the corner of the park they would have entered after the walk up Charles Street. In the photo above, granddaughters Margeaux and Simone are doing what all kids do when they see them. (Cheap way to keep them shiny I guess)
A bit of a mystery, however, are the bicycles that scared the ducks, described in that fearful illustration of spinning wheels and scattering feathers. Biking is prohibited in the Gardens, and the ban seems to be effective, as I saw none there. I can’t remember if it was allowed when I was there before, or even at any time in the past, to explain the mention in the book, so I queried the City of Boston Parks Department. I asked when the ban was instituted and added that use of bicycles there was mentioned, and illustrated, in the book. I was told flatly and humorlessly that bicycles have NEVER been allowed in the Garden, period.
I found no reference to the presence of bikes in the book being a factual error, but did discover that it has been criticized for having a loose plot, as well as poor characterization. Hey, it’s a children’s book, people!
And a pretty good one, I think. (if you know about the bicycles, please share…)