|The Make Way for Ducklings sculpture in the Public Garden in Boston,
created by Nancy Schön
Oh, the power of fiction! Especially children’s fiction! It had my kids and me retracing the steps of Mrs. Mallard and her ducklings from the picture book Make Way for Ducklings as soon as we arrived in Boston last week, even though my kids are teenagers and way beyond the age of picture books. They were not, however, beyond investigating the sites of a beloved story. For me, it was the second time I did that.
The first time I was in Boston, for a long weekend without the kids when they were much younger, Make Way for Ducklings was almost daily bedtime reading. I love that book, and I had to see Louisburg Square and the State House and Mount Vernon Street for myself. And of course I had to see the Make Way of Ducklings sculpture in the Public Garden.
This time around, luckily and partly by my design, we were staying in the Beacon Hill neighborhood, so all we had to do the evening we arrived was turn left out of our hotel, the John Jeffries House, and walk along the Charles River embankment to see where the ducklings had crossed the highway, waddling from the river into Mount Vernon Street on their way to the Public Garden. Thankfully we had an hour or so of daylight left to retrace their steps.
The road along the embankment must have looked much different in 1941, when Robert McCloskey published Make Way for Ducklings, because these days there’s no way the ducks would even have attempted to cross. Lanes are separated by railings, and some lead into tunnels, so even humans don’t stand a chance of crossing.
Mount Vernon Street itself is, as you can see, a rather quiet and picturesque side street, and perfect for Mrs. Mallard and her ducklings to waddle along.
Following the ducks’ path by turning the corner into Charles Street, sidewalk life gets busier. Sadly, the Corner Book Shop mentioned in the book isn’t there anymore (It was still around when I first visited in the late 1990s.).
Now, the crossing into the Public Garden remains doable, but traffic has to be dealt with for sure. To the right of that black “Public Garden” sign is the Make Way for Ducklings sculpture of Mrs. Mallard and Jack, Kack, Lack, Mack, Nack, Ouack, Pack and Quack. (Back when I read the story out loud to my kids, I always stumbled over how to correctly pronounce “Ouack?”)
And now, the real ducks in the lagoon of the Public Garden, and behind them the little island where Mr. Mallard was waiting for his family.
The Swan Boats are still in operation by the very same family, according to our tour guide on a Boston Duck Tour, and the boat passengers probably still keep all those ducks well fed as they did McCloskey’s Mallard family.
There is the charm of the ducks, but I have to say I was most taken by the weeping willows in the Public Garden and their curtains of green swaying in the evening breeze.