This is the twelfth post in my series on Boston’s Bronze Menagerie of animal statues.
Generations of children have followed the perilous peregrinations of Mrs. Mallard and her children as they marched from Boston’s Charles River Esplanade, across the Inner Embankment Road, down Charles Street, across the corner of Beacon Street and into the Public Garden.
Little humans learned lessons from Robert McCloskey’s “Make Way for Ducklings: about little ducks, mother love and simple kindness. In the process they got, no matter where they lived, an indelible introduction to Boston.
It took Boston a long time to catch up with the enthusiasm of children who came to visit and see where eight fuzzy yellow children followed Mrs. Mallard to safety. “Make Way for Ducklings” by Robert McCloskey was published in 1941 and won the Caldecott Medal for its illustrations in 1942. The book is always in print and can be found in any children’s library. More than two million copies have been sold.
The bronze statues of Mrs. Mallard followed by Jack, Kack, Lack, Mack, Nack, Ouack, Pack, and Quack were installed in October of 1987 – 46 years after the book was first published. The nine statues were commissioned by the Friends of the Public Garden and sculpted by Nancy Schön, who also did the Tortoise and the Hare in Copley Square.
Like other statues in the city, Mrs. Mallard and her children are sometimes dressed up to support the local sports teams—especially around playoffs—to show off seasonal and holiday finery, or to support a cause. They even wore Red Sox jerseys and beards during the 2013 playoffs. When I last saw them a few weeks ago they were still sporting Easter bonnets. On Mother’s Day each year, a children’s procession takes place in the Public Garden, which has become known as the Duckling Day Parade.
The ducklings are popular with children and parents alike. Kids climb on them for fun and get their pictures taken by their own parents. Adults pose with them as well. Taking a picture without parents and children in it can be difficult. They even serve as props for wedding photos. Foot traffic is so steady around the ducklings that grass has given up trying to grow nearby.
The “Make Way for Ducklings” story is so closely associated with Boston that only one replica exists in another city—and that one is in Russia. In 1991, Barbara Bush gave a second casting to Raisa Gorbachev as part of the START Treaty, and the work is displayed in Moscow’s Novodevichy Park.
The Make Way for Ducklings Route
It’s no longer possible to follow the actual route Mrs. Mallard took in 1941, even should there be a friendly policeman to stop traffic. The Inner Embankment Road was replaced by Storrow Drive in 1950. This is a high-speed roadway with no stoplights and no policemen, friendly or otherwise. It can only be crossed in this area with the pedestrian footbridge near the Longfellow Bridge. Then a walker must negotiate busy Leverett Circle around the Charles/MGH T stop to reach the end of Charles Street. It can be done but only very carefully. That’s too bad because it would be lovely to have a Make Way for Ducklings trail of bronze duck footprints embedded in the sidewalk to mark the way.
Directions and Information
The Make Way for Ducklings statue is located in the northeast corner of the Public Garden, exactly along the path Mrs. Mallard and her brood took on the way to safety in the lagoon. Park in the Boston Common Garage, cross Charles Street and enter the Public Garden. Turn right just before the bridge over the lagoon and bear right when you get to the end of the water. The ducklings are on ground level but can usually be found just by heading for the crowd around them.
The Public Garden is always open. There is no admission fee. You can also take the mobile tour offered by the Friends of the Public Garden. It will direct you to the George Robert White Memorial that I wrote about in the Angel of the Waters post.
Boston’s Bronze Menagerie Series
- Boston’s Bronze Rhinos
- Boston’s Animal Statues: Codfish
- Boston’s Horses: Paint and Henry
- Boston’s Bronze Teddy Bear
- Boston’s Kensington Lions
- Boston’s Political Animals: Democratic Donkey
- Boston’s Political Animals: Jumbo the Elephant
- The Fenway’s Pronghorn Antelope
- The Lotta Fountain
- The Tortoise and the Hare and the Boston Marathon
- Cats and Dogs on Huntington Avenue