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Mrs. Mallard Celebrates 70 Years Of Safer Streets

Jul 14, 2011
Originally published on July 18, 2011 2:24 pm

It's the 70th anniversary of the classic children's book Make Way for Ducklings by Robert McCloskey. But it's perhaps only in hindsight one can see how the ducklings were revolutionaries of sorts.

Call them accidental heroes. A very pregnant Mrs. and Mr. Mallard were never looking to change the world when they came to Boston's Public Garden. They just wanted a safe place to settle down.

'She Was A Lot Braver Than I Am'

"I like this place," said Mrs. Mallard. "Why don't we build a nest and raise our ducklings right in this pond?"

But before she could lay a single egg, she found herself nearly run over by one of "those horrid things on wheels," as she called them.

"Look out!" squawked Mrs. Mallard, all of a dither. "You'll get run over!"

Following that harrowing near-miss, Mrs. Mallard retreated. But she was gone only long enough to safely hatch her chicks and returned to assert her right to the road — which any Bostonian can tell you is a very scary place to be.

"You're definitely taking your life into your hands," says Boston mother Elizabeth Grady. "As I'm always saying to my kids: 'Heads up, heads up!' "

Retracing Mrs. Mallard's waddle through the Public Garden — with just four little ones in tow — Grady confessed a new admiration for the mama duck leading her eight ducklings.

"I think she was a lot braver than I am," she says. "From the Charles [River] all the way over to here? She is quite the brave woman."

"She was just saying, 'Let's share the space, guys. We're here too,' " says Wendy Landman. Landman is the head of Walk Boston, the nation's first pedestrian-rights group that continues to draw inspiration from Mrs. Mallard.

"She was certainly ahead of her time," Landman says.

Mrs. Mallard And Ducklings Still A Favorite In Boston Park

Today, across the Public Garden from other historical luminaries like George Washington, Mrs. Mallard is immortalized in bronze leading a line of Jack, Kack, Lack, Mack, Nack, Ouack, Pack and Quack. All were crafted 20 years ago by sculptor Nancy Schon.

"I can't even begin to say what that means to me," Schon says. "Mrs. Mallard was really the heroine."

It's perhaps a testament to her legacy that 21st century tykes visiting the statue would never dream of being as callous as the drivers of Mrs. Mallard's day.

"I would look around if ducklings were crossing so they won't get like squished or anything," says 5-year-old Emily Greeko.

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: "Make Way For Ducklings," by Robert McCloskey.

(SOUNDBITE OF SQUAWKING)

: (Reading) When they got to Boston, there was a nice pond in the public garden with a little island on it. The very place to spend the night, quacked Mrs. Mallard.

: As NPR's Tovia Smith suggests, we can appreciate the ducklings as revolutionaries of sorts.

TOVIA SMITH: Call them accidental heroes. Mrs. and Mr. Mallard were never looking to change the world when they came to Boston's public garden. They just wanted a safe place to settle down.

: (Reading) I like this place, said Mrs. Mallard. Why don't we build a nest and raise our ducklings right in this pond?

SMITH: But before she could lay a single egg...

(SOUNDBITE OF FAST CAR)

: (Reading) Look out, squawked Mrs. Mallard, all of a dither. You'll get run over.

SMITH: Nearly done in by those horrid things on wheels, as she called them, Mrs. Mallard retreated, but only long enough to safely hatch her chicks and then return to assert her right to the road - which as any Bostonian will tell you, can only be seen as a supreme act of bravery.

: You're definitely taking your life into your hands. As I'm always saying to my kids: Heads up, heads up.

SMITH: Retracing Mrs. Mallard's waddle through the public garden with just four little ones in tow, Elizabeth Grady confessed a new admiration for the mama duck.

: I think she was a lot braver than I am. From the Charles all the way over here? She's quite the brave woman.

: She was a leader, Mrs. Mallard.

SMITH: That's Wendy Landman, head of Walk Boston, the nation's first pedestrian rights group inspired, she says, by Mrs. Mallard.

: She was just saying: Let's share the space, guys. We're here, too. So she was certainly ahead of her time.

(SOUNDBITE OF CHILDREN TALKING)

SMITH: Today, across the public garden from other historical luminaries like George Washington, Mrs. Mallard is immortalized in bronze, leading a line of her little Jack, Kack, Lack, Mack, Nack, Ouack, Pack and Quack - all crafted by sculptor Nancy Schon.

: I can't even begin to say what that means to me. Mrs. Mallard was really the heroine.

SMITH: And you don't think we're exaggerating at all, do you?

: No, let's play it up.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

: I think of her - that she's really brave.

SMITH: It is a testament to her legacy that these 21st century tykes, like 7- year-old Rhianna Torres and 5-year-old Emily Greeko, would never dream of being so callous as those drivers of Mrs. Mallard's day.

: I would look around if ducklings were crossing so they won't get like, squished or anything. Say bye, ducky. Quack.

: (Reading) The ducklings like the new island so much. And when night falls, they swim to their little island and go to sleep.

SMITH: Seventy years later, Mrs. Mallard can rest easy knowing she continues to make the city a safer place to walk or waddle.

: (Reading) The end.

SMITH: Tovia Smith, NPR News, Boston. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.