Lost duckling gets lift home from the Hill

Late-night revelers find Public Garden sculpture article page player in wide format.
By Andrew Ryan and John R. Ellement
Globe Staff / April 8, 2009
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The web-foot youngster reappeared before dawn yesterday on a Beacon Hill street corner, found leaning wearily against a tree like a lost boy looking for his mother.

The bottom of his bronze heels offered the only evidence from the crime: a small slice on a right foot and a rough break in the two steel rods that once affixed him to cobblestones in an eternal march across the Public Garden.

That gives authorities few clues about who defaced the tribute to children's literature that has become a postcard image of Boston. But at least they found the duck in one piece.

"Pack is back!" said the ebullient sculptor, Nancy Schon. "I haven't told Mrs. Mallard yet, but I'm sure she'll be delighted."

Pack, of course, is the bronze duckling stolen after dark on Sunday from the "Make Way for Ducklings" sculpture, snatched from his mother and seven siblings. A young woman spotted the 35- to 40-pound statuette at 2:40 a.m. yesterday near the intersection of Brimmer and Mt. Vernon streets as she walked with friends to a convenience store on Charles Street for an early-morning snack.

"I used to jump on [Mrs.] Mallard's back when I was a kid, and my dad used to take pictures," said one member of the group, Robert Blais, 22, of Weymouth. "It was a good feeling to know that my friends and I found this duck . . . I want kids now to look at that statue like when I was a kid."

It appears Pack can be reattached to his place seventh in line behind his mother, but it will require a trip to the New England Sculpture Service, a foundry in Chelsea. "We may have to do some amputations," said Schon, who declined to be too specific because of a fear of future vandals. In the Public Garden yesterday afternoon, waves of parents and children came to pay homage to the sculpture and the nubs of the steel rods that marked the place where Pack once stood.

"I think it's pretty sad, because, well, it cheers a lot of people up," said Deven Mejia, 9, who is from the Los Angeles area. "And it's a historical landmark."

The ducks are held in place by steel rods the width of a man's finger that extend almost a foot into cobblestones, securing the fowl for clambering by thousands of children. The monument to Robert McCloskey's classic children's book "Make Way for Ducklings" has been the repeated target of vandals since its installation in 1987. The last duckling, Quack, had been stolen twice, and Mack (fourth) and Jack (first) each disappeared once.

A worse fate befell a replica of the sculpture that was installed in 1991 in Novodevichy Park in Moscow. Mrs. Mallard and three of her children were cut off at the knees and, according to Schon, probably sold for scrap. (All four fowl have since been replaced.)

The most recent theft in the Public Garden outraged city officials. Police did not report making any arrests in connection with the crime, after a park ranger noticed the duckling missing Monday morning. It does not appear that Officer Michael from the children's book was involved in the rescue.

"The culprit will be arrested," said Mary Hines, a spokeswoman for the Parks Department. "And to the . . . people that found it: Thank you, thank you, thank, you for doing the right thing."

Police have released scant information about the crime, staying mum about details such as whether they found adult fingerprints on a duck that was surely covered in smudge marks left by scores of children. There was no obvious evidence of the use of power tools or other cutting implements, said Elaine Driscoll, a Boston Police spokeswoman who was briefed by detectives.

"At first glance, it appears that maybe the duck was kicked loose," Driscoll said. "But at this point only the perpetrator knows how he or she did it."

The sculptor speculated that it would take more than a kick to knock Pack off his perch. It would even be difficult, Schon said, to cut through the steel rods with a hacksaw. She suggested that it would require a real power tool, such as a reciprocating saw, and even then the angle would be difficult.

"I don't know, there are all sorts of possibilities," said Schon, who cried when she learned that the sculpture had again been vandalized. "People are very creative about theft. I just wish they would be more creative about not doing it."

At Parks department headquarters yesterday, Hines ran her fingers along what appeared to be a smooth slice on Pack's foot, speculating that something must have been used to make such an even cut. When asked about the tool, however, she conceded that she was "not in hardware."

"I'm very happy to have him back," Hines said. "Mother's Day is coming."