Now that I’ve fessed up to being bothered by the mystery bunny in Peter Rabbit, I feel a great weight lifted off my shoulders. So now it can be told… something has been bothering me for months about Make Way for Ducklings.
First rabbits, now ducks? What’s your problem with cute fluffy animals, Pomerantz? This is my problem…
I actually made the mistake one day of thinking about Mr. and Mrs. Mallard’s flight path from the Public Gardens to their nest site. And here’s what I realized: they start in the Gardens, then “they flew over Beacon Hill and round the State House,” then they fly over Louisburg Square, and finally they arrive at the Charles River. So what? Well, those of you familiar with the geography of Boston, think about it: this requires a hairpin turn over the State House. Not efficient, for one thing, and not the kind of flying one generally expects of ducks, who tend to stick to straight-line flight plans.
Because I’m a complete geek, I’ve mapped this on Google Maps:
And then, once I had Mr. and Mrs. Mallard’s Public Gardens-to-nest site flight mapped, I was compelled to map out Mrs. Mallard and the ducklings’ return waddle.
But wait… my compulsiveness isn’t over yet. Mr. & Mrs. Mallard fly over Louisburg Square in the wrong direction. From the State House to the Charles is west, and downhill. But it’s clear from the picture that they’re flying east, uphill.
Also, look at the pictures of the Mallard’s nest site. It’s on an island in the Charles that looks like it’s practically right underneath the Longfellow Bridge. There are three candidate islands that this could be: one and two, the “seawall” islands off the Community Boating building, which are closer to the bridge, and three, the pedestrian island by the Hatch Shell, farther from the bridge. I conclude that the nest site is on the seawall island nearer to the Longfellow. Why? First, there is no island right underneath the Longfellow, but this one is closest. Second, in the picture, the nest site is on an end of what looks like a pretty tiny island, and you can see the Longfellow in the background, so obviously you’re looking north / northeast. If the nest site was on the second seawall island, you’d be able to see the first in the background.
When Mrs. Mallard and the ducklings leave the nest site to walk back to the Public Gardens, the picture clearly shows them walking perpendicular to the axis of the esplanade to “the highway” (that is, Storrow Drive). So from the nest site, Mrs. Mallard and the ducklings must have swum ashore, then turned right and walked down the path to the Hatch Shell, the turned left to walk on the path to Mount Vernon Street. This makes sense though, since this is the closest path across the Esplanade to Storrow from the water. There’s the footbridge to Mugar Way and the Charles T station, but that’s to the northeast of the nest site and in the wrong direction if you’re trying to get to the Gardens. Still, there’s really no need to stay on the path if you’re a duck.
And there’s still more. On their walk back to the Gardens, Mrs. Mallard and the ducklings pass by the Corner Book Shop, on the corner of Mount Vernon and Charles Streets. But there’s no Corner Book Shop at that location, and I’m not able to determine that there ever was. (Though I admit to not researching this as rigorously as I might have.) The used to be an Old Corner Bookstore at the corner of Washington and School Streets, until the 1950s. Note that Make Way for Ducklings was published in 1941, so it would still have been there when McCloskey was writing. But the problem is: the corner of Washington and School Streets is nowhere near the rest of Mrs. Mallard and the ducklings’ route, easily a 15-minute walk even for a human.
And a final detail. Where do Mr. and Mrs. Mallard meet Michael the policeman? It’s in front of a building that says Police on it, though it’s not clear if it’s a police station or just a police box. In one picture you can clearly see Mount Vernon Street in the background, down which Mrs. Mallard and the ducklings are walking. In another picture, the station/box looks like it’s a few steps from the Charles. So I conclude it must be on the green in front of where the Hatch Shell is now, at the front water-side (stage right) corner of the Shell. Did there used to be a police station or box there? The Hatch Shell was built in 1941, so there might have been when McCloskey was writing. Maybe on the construction site?