A statue of Charles Dickens with Little Nell looking up at him has resided in Clark Park in Philadelphia for over 100 years. The statue was sculpted a couple decades after Dickens’ death in 1870, however, since the author had requested no public memorials to his memory, the sculptor, Frank Elwell, had a hard time finding a home for it. The Fairmount Park Commission purchased it and set it up in the park in 1901. Every year, the Friends of Clark Park host a celebration near Dickens’ birthday with readings in a college hall across the street. Then the crowd processes to the statue to crown the heads of Charles and Little Nell with ribboned wreaths. I’ve attended the last few years with my wife and youngest children. This year the celebration had an added charge because of the bicentennial. A big crowd was on hand and there were lots of photojournalists.
The program consisted of readings from works (David Copperfield, Christmas Carol, Pickwick) and songs from the period sung by David Jones. The highlight for me was Jared Reed’s dramatic recitation of the Cratchit Christmas Dinner. After the readings, we had birthday cake and were entertained by the Kingsessing Morris Men (who’d have thought Philly was also home to a band of Morris dancers) who then led the procession to the statue.
I brought my nine year old daughter, Sophia, to the event. She loves reading and Shakespeare and Jane Austen (I’m trying to add Edgar Allan
Poe and Dickens to her mix). The organizers pick children to crown the statues and Sophia was asked to place the wreath atop Little Nell. We were thrilled that an Associated Press photographer circulated this great shot of her to all their news feeds. Usually I’m all over the reporters at events, but for this one, I decided to just watch and enjoy. No need to proselytize. Just enjoy my time with my daughter. Wouldn’t you know it, the reporters were all over the little girl carrying the Dickens and Shakespeare action figures. The AP photo ran on lots of newsfeeds, not to mention two Philadelphia newspapers ran different pictures of her in their print editions.
So for this event, the Charles Dickens Ambassador happily took a backseat to his little girl.
You can see a slideshow of more AP photos here.
And here’s the Phila Inq coverage.