Vintage Views: Four white ducks

A vintage view of the White Park Bridge with nearby swans.

A vintage view of the White Park Bridge with nearby swans. James W. Spain Collection

Published: 12-02-2023 2:00 PM

I have memories, memories of sunny days, green grass and a childhood untainted by cares and worries. Adult concerns were many years ahead and my adolescent focus was confined to the small world that surrounded me. It was a warm summer day when I first visited White Park and was introduced to the ducks that floated aimlessly about the pond. It has been many decades but I recall those years nostalgically, especially on cold winter nights when the winds howl and I am comfortably seated in my favorite chair in front of my blazing fireplace, hot chocolate within reach.

I was fortunate to grow up across the street from White Park, I simply had the best backyard in town. The park offered endless hours of childhood entertainment; sledding down King Hill, skating across the frozen pond, baseball, football, flashlight tag and extreme games of hide and seek. Summers at the swimming pool and the many activities offered by the Concord Recreation

and Parks Department only enhanced the adventures. Outdoor movies, the Peanut Carnival that also offered rides in Ed Philbrick’ Police Paddy Wagon and of course the vintage old firetruck with the blaring siren. Yes, the activities for a child growing up next to White Park were many and the memories remain strong. It is these years I recall the peaceful tranquility quietly sitting on a park bench watching the beautiful ducks.

Our beloved White Park, this place that has provided so many with nostalgic thoughts, was the result of a donation from Armenia White. Her vision was grand, quite simple but certainly well thought out. It was landscape architect Charles Eliot who patiently created White Park on his sheets of parchment as he skillfully sketched an urban utopia that would be enjoyed for many years into the future.

White Park was officially planned and constructed in the 1890s, but it has evolved for years. The original plans from Mr. Eliot were quite well thought out, this very same landscape architect that designed Central Park in New York City harnessed a natural stream passing through White Park to construct two ponds as focal points. The original “Upper” pond was located where we find the swimming pool today while the “Lower” pond is the pond we see today. The granite bridge at the south end of the pond is a duplicate of the stone bridge Charles Eliot designed and constructed in Central Park. The pond provided the focal point, and the paths and trails with carefully chosen plantings allowed our White Park to become a live document that we nourish to this very day.

When the park opened over one hundred twenty-five years ago it was celebrated by the citizens of Concord. It was a destination location and visited by one and all. It was Mary Baker Eddy herself that strolled around the grand ponds under shading trees in her Victorian dress that decided to add even more grandeur to the ponds. After visiting she placed an order for beautiful white swans, swans that were released into the lower pond to be enjoyed by all. They lived their long life in White Park pond and when the years claimed them the pond was again silenced for a period of time.

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Our coveted pond became home to commuting geese and ducks, staying for short periods and then moving along. Many a boy donated a pet goldfish to the pond, perch, pickerel and bass have been known to live in our pond too. The pollywogs and frogs are numerous, I still hear their croaking in my old memories. There are ancient turtles and a grand assortment of insects too.

It was in the spring of 1950 when Concord Park Superintendent Edward Howland found he had a small cash surplus in his budget. As he pondered what might be a nice addition to White Park he gazed across the lower pond. His thoughts returned to his very own early years when swans complimented White Park pond. Yes, he decided he would bring back the swans that had been absent for many years. He set to work contacting area farmers in search of swans, but swan farmers were just far and few and so very expensive. There was a local farmer to the south in Bow, New Hampshire that was willing to just sell four white ducks. Discussion followed and a deal was made between Edward Howland and the farmer, money exchanged hands and a date was set for the delivery of the four white ducks to White Park pond.

It was mid-summer 1950 when park officials gathered near the pond to welcome the four white ducks from Bow. Children gathered with nearby parents to view the newest residents of White Park. The old truck arrived with the farmer behind the wheel, his pickup truck loaded with a cage containing just four white ducks. He unloaded his freight gently and opened the front of the duck cage, releasing the ducks into the pond. A round of applause from the small audience as the ducks made themselves familiar with their newfound freedom.

The four ducks stayed closely together, floating this way and that as they received small bits of bread from the children along the shore. Minutes passed; memories were made. Yet the adventure was not concluded, there was more to come.

One of the four white ducks decided the White Park pond was not the most enjoyable place to be. He separated from the other ducks, swimming towards the granite bridge he passed beneath, climbed the small shore on the far side and exited the park between the iron fence. He proceeded up Washington Street and then settled into a southerly direction towards Bow.

The spectators were quite surprised by the quick exit by the rogue duck. The farmer had already left and people were quite entertained to see there was now an AWOL duck strolling the streets of Concord. Park officials contacted the Concord Police Department and word spread to the good citizens of Concord that a wayward white duck was traveling south back to Bow, if found please return to the White Park pond.

The sun settled that summer afternoon, the wayward duck quite obviously went on the lamb and was never recovered. There were four white ducks but now there were only three.