Sunday, June 21, 2009

Putting Mike and Mary Ann in Their Place

In his regular Sunday Brunch feature, Peter Sieruta over at Collecting Children's Books marked the passing of one of the most famous footnotes in children's literature, Dickie Berkenbush.

Red cover of Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel
Remember how Mike Mulligan and his steam shovel, Mary Ann, dug the basement for the new town hall all in one day? But when they were done, they were down in the bottom and didn't have way to get out... until a little boy who had been watching suggested that they turn Mary Ann into the furnace for the new town hall.

Page of Mike Mulligan where a little blond boy gives the idea for using Mary Ann as the furnace
And there was an asterisk -- of all things -- right smack dab in the middle of the page, crediting somebody named Dickie Birkenbush (sic) with the idea.

I don't know about you, but I always thought that asterisk was pretty odd, and wondered who the heck Dickie was and how he came to be giving Virginia Lee Burton ideas.

As Peter tells it,

Ms. Burton read her manuscript to a group of children and young Dickie Berkenbush suggested that Mary Ann could remain in the town hall basement as a furnace. Years later, Mr. Berkenbush recalled how he came up with the idea: “My father had a garage in town that had a steam heating system, so I was familiar with it.”
Dickie (Richard) Berkenbush worked as a fire fighter, fire chief and police chief for many decades in West Newbury, Massachusetts. He died in March of this year at age 84. (See the full obituary from the Boston Globe.)

Here he is with his wife, Susan, showing Mike and Mary Ann as they realized their predicament. (Photo by Mike Wilson, Boston Globe.)

Photo of an elderly man (with his smiling wife) holding a book open to an illustration of the steam shovel in the bottom of a brown pit
Thanks to Peter for writing about Richard Berkenbush. It sounds like the Mike Mulligan asterisk was only the first of many accomplishments in his life.

Part 1 of Virginia Lee Burton week on Daughter Number Three.


Unknown said...

Thank you!

dan cumberland said...

Thank you for posting this! I've been reading Mike Mulligan to my son and wondering what the footnote meant :-)