A primer on Peter Pan

The statue in Bowring Park is one in a series of seven sculptures

Susan Flanagan susan@48degrees.ca
Published on June 25, 2013

“Mrs. Darling first heard of Peter when she was tidying up her children’s minds. It is the nightly custom of every good mother after her children are asleep to rummage in their minds and put things straight for next morning, repacking into their proper places the many articles that have wandered during the day. If you could keep awake (but of course you can’t) you would see your own mother doing this. … It is quite like tidying up drawers. You would see her on her knees, I expect, lingering humorously over some of your contents, wondering where on earth you had picked this thing up, making discoveries sweet and not so sweet…”

— From “Peter Pan,”

unabridged, by J.M. Barrie, 1911

No. 5 and I are reading “Peter Pan” by Scottish author J.M. (James Matthew) Barrie, who says he based Peter’s character on that of his brother who died ice skating one day shy of his 14th birthday and thus never had a chance to grow up. I love Barrie’s writing style, especially when the narrator interrupts the story and speaks directly to the reader. I also like how the writing appeals to both the young child and the adult.

“Mrs. Darling loved to have everything just so and Mr. Darling had a passion for being exactly like his neighbours; so, of course, they had a nurse. As they were poor owing to the amount of milk the children drank, this nurse was a prim Newfoundland dog, called Nana, who had belonged to no one in particular until the Darlings engaged her. She had always thought children important, however, and the Darlings had become acquainted with her in Kensington Gardens, where she spent most of her spare time peeping into perambulators, and was much hated by careless nursemaids, whom she followed to their homes and complained of to their mistresses.”

I am enjoying reading “Peter Pan” so much that I regret not having read it aloud to our first four children. In fact, I feel like a negligent mother for I know the author’s name, J.M. Barrie, does not roll off their tongues as easily as Lewis Carroll, author of “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland” or J.K. Rowling, author of the Harry Potter books.

But I do take comfort in the fact that, thanks to Disney, all four of the bigger ones know the story of Peter Pan and Wendy, the Lost Boys and Capt. Hook. And due to countless trips to Bowring Park over the years, they have all climbed the Peter Pan statue.

When my husband and I brought the five children to England a few summers ago to visit the town where he was born, I had every intention of bringing them to Kensington Gardens to see the original statue of Peter Pan. We didn’t make it however due to a British heat wave with 37 C temperatures and a luggage check that charged $50 a day per bag.

So not only will Nos. 1, 2, 3 and 4 have to read J.M. Barrie’s novel on their own, they’ll also have to make their own way back to England to see the original Peter Pan statue. I have, however, been responsible in their cultural upbringing by informing them that our statue of Peter Pan is only one of seven on three different continents all made by the same artist.

The sculptor, Sir George Frampton was commissioned by none other than author J.M. Barrie himself to make the original Peter Pan statue in 1912. Barrie lived near Kensington Gardens, originally part of Hyde Park, and used it as the inspiration for Neverland.

Frampton based his bronze flute-playing Peter Pan on photos of Barrie’s friends’ six-year-old son, Michael Llewelyn Davies. Barrie also borrowed Michael’s name and those of his siblings for characters in his story — George, John, Peter and Michael. J.M. Barrie later adopted the boys, including their youngest brother (who was not born at the time of the writing of “Peter Pan”), when their parents died an untimely death.

Legend has it that J.M. Barrie didn’t tell anyone he had commissioned a statue for Kensington Gardens, nor did he ask for permission to place it in the park, but rather had it erected under cover of darkness. Like our statue, Frampton’s first Peter Pan is perched on a stump with fairies, rabbits, squirrels and mice. One of the fairies, perhaps Tinker Bell, seems smitten with Peter.

“The animals and fairies on the statue are listening to the Pipes of Pan, one of the mice is completing his toilet before going up to listen to the music, and the squirrel is discussing political matters with two of the fairies,” wrote Frampton upon completion of his piece.

The second statue of Peter Pan was presented by Frampton to the people of Brussels, Belgium in 1924. An inscription on the statue reads: “A bond of friendship between the children of Great Britain and the children of Belgium” (translation).

The statue, which sits in Egmont Park, has had a bit of a rough history with rabbits losing ears and Peter Pan losing his flute. It was even hit by rifle bullets during the Second World War.

Our very own Peter Pan statue in Bowring Park was Frampton’s third. Commissioned in 1925 by Sir Edgar Bowring, the statue is dedicated to Bowring’s godchild, Betty Munn who drowned at Cappahayden (along with 93 other people including her father) on the SS Florizel, a Bowring Brothers steamship specifically designed to navigate in ice.

Like Barrie’s brother, Betty Munn — who was three years old at the time of her death — never had a chance to grow up. The statue was unveiled on Aug. 29, 1925 with a plaque that reads: “In memory of a little girl who loved the Park.”

I particularly like what I assume to be a sleeping raven on the back of the statue.

The fourth Peter Pan statue is in the United States, but I bet, before reading the next paragraph, you can’t correctly guess which state.

It is outside the Walt Whitman Arts Center in Camden, N.J. On Sept. 24, 1926, Eldridge Johnson, president of the Victor Talking Machine Company, which later became RCA, presented the statue to the children of the area, and the story goes that what he had intended to be a lily pond was converted into a wading pool after a slew of children jumped in it before the lilies had been added. During the presentation celebrations, 3,000 school children participated in a pageant acting out scenes from “Peter Pan.”

In 1927, the fifth Frampton statue appeared in Queens Gardens in Perth, Australia. I had the honour of seeing this statue in 1989 when I spent Christmas in Perth and we went to visit the black swans which populate the park. It is dedicated to the children of Western Australia by the Rotary Club of Perth.

The sixth came in 1928 when George Audley, an exporter of spirits, donated a statue to Sefton Park in Liverpool, England. Like in New Jersey, a Peter Pan pageant accompanied the unveiling and, according to victorianweb.org, a telegram arrived from Barrie addressed to “‘Peter Pan, Sefton Park, Liverpool,’ urging Peter to behave himself and not to grow bigger. Unfortunately, Frampton died a few weeks before the ceremony.”

And, finally, the seventh Frampton Peter Pan statue, dedicated To the Spirit of Children at Play, is also in Canada. Erected in 1929 by the College Heights Association, the statue sits in Toronto on the northwest corner of Avenue Road and

St. Clair Avenue West. I can’t believe in all my visits to Toronto that I have never seen the statue in Glenn Gould Park (formerly known as Peter Pan Park).

I urge you, on your next trip to Toronto, to visit Peter Pan. Maybe I’ll see you there.

Here’s the list of all seven Peter Pans to add to your bucket list.

1. London, England: Kensington Gardens 1912

2. Brussels, Belgium: Egmont Park, 1924

3. St. John’s: Bowring Park, 1925

4. Camden, N.J.: Johnson Park, 1926

5. Perth, Australia: Queens Gardens, 1927

6. Liverpool, England: Sefton Park, 1928

7. Toronto: Glenn Gould Park, 1929

Did you know?

In 1929, J.M. Barrie willed the rights to “Peter Pan” to the Great Ormond Street Hospital (GOSH) in Bloomsbury, London. So if you buy a Peter Pan T-shirt in Disneyland, hopefully a portion of your money is going to this children’s hospital.

The name Wendy became popular after Barrie’s story, just as the name Madison became popular after Daryl Hannah chose it as her name in the 1984 mermaid movie “Splash.”

In the early ’60s, when Castro came to rule in Cuba, there was a program called Operation Peter Pan in which some Cuban children were sent to Florida because it was feared they would be mistreated under Castro’s rule.

First published in 1902 in a book called “Little White Bird,” the story of Peter Pan next became a stage play called “The Boy who Wouldn’t Grow Up” and then a full novel called “Peter and Wendy.”

Susan Flanagan is a

geocacher who has done the Peter Pan cache. She can

be reached at susan@48degrees.ca

Charles and Di feedback

Anne Chafe writes: “Your article on the visit of Charles and Diana 30 years ago brought back wonderful memories. I was working as a guide for Parks Canada that summer and I was selected to be a part of the official opening ceremonies at Cape Spear. During their visit to the Cape, Princess Diana handed out awards to the winners of the Children’s Lighthouse Art Contest. My role was to have the awards ready for the Princess to present. I handed the awards to her assistant who then gave them to the Princess Diana to present to the children. I couldn’t believe that I was that close to her! That’s me in the photo of Princess Diana with the children, although all you can see of me is the top of my head and the Parks Canada logo on my jacket. I was dressed for the weather that day. While it was beautiful in St. John’s, the fog rolled in and it was freezing at the Cape. But Princess Diana didn’t appear to be affected by the cold, despite her bare legs. I followed Princess Diana into the Interpretation Centre and was to be on hand should she have any questions about Cape Spear. Unfortunately I never got the opportunity to speak with Princess Diana, but to be in her presence for those few minutes was a real thrill.”

Prepaid card feedback

Splitting Hairs writes: “As already mentioned, the BMO prepaid card is a PITA, typical bank red tape, difficult/slow loading, refused payments both online and in store, and too many FEES. I switched to Canada Post prepaid card and love it, minimal fees and have used it NUMEROUS times both online and in various stores, never once with a problem. The only downside is not getting a monthly statement and the website is not real time up to-date with regard to latest transaction / account balance.”