Americans love Charles Dickens and Clark Park in west Philadelphia is celebrating the 200th anniversary of the birth of the author today. The city ended up with one of two statues of the writer when the Washington Post founder Stilson Hutchins who had commissioned the work in the 1880s backed out of the deal, leaving it orphaned until a local art association purchased it.
The sculpture by Frank Edwin Elwell features a seated Dickens on a pedestal and one of his most beloved characters _ Little Nell, from ”The Old Curiosity Shop” _ standing below. Dickens had forbidden such memorials in his will, but one other full-sized statue stands in Sydney, Australia.The Victorian author spent some of his youth in Chatham, Kent, had holidays in Broadstairs and died in Higham, near Rochester, in 1870. He is buried in Westminster Abbey with a simple floor plaque to mark his grave.
Bob Behr, a Philadelphia Dickens Fellowship member, has helped organize Clark Park’s annual birthday party for the author for about past 20 years.
Neighbors and Dickens enthusiasts come to listen to readings, watch performances, eat cake and sing ”Happy Birthday” to the statue. It even attracts Dickens non-readers, said Behr, ”because the whole thing is kind of a curiosity, and some of them end up reading the books later.” Behr said part of the motivation for the celebration stems from the pride of stewardship of the rare sculpture.
Two new UK stamps showing Victorian illustrations of Charles Dickens’ characters have been unveiled to mark the novelist’s birth bicentenary.
On Tuesday Prince Charles and his wife The Duchess of Cornwall will visit the Charles Dickens museum at Doughty Street in London which opened in 1925.