How many of you know the story of the Dutch boy who saved his country from a catastrophic flood? Many of us here in the USA know the legend of the little boy who saved Holland by putting his finger in a leaking dike. He stayed there all night, through the cold, until he is found in the morning and the dike is repaired and everyone lives happily ever after.
Would you be surprised then to learn that in Holland, this story is not so well-known? Some Dutch are aware of this American story, but it is not part of Dutch folklore – much to the surprise of many Americans who go to Holland wanting to see ‘the spot’ where it happened.
Let’s clear up the confusion: The story Hans Brinker or The Silver Skates was written by American Mary Mapes Dodge, who had never visited Holland before she wrote the book in 1865. The novel centers on a boy and his sister who want to compete in the annual race on a frozen canal and win the coveted grand prize, a pair silver skates. The family is poor and the father is ill and unable to work, so in the end, the story is about courage, perseverance and hope. The story of the boy and the dike is a small diversion in the tale, and is not Hans.
In 1950, the Dutch Bureau of Tourism recognized the popularity of the story and decided to place a statue of Hans Brinker at Spaarndam with the inscription that it is dedicated to Dutch youth, symbolizing the struggle of Holland against the water (the picture above). A few years later, a Dutch author rewrote the story, setting the story in Spaarndam.
Hans Brinker may be a Dutch icon but he is really an American hero.
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