In the spring of 1945, the image of a mallard duck named Gertie nesting atop a rotting oak piling in downtown Milwaukee helped cheer a weary nation during the final days of World War II.
The Milwaukee Journal published 37 stories about Gertie that spring, dubbing her tale, "the sweetest story ever told." Six ducklings and one Life Magazine cover story later, Gertie and her brood charmed bustling Milwaukee to a near standstill.
The city postponed a major construction project to protect Gertie's home under the southwest corner of the Wisconsin Avenue Bridge. Hundreds of Milwaukeeans sent her Mothers' Day cards. A city official ordered 5 million gallons of fresh lake water to be pumped into the river when an oil slick approached Gertie's nest. Eventually, the entire brood - along with a 24-hour nurse - was moved to the window of Gimbel's Department Store, now Borders, 101 W. Wisconsin Ave.
That summer, Gertie and her five surviving ducklings were sent back into the wild, but Milwaukee will never forget them. A children's book about the incident has sold more than a million copies in six languages. A bronze statue of Gertie, located on the north side of the Wisconsin Avenue Bridge, was dedicated in 1997. Four smaller duckling statues representing her offspring were added in 1999.