PHILADELPHIA -- In his will, Charles Dickens asked that no statues of himself ever be erected in his honor. Instead, the English author wanted the recognition to go to the characters in his books.
Philadelphians ignored him. In 1905, the world's first Charles Dickens statue went up in Clark Park in West Philadelphia.
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Statues have since been erected in Australia and England, with the blessing of Dickens' descendants, but the renegade Philadelphia version, with Dickens seated beside one of his characters, Little Nell, has always held a special place in neighbors' hearts.
Around this statue, Philadelphians sought to honor the author's 200th birthday Monday with a party, complete with men dressed with bells on their legs doing traditional English dances.
West Philadelphians have celebrated Dickens' birthday since at least 1974, but master of ceremonies Frank Chance was impressed with the turnout Sunday.
"It was huge," he said, recalling years when bad weather had kept the crowd down to a dozen or so die-hard fans of the preeminent figure in Victorian literature.
Crowds packed the 270-seat auditorium at the adjoining University of the Sciences, where actors and fans read from passages of noted Dickens works, including "A Christmas Carol" and "David Copperfield."
A procession to the statue ended with three children laying wreaths on top of the author's and Little Nell's heads.