HYANNIS -- It was a scene reminiscent of Robert McCloskey's "Make Way for Ducklings," but 70 years later and 70 miles to the south of the public garden and busy streets of 1940s Boston.
The police officer was Barnstable Sgt. Sean Sweeney, who happened to be driving through the Cape Cod Times rear parking lot about 3 p.m. just as the fire department received a call that a frantic mother duck was quacking as she waddle-raced in circles around a storm drain in the parking lot. Eight feet down, at the bottom of the drain, were 10 equally frantic and peeping baby mallards.
Hyannis firefighters Lt. Tim Lanman, Jon Talin, Richard Alger and Allan Marshall soon showed up to rescue the 10 ducklings. Flashlights spotlighted the peeping birds, and concern creased the faces of the police officer and firefighters as they peered into the storm drain. A plan was made, and the thinnest among them, Talin, scooted down a narrow ladder into the manhole to scoop the babies into a canvas gear bag.
"They were cute," he said.
Lanman took the now peeping gear bag and gently placed it before the mother, which had nervously circled the whole scene from a distance of about 20 feet, still quacking her head off.
The little babies gathered around her in the shade of the trees at the edge of the parking lot.
The reunited family didn't pause before waddling in a line toward Old Colony Way, and into more trouble.
And there Sweeney jumped into action.
Resembling every bit of Officer Michael in the beloved children's classic published in 1941, he nosed his cruiser through traffic to reach the intersection of Old Colony Way and South Street, where he blocked oncoming traffic with his vehicle before popping out of the car to herd the ducks to safety. The mallard family waddled across Old Colony Way without hesitation.
People sitting outside the senior housing complex on the corner watched with amazement as the duck and ducklings padded through their parking lot. But now it was the senior citizens who eagerly stopped traffic on South Street before Sweeney could get his cruiser in place there.
The ducks kept moving, now on a predictable course toward Hyannis Harbor.
Within minutes, they were at the water's edge, but one last impediment remained: The mother hopped on a concrete barrier about a foot high before flying 10 feet below into the water. Her tiny ducklings could not manage the 12-inch jump to the top of the barrier without assistance. So Sweeney scooped them up one by one as onlookers applauded.
Sweeney said the fluffy ducklings felt "like cotton candy."
One by one the youngsters flapped their tiny wings, plopping clumsily but safely into the water. They paddled as one unit away from land.
Sweeney headed back to more routine police duties, breathing a sigh of relief.
"I couldn't live with myself if something (bad) happened," he said.