He looked up and saw a small hole in the dike through which a tiny stream was flowing. Any child in Holland will shudder at the thought of a leak in the dike! . . . That little hole, if the water were allowed to trickle through, would soon be a large one, and a terrible inundation would be the result. Quick as a flash he saw his duty . . . His chubby little finger was thrust in almost before he knew it. The flowing was stopped! "Ah!" he thought, with a chuckle of boyish delight, "the angry waters must stay back now! Haarlem shall not be drowned while I am here!"
Haarlem was not drowned. The little boy stayed at the dike all night, too cold even to whistle and attract the attention of passersby, until he was found in the morning and the hole was plugged. Thus, in Hans Brinker or, The Silver Skates (1865), Mary Mapes Dodge told the legend of the sluicer's son who became "The Hero of Haarlem." The practical Dutch pointed out that the story was not true and technically quite implausible. But Americans visiting The Netherlands invariably asked to see the place where the little boy had put his finger in the dike.
Last week, the Dutch finally and handsomely acknowledged that legends could become real. Beside the 600-year-old Spaarndam Lock, the Dutch Tourist Association had erected a bronze statue of the boy, kneeling before the dike, finger in the hole.
Princess Margriet, 7, performed her first public function by unveiling the monument. Also present was three-year-old Princess Marijke, who was annoyed by the singing of several hundred Haarlem children and cried: "I want to go home. It is no good." Apart from this incident, the ceremonies went off smoothly. In time, even the literal-minded Dutch might come to believe in the Hero of Haarlem.