Peter and Peter meet again after 46 years
Two old friends were recently reunited in the children’s section of the Lee Road Library: Peter Benkendorf of Dayton, Ohio, and the children’s department mascot, Peter Potamus. When Benkendorf was back in his hometown of Cleveland Heights this October, he stopped by the library to see his old friend.
“In the summer after first grade, my family went on vacation to Lake Huron in Michigan,” said Benkendorf. “A man we met there called me ‘Peter Potamus’ for some reason, and later that autumn, my sister suggested I enter that name in the hippo-naming contest at the library.”
In 1968, the library commissioned the sculpture of a hippopotamus by sculptor William McVey. Friends of the Heights Libraries paid $1,200 for the sculpture and held a competition to name it.
McVey attended the Cleveland School of Art (now the Cleveland Institute of Art) and received the Cleveland Arts Prize in 1964. He is known for his sculptures in bronze and limestone and was also a well-respected animalier - an artist who specializes in realistic images or sculptures of animals.
While Peter Potamus is not an anatomically accurate hippo, he is an icon in the children’s department. He gets new outfits and decorations based onthe time of year and current events. During the Summer Olympics, he wore a laurel wreath and carried an Olympic torch.
So, where did the name “Peter Potamus” come from before the young Benkendorf was given the nickname? Library research reveals that there was a television show called “Peter Potamus,” featuring a cartoon hippo who explored the world in a time-traveling hot-air balloon. The show aired in 1964 and 1965, so the clues clearly line up.
“My only real memory is of the photo being taken for the Sun Press,” said Benkendorf. “While climbing off Peter Potamus, my foot got caught underneath. I fell off and I cried,”
Reminiscing about the sculpture with Nancy Levin, library director, Benkendorf asked about recreating the shot, but she decided he might be too big to sit on Peter Potamus now.
Julia Murphy is the marketing assistant for the Cleveland Heights-University Heights Public Library.