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Brouhaha Stirred by Winnie the Pooh

February 5, 1998

NEW YORK (AP) _ The honey pot got stirred up today _ all because a British legislator wants the five original Winnie the Pooh stuffed animals returned to England.

Saying ``we’re not a colony anymore,″ Mayor Rudolph Giuliani put a visit to Winnie at a midtown library branch on his day’s schedule.

``The mayor is going there today to assure Winnie and friends that they’re safe on American soil,″ mayoral spokeswoman Colleen Roche said.

``This is no longer a foreign city. We were freed a long time ago,″ Giuliani, promising to do everything possible to keep the legendary critters. ``They’ve been very happy here.″

Gov. George Pataki also rallied to the cause, saying, ``There’s no better place in the world for this kind of exhibit.″

``Oh bother,″ Pooh might say.

``Oh dear, oh dear,″ Piglet would add.

British Prime Minister Tony Blair, meanwhile, denied knowing much about the proposal to bring Winnie home and said on ABC’s ``Good Morning America″ that the issue would be ``down the agenda″ in his talks today in Washington.

``I’m sure they’re perfectly well-looked after where they are,″ Blair added.

The lovingly tattered and faded toys _ Pooh, Tigger, Kanga, Eeyore and Piglet _ that inspired the beloved children’s tales of A.A. Milne more than 70 years ago have been quietly sitting in a glass case for years in the Donnell Library Center, a public library branch across the street from the Museum of Modern Art.

The international incident began with Gwyneth Dunwoody, a Labor Party legislator, who introduced a question in Parliament to ask what plans Britain’s culture secretary had to arrange for their repatriation after half a century.

``I saw them recently and they look very unhappy indeed,″ Mrs. Dunwoody said. ``I am not surprised, considering they have been incarcerated in a glass case in a foreign country for all these years.″

``Just like the Greeks want their Elgin Marbles back _ so we want our Winnie the Pooh back, along with all his splendid friends,″ Mrs. Dunwoody said, referring to the ancient sculptures from the Parthenon that Britain’s Lord Elgin brought to England nearly two centuries ago.

After hearing about the mayor’s comments, Mrs. Dunwoody had more to say today. ``Fair enough,″ she said. ``I am happy to do battle with the mayor of New York, any day he likes. He says I use fighting words _ well, I do.″ She suggested the Brits could send back some American imports, starting with ``a few of Jackson Pollock’s paintings.″

The five stuffed animals, along with early editions of the Pooh books, have resided in a large display case in the Donnell library’s Children’s Room since 1987.

Their sojourn to the United States began in 1947 when American publisher E.P. Dutton and Co. invited them for a national tour to promote Milne’s books, said Tim Moses, publicity director at Dutton Children’s Books, an imprint of Penguin, Putnam Inc.

Insured for $50,000, Pooh and friends toured the United States for about 10 years, Moses said.

Moses said Milne gave the toys to Dutton permanently as a gift, and the publisher gave them to the library in 1987.

``There isn’t any question about the legal ownership of Winnie and his friends,″ Moses said.

The New York Public Library was treating the sticky issue very seriously.

``Until we get a specific request (from England), we’re not commenting,″ was all public relations manager Caroline Oyama would say.

The hugely successful books center on the adventures of Pooh, a brainless, honey-loving bear, and his friends: the gloomy donkey Eeyore, the excitable Piglet, bouncy Tigger and maternal Kanga (with her baby, Roo). Milne began the series in 1926 for his son, Christopher Robin, who figures prominently in the stories.

The stuffed animals, which Milne bought for his son at Harrods, were the basis for the books’ original line drawings, by Ernest Howard Shepard.

``They are part of our heritage and they want to come home,″ Mrs. Dunwoody said.

``And it is about time we got them back. This is where they belong. They plainly want to come home.″

The story made front-page news, even in The New York Times. The Daily News headline blared, ``Brit Cries Pooh-Hoo,″ while the New York Post offered: ``The Brits Ignite a Pooh-Haha.″

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