by SC Associate Publisher/Photographer Chuck Larsen
Visitors to the J.N. ‘Ding’ Darling National Wildlife Refuge Education Center approach the new exhibit and see a cartoonist working on his drafting table. A child asked her mother, “Is that Ding Darling?” “No”, the mother answers. “He’s no longer with us”.
But the new exhibit is so realistic and interactive, visitors get a definite feel of being close to the legendary conservationist. At the unveiling of the newly designed exhibit Monday, Dec. 2, Tom Milligan, a.k.a. “Ding” Darling, attended to add dimension to the event.
Despite Milligan performing his 50-minute shows around the Midwest for four years presenting the life of “Ding” Darling, he had never visited Sanibel’s National Wildlife Preserve before. From Des Moines, Iowa, he has done 28 tribute performances this year and hopes to do more next year, and even has some booked in Florida.
Instead of being cordoned off from the public, the new exhibit is much more interactive which should appeal to children, as well as adults. There’s a dictation machine where a button can be pressed to hear a dictated letter with “Ding” Darling’s actual voice recording. A life-sized cutout encourages visitors to take a selfie with the famous cartoonist.
Jay Norwood “Ding” Darling twice won Pulitzer prizes for the political cartoons he penned over 50 years, a great deal of them conservation related. The updated “Ding” Studio Exhibit recreates his workplace at the Des Moines Register, which carried his cartoons on its front page daily first, before they went into syndication across the U.S.
Among his many other accomplishments in the name of conservation, Darling created the Federal Duck Stamp program in 1934 to support the purchase of wetland habitat. To date, the program has preserved more than 5.7 million acres as national wildlife refuse lands.