The Big Duck


It's big, all right -- that doorway is tall enough for most humans to pass through without stooping. The Big Duck stands on Route 24, between the Long Island towns of Flanders and Hampton Bays. It started out as a store for a farmer and his wife to sell their Peking ducks. The couple got the idea for the structure while on a trip to California, during the heyday of goofy architecture. (Eating in a teapot-shaped luncheonette provided the inspiration.)

They hired a couple of unemployed theatrical designers (it being the Depression) to construct their dream. For accuracy, the men worked from an actual duck, tied to a porch with a piece of string. Sporting Model T headlights (which still work) as eyes, the cement-covered result, finished in 1931, is 20 feet high, 30 feet long and a not-so-bouncing 10 tons heavy.

For a point of reference, look for the car in the right hand corner of this photo:

Its bulk notwithstanding, it's been moved a couple of times, most recently to the sandy outskirts of Sears Bellows County Park. The Duck is technically under the auspices of the Friends of Long Island's Heritage. Its devoted champion and caretaker, though, is the part-time employee who manages the gift shop inside the Duck's one room. Her passion for the building is ostensibly fueled by fond childhood memories of the Duck (and of other, long-gone Long Island oddities, photos of which line the interior walls.) She'll tell you about any of them, like the Monkey Mountain, which really was home to a bunch of wild monkeys (until they got out and invaded the neighborhood). Just ask.

She plays videos that relate, in her thinking, to the Duck's genesis. Often it's the Little Rascals episode involving the soap box derby, which reminds her of the first owner's trip to California. At Christmas it might be "It's a Wonderful Life." She brings in a Polaroid and offers to take photos of visitors with the Duck for a tiny donation -- a policy that facilitated my 1998 Christmas card. Last summer, I saw her click on a well-hidden tape recorder and broadcast recorded duck calls when visitors walked through the door.

Text copyright Kathy Biehl 1999. Photos copyright Frank Bland 1998 (used by permission.) All rights reserved.

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