FLANDERS, NY — At the beginning of the Great Depression, Long Island duck farmer Martin Maurer and his wife Jeule were on a road trip and enjoying a cup of joe in a large coffee pot.
They decided, so the story goes, that if the world can have a big coffee pot, it really needs a big duck, and they would be the ones to provide it for all of us.
And so, in 1931, one of the most whimsical and influential street attractions in American history was born. The Big Duck is 20 feet high, 18 feet wide and 30 feet long. It’s held together by a wooden frame, wire mesh, white stucco cement – and 91 years of love, thanks to countless caretakers and visitors. The duck’s red eyes are from the taillights of a Ford Model T.
This was the Great Depression, and it paid to be practical.
To say that the Great Duck remains a popular tourist destination doesn’t do it justice. A visit to the Big Duck isn’t just a stop on a vacation itinerary or a detour during a weekend getaway to the Hamptons. The trail to Big Duck on Long Island’s East End requires quite a bit of effort. It’s a pilgrimage, something people do because they hear about it and choose to experience it themselves.
The Big Duck was made for bucket lists.
So a couple and their daughter recently told ABC’s Localish while viewing the splendor of the Big Duck on Route 24 in Flanders, New York. They had seen it in a book years ago, and now they finally saw it in person.
The Big Duck is a holdover from a time when there were dozens of duck farms in the East End.
There’s only one left today, and that’s not the Big Duck. The only ducks sold off the cuff these days are souvenirs, but the Big Duck’s main attraction has long been its cheery architecture.
Visitors to the Big Duck are likely to bump into Janice Jay Young, but she’s not just ringing the till with a t-shirt and mug. Young has an encyclopedic knowledge of the Big Duck and is one of their proudest patrons. As visitors come in, and they seep in from near and far all day, she has a condensed but compelling history of the Big Duck ready.
She tells of the Maurer family, who had the courage to build the duck. She will talk about how this migratory Pekin, who first settled in nearby Riverhead, moved a number of times over the years before finally settling, presumably forever, back in his longtime home of Flanders, at Big Duck Ranch, has nested. She will talk about the campaign in the 1980s to save her after the duck farm closed.
She points to a collage on the wall with dozens of photos, postcards, and articles about other examples of programmatic architecture—those big coffee pots, big tea kettles, big fish, big ketchup bottles that popped up across America decades ago, when we were travelling, and air travel was pure fantasy – or was still just flights of fancy.
Richard Martin, director of historical services at the Suffolk County Parks Department, explains that the term “duck” is stuck to describe this type of architecture – buildings designed to look like the product they sell in hoping to lure motorists off the road into spending a few bucks and maybe taking a picture or two.
As the duck’s owner, Suffolk County is tasked with taking care of it with the help of Friends of the Big Duck. The land the duck is sitting on belongs to the City of Southampton and is protected from development. People can visit the duck and surrounding ranch forever.
Young said the duck means so much more to the locals here in Flanders. In this hamlet, The Big Duck is the center of their community.
“Flanders is something of a no man’s land. You know we’re the western part of Southampton Town. And sometimes we just feel a bit forgotten here. So there is no bank, no post office, no zip code. You know, we don’t actually have a grocery store,” Young explains.
Flanders has something that no one else has, she stresses.
“We have a big duck.”
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https://6abc.com/big-duck-road-trip-quirky-trips-long-island-travel-ideas/12291969/ The Big Duck enjoys top billing as a quirky roadside attraction