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The Big Duck, a curious vestige of Long Island’s past duck-raising industry

The Big Duck, Flanders, New York
The Big Duck, Flanders, New York
Ilene Courland

Long Island, New York used to be famous for its duck farms. Since the end of WWII, Long Island duck farming has gone the way of the Long Island potato, as high land values encouraged farmers to sell their acreage to real estate developers. Little else remains of the Long Island duck industry besides the Minor League baseball team, The Long Island Ducks, and a roadside oddity called The Big Duck.

The Big Duck is currently perched in Flanders, New York, about two hours east of New York City in Suffolk County, New York.

The Big Duck has been charming visitors with its natural “duckyness” since it opened as a retail store in 1931. Over the years, The Big Duck has become internationally famous, and it’s now one of the major tourist draws of Long Island’s North Fork. Every year, thousands of Duck fans visiting Long Island’s South Shore (less commonly called the “South Fork”) take a detour from the beaches and nightclub scene of the Hamptons to make a pilgrimage to The Big Duck.

The Big Duck is prime example of Americana and literalism in advertising. It was originally built as a shop to help local farmer Martin Maurer sell ducks and duck eggs.

Originally, the shop was located on a busy main street in the town of Riverhead, New York. Typical of advertising literalism, The Big Duck was constructed to be arresting to passersby. The size and whimsical design were meant to encourage motorists rolling through Riverhead to stop, step inside this peculiar structure and hopefully buy something.

The Big Duck is a fragile structure of painted concrete and mesh webbing that requires constant TLC. It’s 20’ tall and 30’ long, and has eyes made of genuine Ford Model T fender lights. When you step into the building, you’ll find a retail store lined with Duck-themed tchotchkes available for purchase. Proceeds go towards maintaining The Big Duck.

The Big Duck was acquired by Suffolk County in 1988, and added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1997. Staffing is paid for, and the building is maintained as a museum, by Suffolk County. A nonprofit organization called Friends of the Big Duck organizes Duck events, and the group is dedicated towards The Big Duck’s preservation.

The Big Duck has been moved several times over the years. It’s currently located on Route 24, across from Sears-Bellow County Park. Officially, The Big Duck is open all year, every day, although availability is greater in the summer months. Call in advance to confirm opening times.

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