We’ve traveled New England and a bit beyond, seeking bizarre sights, one of a kind monuments, strange museums, and odd roadside structures — everything out of the ordinary. After all, uncommon relics make riveting stories. Our wacky adventures began with a trip to see a duck. A really big duck.
While driving around the east end of Long Island, I remember a strange building I’d once driven past, and take a chance that we’ll find it open. Flanders, NY is home to the “Big Duck.” Built in 1931, the Big Duck was designed by Martin Maurer as a shop to sell his Pekin ducks and eggs. Standing 20 feet tall by 30 feet long, the wood and concrete structure casts long shadows across land once used as Maurer’s farm. The duck moved a couple of times over its life, from Flanders to Riverhead and back to Flanders, where it now rests on the Big Duck Ranch. Although we don’t see any ducks wandering the farm, we do see a few geese and the beautiful farmlands behind.
So what happens when you see a duck this big? If you’re Tim, you are struck by Mighty Ducks Phenomenon: you clap and say, Quack, Quack, Quack, louder and faster each time. As for me, I imagine what else waits around the corner, lost on forgotten roads, waiting to be discovered once more. And then I quack too.
Inside the small museum shop, we are greeted by the Duck Historian, a lovely woman who shares not only the duck’s history, but its contribution to architecture. Let face it, all I’m thinking at the moment is, I’m standing inside a giant duck. But our Historian teaches us about mimetic architecture, also called “Duck Architecture,” after the Big Duck, which refers to any building that is shaped like the product it sells, or the history it preserves. We absorb the tiny room. We are standing inside the duck that sprouted a countrywide trend. Our Historian informs us that Maurer obtained the idea for his Big Duck during a trip to California, where he fell in love with a coffeepot-shaped coffee shop. In the post-depression economy, Maurer wanted an idea to attract passersby to his duck farm, and what better way to do so than build a giant duck? He built a replica Pekin, patented the idea, and the rest is history.
The walls inside the duck are lined with photos of Duck Architecture, and old maps red-lined with trips of the past. One faded photograph of Lucy the Elephant stands out. Though I’ve been there before, I can’t wait to go back. We listen to tales of the interstate highway expansion, America’s changing culture after the Great Depression, and the formation of Route 66 stops, all from inside the belly of a Pekin Duck. Where else can you get a history lesson from inside a farm animal?
Once in disrepair and scheduled for demolition, the duck was saved by a local non-profit organization, Friends of the Big Duck, and entered into the National Register of Historic Places. Today, visitors to the Big Duck can view the small museum and purchase Duck-A-Bilia in the form of T-Shirts, rubber ducks, post cards, and more!
Find the Big Duck:
Coming Soon to Roadsight Relics: A Tale of 12 Windmills, Hand Me the World, Gorilla My Volkswagen, and more!