The Big Duck
Flanders, New York
The people of Long Island love the Big Duck -- or so we're told. The odd-shaped building, on the eastern end near the Hamptons, is one of the few good examples of roadside architecture within easy driving distance of New York City (next closest is Lucy the Elephant, down in Margate, New Jersey). Hence all the attention the Duck gets in any book or article written about wacky structures along America's highways.
In 1931, Riverhead duck farmer Martin Maurer built this 20-ft. tall, 30-ft. long eye-catcher using concrete (technically, "ferrocement") applied over a wooden frame. Taillights from a Model T Ford became its eyes, glowing red at night. Maurer sold ducks and eggs from the shop in its belly.
Maurer drew his inspiration from odd structures he had seen in California, especially a building shaped like a giant coffee pot. Shrewdly, Maurer patented his fowl creation, and the Duck became the darling of locals and travelers. This may explain why, in the world of architecture, any building shaped like its product is referred to as a "duck." Not a "coffeepot."
Maurer is long dead, and the Big Duck has shifted locale a few times. When the land was earmarked for development, giant duck preservationists and the Friends for Long Island's Heritage campaigned to save it. The owners donated the Big Duck to Suffolk County in 1987. In 1988 it moved from Flanders to Hampton Bays along Route 24 at the entrance of Sears-Bellow County Park. By 2007 it was clear that the original land would not be developed, so the Big Duck was moved four miles back to its original spot.
The shop still operates -- now as a tourism center for the East end of Long Island, selling duck souvenirs to flocks of city weekend-trippers. There's occasionally been talk of opening a Duck Museum or even a Duck Farm as a companion attraction, but the Big Duck itself remains a steady draw.
Each year, (the first Wednesday in December) the Suffolk County Parks Department sponsors the Annual Holiday Lighting of the Big Duck. Local school children sing "Duck" carols, and warm refreshments including hot chocolate, cookies and doughnuts are served. Visitors join in singing the duck carols while awaiting the arrival of Santa Claus, transported by the Flanders Fire Department. Once Santa arrives, the switch is flipped and the Big Duck lights up for all to see.