A summer visit to the Big Duck

When we decided to visit Long Island this summer, we did our research. My sister Maureen found an ice cream parlor her children wanted to try.

My husband wanted to stop by Sag Harbor.

I had only one wish. I wanted to go to the Big Duck.

“What’s at the Big Duck?” one of the children asked.

“It’s a big duck!” I said. “It’s huge! It’s as big as a building. We can take pictures with it, and you can go inside.”

If anyone groaned, I chose not to hear.

It was obvious to me that if you were within 20 minutes of the Big Duck, you would go. Years ago, during summer road trips from Baltimore to Minnesota to visit my grandmother, my father would happily take us out of the way a few miles to find enormous cow statues in Wisconsin. That was before GPS made these trips so easy. Here we had a voice in our car just waiting to narrate our journey to an enormous duck.

Somehow no one seemed quite as excited as I was. Most of the crew ranged from mildly interested to somewhat disgruntled. But as we arrived in town the first day, we had some time to kill before we could get the key to our rental.

So, off we went to find the Duck.

As it turned out, just the search itself got people excited. As you get closer to the Big Duck, you see signs for the town with a picture of the Big Duck. You realize that this is not just some random thing your mom/aunt decided would be interesting. It’s a big deal. A Big Duck deal, in fact.

Then there it was—“Your destination will be on the right”—standing beside a main two-lane road. The Big Duck. Real and regal.

Even those who might have been skeptical about this experience were suddenly completely on board. We pulled into a parking lot that could hold maybe a half-dozen cars at most, and everyone bounded out of the car to explore the property.

Basically, there is the Big Duck, a sign that says there’s a Big Duck, a bench labeled for Friends of the Big Duck, a wishing well, and a restroom facility.

You can’t stop by the Big Duck without being excited to be there. It’s a piece of local history—originally built to bring attention to a duck farm that was, in fact, started with a group of ducks from China. Duck farming is apparently an important part of Long Island history, and the Big Duck was built to advertise the ducks. The Big Duck structure itself is kitschy and cute and fun.

The Big Duck by its very nature seems enormous. But when you step through the door to enter the belly of the duck, it feels anything but large. There’s a man sitting inside reminding you—with a phrase he’s probably used a thousand times today—to close the door behind you.

There are photos of the Big Duck from throughout the years and a flyer advertising rubber ducky races scheduled for August.

There’s a sign that says the Big Duck accepts credit cards, which is a relief, of course, because the belly of the Big Duck is a duck-abilia shop. There are postcards and T-shirts and rubber duckies and a Big Duck trivet and other duck items you find yourself longing to own.

There’s even a low-hanging part of the Duck visible through the back door that is labeled, “Duck! Duck! Duck!” That was one of my favorite parts.

Because the Big Duck is such a big deal, I let each of our boys choose a small duck item to commemorate our visit.

One picked a duck call, and the other selected a tiny duck in a bottle. And I bought postcards—but not nearly enough, so I had to go back a few days later for more and for T-shirts for two of our youngest nieces. On that visit my nieces and I shared the belly of the Duck with a group of people visiting from Colorado.

I’m not saying you should drive from Colorado to see the Big Duck, but I’m also not saying you shouldn’t.


Rita Buettner

Rita Buettner

Rita Buettner is a wife, working mother and author of the Catholic Review's Open Window blog. She and her husband adopted their two sons from China, and Rita often writes about topics concerning adoption, family and faith.

Rita also writes The Domestic Church, a featured column in the Catholic Review. Her writing has been honored by the Catholic Press Association, the Maryland-Delaware-D.C. Press Association and the Associated Church Press.