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The Big Duck turns 90, and out east, that's something to quack about

Ann Coppola, dressed as "Mother Goose," helps celebrate

Ann Coppola, dressed as "Mother Goose," helps celebrate the Big Duck's wingding Saturday in Flanders. Credit: John Roca

With games, tours and other fun events, the 90th birthday of Flanders’ famous "Big Duck" Saturday had plenty that fit the bill.

The Big Duck, built in 1931 by Riverhead duck farmer Martin Maurer, turns 90 years old this year, and people from across Long Island came Saturday to its Flanders Road home to celebrate its birthday and reopening since the COVID-19 pandemic forced it to close in March of last year.

Friends of the Big Duck, a Flanders nonprofit organization, celebrated the duck-shaped structure's birthday with a ceremony attended by local, Suffolk County and state officials and capped the day with games, raffles, tours inside and more.

Neil Young, 59, president of Friends of the Big Duck, said the day’s events made the long hours that volunteers spent preparing for the reopening worthwhile.

"It took a lot of string-pulling to get the duck to be open on this date. That was no minor feat," Young said. "We had a lot of duck enthusiasts here, and that’s always a great thing."

Kyle Butler, 23, a self-described "big fan" of the Big Duck, drove all the way out east from his home in Wantagh with two of his friends simply to see it.

Butler had visited the landmark when he was 7. While he did not recall much of that, he felt it was important to remember the history the duck represented — of a time when duck farming was a staple on Long Island.

"It’s a big part of Long Island history," Butler said. "It’s duck farming on Long Island, and it’s not really known to a lot of people. I told our friends about it, and I’d say half of them don’t even know what [the Big Duck] was, and I think it’s important to remember this kind of stuff."

In its early days, the 20-foot-tall, concrete duck was a shop where the Maurers sold ducks to passersby in Riverhead. It was first moved to Flanders in 1937. Then in 1988, it was moved to Hampton Bays, along Route 24, to protect it from potentially being torn down after the Flanders property that housed it faced possible development. However, the duck returned to its Flanders Road home in 2007 after it became clear the land would not be developed.

Vince Taldone, president of the Flanders, Riverside and Northampton Community Association, told Newsday the duck holds a special place in the hearts of Flanders residents as a symbol of who they are.

"That’s our landmark to the world. It’s our identity; we’re all proud of it, that’s why we went through so much to get it moved back to this spot," Taldone said. "That’s our history, and we want to save some of it to teach future generations. History matters, so we want to keep as much of it as is left."

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