On the East End of Long Island, we are blessed with beaches, vineyards and a 30-foot concrete duck. Locals and visitors alike welcome any opportunity to celebrate and support the iconic roadside attraction—such as this Sunday’s Autumn Antique Auto Show.
The Big Duck has been a Long Island landmark since 1931, when Riverhead duck farmer Martin Maurer came up with the idea to build a duck-shaped building to entice passing motorists to come in and buy his ducks and duck eggs. Supposedly, the story goes, Maurer found inspiration on a trip to California, when he and his wife stopped at a coffee shop that was shaped like a coffeepot. Maurer enlisted local carpenter George Reeve and two theatrical set designers, brothers William and Samuel Collins, to design the duck-shaped shop in the image of the snowy white Pekin ducks being raised all over Long Island, and the rest is architectural history.
More than 80 years later, the Big Duck remains as eye-catching as ever, although the wares have gone from ducks to “duck-abilia,” duck-themed souvenirs by which guests can remember their visit (although it’s hard to imagine how anybody could forget a monster duck with glowing red eyes). The famed fowl locale is also paying homage to its agricultural past. The Long Island Duck Farming Exhibit in the Victorian Barn showcases equipment, photos and related items that document the history of the Long Island duck farming industry, which was once a tremendous part of Long Island’s economy.
At Christmastime, the duck famously sports a stylish muffler of twinkling lights around its neck, but the Friends of the Big Duck are not ones to rush through autumn too quickly, so they are celebrating the current season with their sixth annual Autumn Antique Auto Show.
The event raises funds to keep the King Kong of duckdom in tip-top shape and to maintain the surrounding 37.5-acre park, drawing a crowd of car enthusiasts and other revelers happy to support the cause. “We have a faithful following,” event chair Neil Young notes.
Last year, 100 cars, a showcase of classics from Model A to Mustang, rolled into Flanders to help the Big Duck (which has Model T taillights for eyes). The antique cars, all 25 years or older, range from trucks, roadsters and police cruisers to 1950s classics with fins like a great white, and bring out fans young and old. “It’s family entertainment,” says Young, who admits to being a car guy himself. His own set of wheels is a ’94 Caprice Classic, with 100,000 miles on it. “Not quite an antique,” he admits.
For kids with Halloween on the brain, there will also be decorated pumpkins, Halloween-themed face painting and treats from various vendors. To keep everyone groovin’, music will be provided by Vinnie V, and a number of prizes will be raffled off. Even the cars will get a chance to win, as guests in attendance can vote for their favorite car to take home a People’s Choice Award.
The Big Duck stands as a monument to the legacy of the Long Island duck farming industry, and the ingenuity— not to mention eccentricity—of one particular local duck farmer. Although the Long Island duck industry has waned, the popularity of the Big Duck continues to grow.
Autumn Antique Auto Show at the Big Duck Ranch is at 655 Flanders Road in Flanders this Sunday, October 19 from 9 a.m.–4 p.m. You can enter your own vintage ride for $20, or just come and enjoy the show for $5. Kids 12 and under, accompanied by an adult, are free.
The Long Island Duck Farming Exhibit is open to the public on Saturday, October 18, beginning at 11 a.m. For information on how to show your car or to learn more about Friends of the Big Duck, visit bigduck.org.