Caroline Doctorow, a resident of Bridgehampton, has established herself as a major figure on the acoustic music scene, touring the east coast as well as co-hosting the syndicated folk radio show, “The Song Trails Radio Hour.” She has six albums to her credit with her most recent, "Another Country," interpreting the songs of Richard and Mimi Farina. She shares with LIHJ readers this song (along with her written explanation below) inspired by a popular east end landmark:
If you are driving along Route 24 in the Long Island hamlet of Flanders, you may be surprised to see, on the side of this busy road, a building in the shape of a very realistic duck. This remarkable roadside attraction, known to residents as The Big Duck, is a world-famous example of American vernacular architecture. Constructed of steel-reinforced concrete on a wooden frame, the duck stands thirty feet long and measures twenty feet high to the top of the head. The Big Duck’s eyes are made of Ford Model T tail lights, a fact which brings much joy to visiting children.
Flanders and the surrounding vicinity was once at the center of Long Island's duck industry. In 1931, Martin Maurer, a duck farmer, came up with the idea of constructing a duck- shaped building that would house his poultry store while also attracting customers to his Riverhead duck farm where he sold ducks and duck eggs.
Wisely enlisting the Collins Brothers, a Broadway set designing team, farmer Maurer found them happy to join in the enterprise. Using their cleverly-scaled plans, he painstakingly built his Big Duck with the help of three local men: George Reeve, John Smith and Merlin Yeager.
Maurer’s oversized duck did attract customers to his product and his Big Duck store remained in business until 1984. By that time, the day of the Long Island duck farms had passed, but the remarkable structure had survived to become a beloved landmark. Suffolk County purchased the duck in 1988 and it has been moved several times to its current location on “The Big Duck Ranch,” overlooking Reeves Bay. When you walk through the door today, you will find a museum and a gift shop displaying books, crafts, and photographs all depicting the history of Long Island duck farming industry and The Big Duck.
The Big Duck was added to the registry of historic places in 1997. As a final testament to Maurer and his roadside creation’s everlasting appeal, the term “Duck” is now used to describe all buildings designed to simulate what is sold inside them.
Finally, a note about the song: “Big Duck Ramble” was written to honor this much-loved landmark with perhaps its first ever folk song. I came up with this idea when asked to perform in a benefit concert, "The Big Duck Bluegrass and Country Music Festival,” held on the grounds of The Big Duck Ranch in Flanders. While the song was written with this event in mind, “Big Duck Ramble” has now become the first in a series of songs I am writing that are very specific to events and places where I will be performing. I have written two additional songs for this series, one for the town of Northport which was once home to Jack Kerouac and another about a historic building in Springs called Ashawagh Hall. All of these songs were recorded at Narrow Lane Recording Studios, housed in Bridgehampton, with the help of producer and renowned multi-instrumentalist Pete Kennedy.