Big Duck Provides Big Tale on the Power of Civic Engagement

Rose Nigro with "A Duck's Tale"
Rose Nigro with “A Duck’s Tail” inside The Big Duck

The people of Flanders are a feisty bunch, and there’s nothing they love better than The Big Duck, the giant roadside former duck farm stand that pays tribute to the halcyon days of an iconic Long Island industry.

Straddling the Big Duck Ranch on the edge of Reeves Bay, the Duck has benefitted in the past few years from new landscaping, a public restroom and a completely reconstructed barn that now serves as an exhibit on the history of the Long Island duck industry.

But it wasn’t really all that long ago that The Big Duck was sitting lonely by the roadside in Hampton Bays, near the former state police barracks near Bellows Pond Road.

The duck’s voyage back home to Flanders is the subject of Flanders resident Rose Nigro’s first children’s book, “A Duck’s Tail,” released in April.

Ms. Nigro is making the rounds of storytimes for youngsters in the upcoming weeks. She’ll be reading at The Big Duck next Thursday, Sept. 17 at 4 p.m. and at the Quogue Wildlife Refuge on Oct. 3 at 2 p.m.

The reading at The Big Duck was originally scheduled for Sept. 10 but was rescheduled due to rain.

Ms. Nigro, a painter who also owns a medical answering service, hadn’t done any writing for children before she began work on “A Duck’s Tail.” But when the Duck was moved back to Flanders in 2007, she began to write the story of its trip home, in verse that makes for the perfect bedtime story.

It came at the perfect time in her life, too. She’d just become a grandmother and wanted to share a great civics lesson with her grandchildren.

“The movement to bring the duck back was a very inspirational thing — people getting together and getting the government to do what they want,” she said at a visit to the Duck over Labor Day weekend.

Big Duck in Hampton Bays
The Big Duck wasn’t happy alone by the side of the highway in Hampton Bays | Tom John illustration from “A Duck’s Tail”

She remembers former Southampton Town Supervisor Patrick “Skip” Heaney saying, throughout the saga of the Duck’s move to Hampton Bays and back, that “when the people lead, the leaders will follow.”

She used that quote as inspiration for a story that became an uplifting civics lesson.

“A lot of people complain, but if you’re not part of the solution, you’re part of the problem,” she said. “I feel squeaky wheels are very important.”

Ms. Nigro was looking for an illustrator, and it just happened that her electrician knew an illustrator in New York City whom he thought would be perfect for the job. That sort of connection happens pretty often in Flanders.

“Tom John did the illustrations. He used to work on Broadway and did set decorations for Barbra Streisand’s TV specials,” said Ms. Nigro. “He’s an amazing man. He read the story and presented it in a way that’s quirky and different from what you usually see.”

But, she found out after working with Mr. John for a bit, he didn’t know that the story of the Big Duck was actually true.

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Beth Young

Beth Young has been covering the East End since the 1990s. In her spare time, she runs around the block, tinkers with bicycles, tries not to drown in the Peconic Bay and hopes to grow the perfect tomato. You can send her a message at editor@eastendbeacon.com

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