Giant duck's arrival paints Pittsburgh quack and yellow

Forget the Pirate Parrot and the Pittsburgh Penguin. One big bird is painting the town quack and yellow.


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The Giant Rubber Duck's fans were not disappointed.

Those fans -- gathered on the Clemente Bridge and the Riverwalk and the steps of Point State Park by twos and threes, and then dozens and hundreds -- numbered in the many thousands of people all packed together and squinting downriver into the sun on Friday afternoon to await its arrival.

And then, just as the tempers of hot children and harried mothers began to fray, bored teenagers returned their attention to their smartphones and grandparents began looking for a place to sit down, a flash of graceful yellow floated into view from around a bend in the river.

"There it is!" "Look, there it is!" "It's here!" people shouted, nudging their friends and pointing downstream. And then, laughing and cheering and clapping and capturing videos on their phones, they watched entranced as the 40-foot-tall, 30-foot-wide rubber duck and its placid smile drew closer.

Alex Bouchard, a freshman at nearby Pittsburgh CAPA who had come to the Clemente Bridge with a friend, was exultant at the sight.

"I've been, like, waiting all day for this," he said with a grin. "You don't understand."

What made him so excited to see it?

"I mean, it's a giant rubber duck," he said, explaining the obvious without a trace of sarcasm. "It's just so cool."

The giant duck, a unique creation built slightly shorter than usual by Dutch artist Florentijn Hofman so it could fit beneath Pittsburgh's bridges, is the first to appear in the United States after similar creatures have created an international sensation in France, Australia, Japan, Brazil and five other countries since 2007. In Asia, Europe, Australia and South America, the rubber duck has drawn hundreds of thousands of visitors and has become so popular that it even has its own Facebook page and Twitter account.

In Pittsburgh, the duck's arrival began with the arrival of its frame Tuesday, followed by the duck himself Wednesday, at a remote part of the Alcosan property on the Ohio River, said Alcosan spokeswoman Nancy Barylak. The duck's yellow plastic was covered with a silver tarp in plain view of the McKees Rocks Bridge -- "some of the employees nicknamed it Area 51, because it truly did look like an alien spaceship," Ms. Barylak said -- but only a handful of people knew the happy secret that lay beneath.

At about noon on Friday, the rubber duck was inflated with cold air from a fan and generator. It was then towed on a pontoon from the West End up the Ohio River and the Allegheny River. The rubber duck's arrival marks the start of Pittsburgh Cultural Trust's Pittsburgh International Festival of Firsts, which runs through Oct. 26. Beginning today, the duck will be moored on the Allegheny near the Point through Oct. 20.

The sight of the cheering crowds was an amazing experience, said Ms. Barylak, who rode in one of the boats towing the duck.

"There might be frustration with your day-to-day job and sadness and tragedy in the news, with all these standoffs lately," she said. "This was something happy everybody can rally around."

Up on the bridge on Friday, many fans watched in amused wonder at the sight of the Allegheny becoming a giant bathtub between the city's bridges.

Melissa Ansell of Scott said her 2-year-old daughter, Ashlyn, had been asking to see the duck in person since being shown it on the computer recently.

"I love it," Mrs. Ansell, 31, said as she watched her daughter wave to duck as it was towed past the bridge. "She's been talking about it all day."

Nearby, 32-year-old Jason Ansell quietly studied the duck before him.

"It's different, it's cool -- I'd like to jump down on it," he said, as an Alcosan boat pulled the duck past. "Bounce on it."

Nearby, 38-year-old Jennifer Baldauf could only shake her head and laugh.

"Pittsburgh is crazy, our city is crazy," said Ms. Baldauf, of Bradford Woods. "We're a bunch of quacks."

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Amy McConnell Schaarsmith: aschaarsmith@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1719. First Published September 28, 2013 4:00 AM


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