40-foot rubber duck arrives in Pittsburgh

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Thousands of people line both sides of the Allegheny River as a version of Dutch artist Florentijn Hofman giant “Rubber Duckie” is towed past PNC Park for its debut in Pittsburgh on Friday, Sept. 27, 2013. Pittsburgh’s duck is the first “Made-in-the-USA” version of the Dutch artists creation. The ducks arrival kicks off the month-long Pittsburgh International Festival of Firsts, which features theater, dance, music and visual arts from around the world. After the opening night the duck will be moored downtown until Oct. 20, 2013. (AP Photo/Keith Srakocic)

 

PITTSBURGH (AP) — One big duck has taken up residence in Pittsburgh’s three rivers.

A 40-foot-tall inflatable duck floated down the Ohio River Friday to mark the opening of an arts festival.

The duck was inflated about five miles north of Pittsburgh and was towed to the confluence of the Allegheny, Ohio and Monongahela rivers.

The weather was just ducky for its arrival, with temperatures in the low 70s and a light breeze. A few dozen small boats turned out to greet the duck, and crowds gathered on a nearby river walk.

The duck is the idea of Dutch artist Florentijn Hofman. Various versions have made a splash in harbors from Hong Kong to Sao Paulo since 2007.

The duck’s arrival marks the start of the Pittsburgh International Festival of Firsts — and is the first time one of the ducks has been bobbed in U.S. waters.

Each city builds its own duck, and the whole project includes massive pontoons, crews to inflate and deflate the duck, and in Pittsburgh, alerting the Coast Guard to the unusual maritime creation.

Pittsburgh’s duck will be moored near the city’s two major league sports stadiums until late October.

Hofman has said the duck has “healing properties” because it knows no frontiers, doesn’t discriminate and doesn’t have a political connotation.

Mariners were alerted to the duck’s impending presence, Coast Guard Lt. JG Devin Adams said, because the shipping channel of the Ohio River is one of the nation’s busiest commercial waterways, including huge barges carrying coal and other materials.

“Our job at that point is to alert the maritime community … that there’s going to be a duck there,” Adams said, stifling a chuckle.

The project began when Paul Organisak of the Pittsburgh Cultural Trust saw pictures of other duck events and sought Hofman’s approval for the first U.S. duckie. But even after agreement was reached, Organisak was in for some surprises about its creation.

“I just thought you blow up the duck and put it in the water,” he said, but in fact there’s been a secret months-long construction process, including 14,000-pound pontoons.

As word of the duck’s arrival spread, boaters asked if they could be in a procession as it travels to its downtown mooring, Organisak said.

The answer was no.

“We really want a buffer around the duck,” Organisak said, and the artist doesn’t allow corporate sponsors.

Such issues led to one spat.

Joe Wos, the founder of the downtown cartoon museum ToonSeum, celebrated the duck’s pending arrival by creating a T-shirt with a duck image and the words “Quack N’At,” a play on the popular Pittsburgh slang for “and that.”

Wos received a cease-and-desist order from the Cultural Trust.

“It definitely surprised me quite a bit. It was shocking,” Wos said. “Rubber ducks have been around for almost 100 years.”

Wos says he refused to “quack down” and has kept selling the shirts, which also relate to a pop-up rubber duck exhibit at the ToonSeum.

The Cultural Trust is also selling official duck T-shirts, as well as magnets, buttons and baseball hats.

Wos said he has no hard feelings. “It’s a big yellow rubber duck. You’ve got to have a sense of humor about a thing like this, or you’re missing the point.”

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Follow Kevin Begos at https://twitter.com/kbegos
  

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