Even a pandemic can't quack Seattle's Wedgwood duck displays
It was quite a bizarre sight, even for Robert McFerrin's yard. Walking out his front door, he spotted a small flying saucer, piloted by rubber duckies, hovering above his lawn ornaments, preparing to take them away.
It was ... an abducktion.
"We looked out there and said, 'Uh oh, our ducks are being abducted!'" Robert recalled.
For other front yards, this would have been an unexpected scene. But it's become par for the course when it comes to the McFerrins' home.
"It's just a little something different in the neighborhood," Robert said. "You know, you walk around and one house might be known for their flowers and others for their roses. And our house, we're known for our ducks."
The UFO incident was the start of a neighborhood tradition. Since about 2011, Robert and his wife LaFaye have been creating displays using rubber duckies in their front yard, located in a corner of Seattle's Wedgwood neighborhood. But over the pandemic, the ducks garnered even more attention than usual. People took more neighborhood walks and sought outside interactions. The ducks were always there for them.
"They write thank you notes and they say 'This is our destination every time we take a walk with our grandkids,'" LaFaye said. "I think we've got more thank you cards this year than before."
During pandemic lockdowns, Wedgwood neighbors organized a local art walk with houses featuring framed art; frequently kept fresh with new works. There was also a Joy Board where locals posted jokes and words of encouragement during the difficult time.
And the McFerrins continued to put their many rubber duckies on display. There was a baseball scene during the Mariners' season (first responder ducks got front row seats). The duckies had their own little bus for back-to-school time. They've dressed in purple for a duck-sized UW graduation ceremony. They celebrate 12 duck days of Christmas (one of Robert's favorite displays). And recently, on March 17, a Saint Patrick duck led snakes out of the yard.
The pandemic didn't prompt the duck displays. But over 2020, they became something outside of the pandemic; something to look forward to, while people were seeking relief outdoors.
"There are a lot of people staying at home and they're walking around the neighborhood," Robert said. "Especially last year, in the earlier months of the of the pandemic, I think we saw a lot more people coming by just look at the ducks."
How the legend of the rubber duckies of Wedgewood hatched
It started with a canoe ride on the Skagit River Delta.
"There's a lot of duck hunting out there," Robert said. "Occasionally, we would find these duck decoys and we would bring those home ... we would just put them in the front yard."
The duck decoys took part in Christmas decorations over the years. But then unknown neighbors began having their own fun, starting with the UFO scene.
"One Easter, we had these plastic eggs underneath them, it looked like they were sitting on eggs. And then a neighbor came over there and broke open and all those plastic eggs and put little rubber ducks down and it made it look like they'd hatched."
It grew from there with timely displays. The McFerrins' yard became Wedgwood famous. A neighbor started a Facebook fan page for the ducks.
“Many people will stop and take the picture and say ‘I'm sending this to so-and-so in Utah. I'm sending this to so-and-so in New York,’” LaFaye said.
Over time, the McFerrins' front porch has evolved into a refuge for orphaned rubber duckies.
"They come," Robert said. "I mean, they come constantly. We'll get a little bag out on the porch. And there'll be a note saying, 'Can we come live with you?' We'll go out there and look and see, 'Oh, OK, there's a new one and there's a new one."
Recently, the McFerrins received a package from Ireland, filled with rubber duckies. They don't know who sent them.
"Yes, they they fly in, and I suspect some fly away, but but we have plenty," Robert said.
What started with a couple discarded duck decoys has now grown into a collection of more than 2,000 rubber ducks. The McFerrins have never purchased a single one. They have plenty of the classic yellow variety. But rubber ducks are akin to bobbleheads with a range of characters. They have a Jimi Hendrix duck, an Elvis duck, a few devil ducks, even an Ichiro Suzuki duck. Someone once dropped off Queen Elizabeth II, too.
"It actually came from the (London) gift shop," Robert said. "So then it was time for the Summer Olympics in London ... we sort of designed everything around her. We built a little model of Big Ben, had a little balcony with Queen Elizabeth out there ruling over the Olympics."
And they have been known to do custom jobs.
"One suggestion came from a young girl, and she must have been maybe fifth-grade," Robert recalled. "... And she said, for Halloween, 'I'd like to see a skull bus and fill it full of zombies.' So I said, 'OK, we can do that.' And so we made a bus and painted it white and got some of the ducks and painted them to look bloody and zombie-like and built that."
At this point, while the McFerrins are grateful for the support, they feel they have enough ducks on hand. They always welcome the onlookers, however, and the messages some leave behind.
"This one right here has a drawing, a nice little rubber duck, and it says 'I love your rubber ducky decorations. Seeing them makes me happy,'" Robert read. "Here's one, 'I love your ducks. Thank you for sharing your duck displays.' That was from a three year old. Here's some more, 'We are grateful for the joy you bring to the neighborhood.'"