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In the belly of the beast: A trip inside the world’s largest rubber duck

DULUTH, Minn. -- Larry Friedman of Oyster Bay, N.Y., whistled and quacked inside the giant yellow duck with a big, childish grin on his face, imagining how people might be reacting on the other side of the thin vinyl rubber.

DULUTH, Minn. -- Larry Friedman of Oyster Bay, N.Y., whistled and quacked inside the giant yellow duck with a big, childish grin on his face, imagining how people might be reacting on the other side of the thin vinyl rubber.

A pair of tiny hands indented the side of the duck, under its right wing.

“Don’t touch!” Friedman yelled. The hands disappeared.

“It’s unlike anything you’ve ever seen before,” Friedman said Friday of being inside the mammoth inflatable rubber duck, known as “Mama Duck.” “It gets hot, though.”

The inside of the duck, which graced the Duluth-Superior harbor on Thursday for the opening of Tall Ships Duluth, and now is set up on land at Bayfront Festival Park through the weekend, looked like a big yellow bouncy house.

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It felt about 90 degrees inside, give or take a few degrees, and humid.

The point of entrance was a six-foot zipper in the duck’s rear end (cue snickers and jokes here). Inside the belly of Mama Duck the world was tinted yellow, like peering through a pair of colored sunglasses. Looking 61 feet up from the base of the duck’s belly to the top of its head made one feel like they were shrinking, Alice-in-Wonderland style.

The backs of the duck’s eyes peered down at every angle. The inside of its orange bill had curtains of thin rubber vinyl, designed to divide airflow in the mouth.

A long tube stretched toward the middle of the duck’s floor, delivering vital air for full inflation. The base of the duck is comprised of pontoons, pulled together by a wooden deck. The inside walls of Mama Duck are tethered to shackles on that base.

“If the wind starts picking up, we can keep the duck stable,” Friedman said.

Marc Burr, who has been one of the duck’s keepers since the beginning, said he wants to throw a cocktail party inside the rubber duck - complete with duck-themed aperitif.

“Wouldn’t that be fun?” he said.

Burr said workers have to be inside the duck tugging on the walls when it inflates to help distribute air. Full inflation usually takes about three hours and the rear end inflates first, he said.

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“You have all that vinyl you have to keep moving so the air can get to it,” Burr said.

Burr predicted the duck keepers will add new elements as Mama Duck continues to be a spectacle at tall ship festivals and other events across the country. One of these new elements could be a battery-powered quacking machine, Burr said, replacing Friedman’s unofficial side job as the jokester quacker.

“It’s really a new novelty,” Burr said of the duck.

After exiting the tropical interior of the duck in the same odd way as it was entered, through that six-foot zipper on its backside, the cool Lake Superior breeze was a blessing.

Crowds of festival-goers crowded around the duck to marvel at its size, and take selfies.

It had been easy to forget, inside the belly of the duck, that it was sitting on the edge of the harbor at the heart of one of the biggest festivals in Duluth’s history.

“I think it looks so much bigger from the inside,” Burr said. “You just get this whole different perspective.”

Related Topics: LAKE SUPERIORCANAL PARK
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