The Shaggy Big Duck Story

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

The Shaggy Big Duck Story

A terrible typo, possibly the most horrendous in the his­tory of Eastern Long Island publish­ing, occurred on the front page of the January 6, 1982 Suffolk Life, and since the East End's most celebrated landmark has been in the news again, it's appropriate to revisit that notorious event.

My friend and one-time neighbor Gertrude O'Connell has a terrific sense of humor, but she is also very proper and lady-like! She called me one afternoon 26 years ago to ask if I was doing the typesetting for Dave Willmott's weekly shopper. Having no idea of what she was leading up to, I gave her a straight answer.

"No, Gert. Why do you ask?"

From the awkward non-sounds at the other end of the line, this was not the response for which she was hoping.

"So, you haven't seen this week's Suffolk Life," she finally said.

"Well, I thought I had..." she was told. "Why, what did I miss?"

"So you didn't see what they wrote in the front page story about the Big Duck?"
"No, Gert, I didn't! For the love of what­ever's sacred to you, tell me all ready!"

"W-e-l-l-l-l-l," she fumbled about. "They misspelled the word 'duck.'"

"O sweet honey mustard!" I exclaimed! "NOOOOOOOO!"

"Yes!" she squealed, delighted that we were on the same page at last! "Can you imagine doing something like that?!?"

"Ye Gawds and little lines o'type! How many thousands of issues do you imagine were printed?"

"O, I don't know... lots," she rollicked at the other end of the 'phone line. "And it goes all over Suffolk County!"

"My Gawd! What do you think Dave Will­mott'll do when he sees three thousand outraged members of the Legion of Decency marching down Route 58?1"

"I don't know, but he'd better come up with some­thing good!" she giggled. "That was just awful!"

"I know... all those families picking up their Suffolk Life edition to find the 'f-word' right there on the front page...."

There was a sudden lessening of the organic energy we'd been building on, and a pause at the other end of the 'phone line.

"No, not that one," a distressed Mrs. O'Connell declared. "The other one!"

"The 'other' one?!?"

(Cut to an insert shot from a 1950s Dragnet show of hundreds of thousands of punch cards being sorted at high-speed by a huge, mechanical device which would require a room the size of the high school cafetorium.)

"Gert, what 'other one?!?'" I asked, my mind unable to come up with anything other than the typesetter had struck the "f" key instead of the adjacent "d."

The well-bred and refined Mrs. O'Connell was constitutionally unable to enlighten me further, so my first order of business upon returning home that afternoon was to retrieve the latest Suffolk Life and scrutinize Page 1 and the story about the Flanders landmark which I'd skipped over Wednesday evening.

And there it was....

The "offending" Suffolk Life paragraph

Well, so much for that image of a mobilized Legion of Decency storming the gates of Suffolk Life... probably the worst he'd be sub­jected to was a helluva razzing at the next Rotary luncheon.

  1. Dave Willmott Jr. informs us, in the interests of "accuracy, in January of 1982 Suffolk Life was still firmly planted on Montauk Highway in Westhampton. A move to Route 58 in River­head was more than two years away.

    The fallibility of memory... mine, not his or Gert O'Connell's.


1. Tugboat Bertha said...

My land, that was biggest laugh I've had in a month of Sundays. Thanks.

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