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Giant Rubber Duck made hope float in Pittsburgh

| Saturday, Oct. 19, 2013, 9:00 p.m.

Bidding adieu to the duck is a mistake.

The Pittsburgh Cultural Trust dropped disappointing news on Friday. Despite calls to extend its stay, the 40-foot-tall fowl that has been floating in the Allegheny River for three weeks is departing.

The duck, the centerpiece of this year's Pittsburgh International Festival of Firsts, will be towed to a warehouse for storage Sunday night. The move is sure to upset more people than the folks at the People for the Ethical Treatment of Extremely Large Inflatable Animals.

That's because the duck has had a profoundly positive effect on the region.

Basking in its inherent cheerfulness, we barely noticed the federal government shutdown and the debt ceiling crisis. We were at The Point taking photos from angles that had the illusory effect of making it appear as though 4-foot-tall children were patting a 4-story-tall duck's head.

The duck's mysterious soothing powers seemingly knew no limits.

Shortly after its arrival, the lame tossed aside their crutches and took up line dancing. The Crips and the Bloods vowed to put away their weapons and settle any future differences with a shirts-skins basketball game. Magee-Womens Hospital reported that women no longer needed anesthesia during childbirth.

Perhaps most significantly, there wasn't a single instance of self-immolation during the Steelers' recent four-game losing streak. How often does the team go winless for a month without anyone lighting themselves on fire?

Contractually, the duck can't be displayed in another city until January. So throw a few extra dollars at Dutch artist Florentijn Hofman, who conceived the project, and let the duck continue to work its magic by transporting it to locales such as:

• The August Wilson Center for African-American Culture

The Downtown center, millions of dollars in debt and undergoing foreclosure proceedings, attracts about six visitors a month. Put the duck on the center's roof, open the duck souvenir stand in the lobby and — voila — foot traffic!

• The Parkway East

The duck probably could keep traffic moving smoothly if adorned with a large electronic message board that urged drivers to maintain their speed when entering the Squirrel Hill Tunnel. People would be happy to do the duck's bidding.

• Outside of Pittsburgh's City-County Building

The duck's winsomeness might have a magnetic effect on outgoing Mayor Luke Ravenstahl. Seldom seen on Grant Street these days as his term winds down, Ravenstahl might want to see the duck before it's packed up for good and perhaps even stop in his office while he's down there.

In other words, the famed duck might lure the lame duck.

Eric Heyl is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7857 or eheyl@tribweb.com.

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