Unveiling of latest carousel figure has all the makings of an Oregon Ducks tailgater

·5 min read

SALEM — The latest platform unveiling at Salem's Riverfront Carousel turned into a tailgate party, with the Oregon Ducks mascot making an appearance and the University of Oregon’s fight song replacing the merry strains of organ pipes and percussion.

The Duck carousel figure, a carved likeness of one of the most recognizable and loveable mascots in college sports, made its debut Tuesday evening during an invitation-only event.

About 75 people attended the celebration of the seventh new animal to join the herd of 44 horses that take turns twirling on the popular attraction.

This one drew more attention than its predecessors — a frog, an elephant, a fawn, a llama, a giraffe and a dragon, which were chosen and designed by sponsors through a program that helps sustain operations at the 20-year-old carousel in downtown Salem.

The Duck, like the mascot, is based on Disney's Donald Duck character and wears a green and yellow costume and sailor hat with "Oregon" on the front. Volunteers logged more than 450 hours carving the figure and more than 250 hours painting it.

The carousel signed a 10-year special license agreement with the University of Oregon in the fall of 2014 to use the mascot character as a figure. The project didn't launch until June 2017 because other figures were ahead in the production line.

Finding a provider for the clearcoat process also slowed the timetable, and then the COVID-19 pandemic hit.

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"It's been a long time coming," said Marie Bradford-Blevins, the carousel's executive director. "One day our dream will come true when the Duck and Beaver will be side by side."

The carousel eventually signed a similar agreement with Oregon State University, but sponsorship of a Beaver figure and the university's design approval took longer.

Blocks of basswood are on the table in the carving studio, ready for chisel and mallet to begin shaping a likeness of OSU's buck-toothed mascot. It takes at least two years to carve, paint and prep a figure before it can make its debut, and it'll be longer for the Beaver because a handful of other animals are ahead in the pipeline.

Basswood to carve a beaver representing Oregon State University's mascot have arrived at Salem's Riverfront Carousel.
Basswood to carve a beaver representing Oregon State University's mascot have arrived at Salem's Riverfront Carousel.

Ozzie Rose and Pat Abeene did the honors unveiling the Duck, which they co-sponsored. Rose is a longtime carousel board member and Oregon booster. He earned his doctorate there in 1969, and all four of his children graduated from Oregon.

The next generation appears to bleed green and yellow, too.

Two of his grandchildren, 5-year-old Parker Rose and 3-year-old Beckett Rose, were all decked out in Oregon gear and seemed more enamored with the Duck mascot than the carousel figure.

"It's you!" Beckett squealed as the figure was unveiled.

Abeene's late husband, Marv, was an Oregon alum, class of 1966.

When she and Rose teamed up to sponsor the Duck, they agreed to donate more than the $15,000 required.

"It's exciting and worth it to do this," Abeene said. "Marv would be thrilled to see the Duck here."

She and Rose deferred first-ride honors to the Oregon Duck, who made a special trip from Eugene to celebrate the premiere of his likeness. A spin on the carousel was a breeze for a mascot who zooms into Autzen Stadium on the back of a Harley-Davidson.

He didn't even need a step stool to hop on.

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Determining which Duck was photographed most during the hourlong event was difficult. Many attendees posed with both, including volunteer carvers Denis Miller and Terry Witt and painters Jo Jablo and Donna Miller. Witt was the lead carver, and Donna Miller was the lead painter.

Punch and cookies were served at this tailgater, with most of the attendees clad in the Oregon colors of green and yellow. The individually bagged cookies had a full-color, edible image of the Duck carousel figure on the icing.

Special ride tokens commemorating the Duck didn't arrive in time for the event, but are expected any day.

Thursday was the first day the public could ride the Duck, which will be kept on the platform through the holidays. It will stay on the outside row, even though its normal position may be in the middle.

“We might as well show it off,” said Bryan Eldridge, the carousel's operations manager.

The Duck is hard to miss. But just in case, it is in front of the covered wagon, next to a horse named West Wind, and behind Emerald the Dragon.

Emerson Autzen Handley, 7, rides the Oregon Duck at the Salem's Riverfront Carousel on Tuesday, Dec. 14, 2021 in Salem, Ore. Handley is the first child to ride the duck.
Emerson Autzen Handley, 7, rides the Oregon Duck at the Salem's Riverfront Carousel on Tuesday, Dec. 14, 2021 in Salem, Ore. Handley is the first child to ride the duck.

The special licensing agreement with the University of Oregon is for the carousel figure only. There are no fees or royalties involved, and the license may be renewed by mutual consent of both parties.

Renewal seems to be a formality, although it is unclear whether the license started when signed, at the time of the unveiling or somewhere in between.

Neither Bradford-Blevins nor Sean Wheeler, associate director of development for the University of Oregon, seem concerned.

"We're excited to bring the Duck to Salem," Wheeler said before the unveiling. "We have a lot of fans in Salem."

He led an impromptu "Go Ducks" cheer before the first ride, and Bradford-Blevins later told him the university was welcome to borrow the figure when not in use.

The carousel has more animals than positions on the three-row platform. Figures are rotated based on occasions and repair needs.

Wheeler mentioned it could be fun to have the Duck on campus when recruits visit.

Capi Lynn is a reporter and columnist at the Statesman Journal. She can be reached at 503-399-6710 or clynn@StatesmanJournal.com, or follow her on Twitter @CapiLynn and Facebook @CapiLynnSJ.

This article originally appeared on Salem Statesman Journal: A tailgate party: The UO Duck joins Salem's Riverfront Carousel lineup