Wings Over the Prairie takes off in Stuttgart

STUTTGART – The quack will be back this weekend in the self-proclaimed rice and duck capital of the world, after pandemic precautions a year ago silenced one of Europe’s oldest and most iconic festivals. Arkansas.

Stuttgart’s main street, quiet over Thanksgiving weekend in 2020, crowds along the festival halfway for the Wings Over the Prairie festival. They’ll enjoy carnival rides and games, sample delicious food, revel in an outdoor cafe, ride in a tethered hot air balloon, shop (or just cruise) in tents filled with outdoor gear and of memories.

The main event is scheduled for Saturday afternoon, when top-flight competitors will unfurl their duck calls almost like wind instruments in the World Championship Duck Call Contest. They will continue a prize first awarded here in 1936 – a story explored in the exhibits of Stuttgart’s inviting Museum of the Arkansas Grand Prairie.

The traditional prelude to the festival took place on Saturday when the Queen Mallard and Junior Queen Mallard competitions were held at the Stuttgart High School. On Wednesday, the Main Street and Midway Carnival will open for the first of four days, including Thanksgiving itself.

Saturday will start at 8 a.m. with the big 5K/10K/Family Fun Run duck race. Then the quackery competitions begin on the main street stage, starting at 9 a.m. with the Junior World Championship duck calling contest. The women’s world championship is set at 10 a.m., followed by the senior event at 11 a.m.

Cooked ducks play the lead role at 11 a.m. in the World Okra Duck Championship at the Producers Rice Mill parking lot on Park Avenue. Then the spotlight returns to the Main Street stage for the World Duck Singing Championship at 2 p.m. The day of virtuoso horns will end immediately afterwards with the Champion of Champions Duck Calling competition, open to former world champions.

An entire wing of the Museum of the Arkansas Grand Prairie, 921 E. Fourth St. (grandprairiemuseum.org), is devoted to duck calling and other facets of waterfowl hunting. This includes the history of the festival, which began during the Great Depression strictly as a duck calling contest.

Gallery: Sightseeing — Stuttgart Festival and Museum

One of the waterfowl wing’s most eye-catching objects is a labor of love created in the mid-1960s by Ruby Abel, a Stuttgart restaurant owner and two-time winner of the duck-calling contest of the women’s world championship. She also worked as a professional “duck trainer”, cleaning and plucking birds.

To create his “coat of many feathers”, Abel took the heads of 450 mallard ducks, plucked out their luminescent green feathers, and sewed them into the coat. She wore the crafty garment and sometimes loaned it to friends. Twice she donned it in New York when she appeared as a contestant on the old game show “What’s My Line?” and “To tell the truth”.

Perched on a shelf is another never-before-seen creation. It is a hat made from the tail feathers of mallards by Arthur J. Longun as a gift to the late Willie Oates, known in Arkansas as the “Hat Lady” for her collection of headgear.

The wing’s main showcase is the Waterfowl Room, which features mounted examples of 21 species of duck, three species of geese and a coot. The decor is animated by the recorded sounds of 12 kinds of ducks. The oldest artifacts in the room are Native American duck effigy pots dating from the Temple Mound construction period, circa 1100 AD.

Opened in 1974, the museum spans 20,000 square feet, plus an outdoor area with ancient structures that include a copy of a German Lutheran church at two-thirds of its actual size. A huge antique tractor is also on display outside, an example of the many vintage farm machinery that can be seen inside.

“Throughout the year, many visitors come to see our agricultural equipment,” explains Gena Seidenschwarz, director of the museum. “The Waterfowl Wing is especially popular during the fall months when duck hunting season looms with the festival.”

For more information on the Wings Over the Prairie Festival, visit stuttgart.org/schedule-of-events.html or call (870) 673-1602.

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