Kitschy or cool?
Our resident pink flamingo in the field takes a stand against critics of this misunderstood 1950s lawn ornament.
By Phil Mingo, Hipville, USA
Whenever I hear people take potshots at pink flamingos, I do my best to bite my beak and cool it, man. When you're bright pink and standing still on a green lawn, it's always open season. So there's no sense in making a flap about it, if you catch my drift.
But when I heard that a garden gnome called our kind "tacky" a couple of issues back, well, I just couldn't zip it. That cat is cruisin' for a bruisin'!
I suppose you could argue that it's hard to take an insult seriously when it comes from a bearded square wearing a pointy hat and britches. Talk about tacky—man, those threads are about as cool as a leisure suit.
But those of us who make the scene as lawn ornaments should stick together. Let me lay it on you: Like garden gnomes, pink flamingos used to be what was buzzin' cuzzin'. In the late 1950s and early '60s, we were the toast of well-manicured suburban lawns. We owe it all to a cat named Don Featherstone, who designed the first pink flamingo in 1957 for a company called Union Products, based in Massachusetts.
Flipping for Flamingos
Why pink, and why a flamingo? Well, my friend, pastel colors razzed people's berries in the 1950s. And pink was all the rage—certainly you've heard the buzz about pink poodle skirts? The Pink Ladies in Grease? Or the original The Pink Flamingo Hotel & Casino in Las Vegas? We're talking about everything from pink houses to pink Cadillacs.
People also flipped out for flamingos because they embodied Florida, which was rapidly becoming the place to vacation. Yup, Florida symbolized the good life for affluent, young suburbanites—and we did, too. We were right up there with Hula Hoops, '57 Chevys, James Dean, coonskin caps, Elvis, Bermuda shorts, Gidget and "I Like Ike." We had it made in the shade.
But like the garden gnomes, we found that people only go ape over something for so long. By the late 1960s, plastic was about as hip as Lawrence Welk...and we were Splitsville. Some communities even went so far as to ban us from lawns.
It was a cruel blow. But just like the garden gnomes, things came full circle for our proud species. Nowadays, anything retro is considered cool, which means pink flamingos are back! And we're as much a part of American pop culture as any garden gnome ever was.
Let's look at the facts, Jack. An estimated 20 million pink flamingos have been sold in the last 50 years. An original Featherstone flamingo sells for hundreds of dollars—that's some serious dough! And pranksters "kidnap" flamingos and put them on someone else's lawn, just like with garden gnomes.
At any rate, love us or hate us, pink flamingos are once again in vogue, Daddy-O. So here's some advice to make your pad totally radioactive: Hop into your chariot and go buy a pair of pink flamingos. Then proudly set 'em up where everyone who passes by can see them. In flamingo lingo, you've just created Coolsville, population two. And that's the world from the bird.
Fun Flamingo Facts
- Union Products flamingos are sold in pairs, one bird with its head up, the other with its head down. To tell an original from a knockoff, look for Don Featherstone's signature under the tail feathers.
- The original flamingo model utilized wooden dowels for legs, but they were replaced with less-expensive metal rods.
- "Flocking" is a popular fund-raising even for groups. Here's how it works: Place a flock of 10 or 20 flamingos on someone's lawn, with your group's contact information attached to each one. Explain that for, say, a $10 donation, your group will remove the flock—and for a larger donation, will move it to someone else's yard of their choosing. You can also get creative and sell "insurance" against being flocked. Your information should include the option of free flamingo removal, as there's always a party pooper in every crowd.