Friday, July 6, 2012

Pink Flamingos

Conjure up the tackiest, most unnecessary plastic product ever made and the pink flamingo lawn ornament may come to mind. It seems as if they have inhabited front lawns forever, but pink flamingo-ness was born in 1957, the brainchild of Don Featherstone of Leominster, MA.

Featherstone was a recent art-school grad in the mid-fifties who sculpted the original flamingo out of clay after trying out various birds—ducks and geese that would have been more in keeping with his New England landscape, but they never "took off" like the flamingos.

The official copy-written birds come in sets of two, one bending its sinuous neck to eat and one upright alert. Over 20 million have been sold by Union Plastics alone. There are knockoffs, of course. But we believe the head we found on Kehoe Beach is authentic. The plastic is thick and sturdy. As the years unfolded the plastic became ever thinner and more and more red. Though to authenticate we'd need the whole body intact since Featherstone's signature appears on the underside.

Plastic flamingos turn up everywhere, most recently as a marker that US soldiers had been around, like the "Kilroy Was Here" graffito of WWII. A couple of flamingos grace the now-dry fountain at the US Embassy in Baghdad.

Why flamingos?

We think maybe the flamingo mania came with an early 1920's romance about retirement to Florida, though flamingos are not endemic to Florida. A flock of the Caribbean variety was imported to the lake in the center of the Hialeah Racetrack in the 20's, where a flamingo ashtray souvenir may have started the craze or maybe it was Don Featherstone's desire to escape the New England winter.

Bugsy Siegal's trademark Las Vegas gambling palace hotel is The Flamingo. Crayola introduced the color Pink Flamingo in 1998. John Water's movie Pink Flamingos (what better name for bad taste) is the benchmark by which all things vulgar are measured. The Flamingos biggest doo-wop hit in 1959 was "I Only Have Eyes for You."

We figure if those 20 million pink flamingos were laid up like tiles, they would cover 40 Kehoe Beaches. We've been lucky enough to see real flamingos in the wild, a sparse flock in a volcanic lake in the Galapagos Islands and spectacularly huge flocks at Lake Manyara in Tanzania.

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