The End Of An Icon

Untitled document

Oh, the humanity! Say it ain't so, Joe! For the love of God, Montressor! Oh, hell, I stepped in it! All of those are cries of anguish and distress. But there is a new one. One that is even worse and more troubling.

No more pink flamingos!

The company that invented the pink plastic lawn flamingo is going out of business, a victim of high plastic resin prices and the increasing cost of electricity. This is the end of an era. Just another signpost along the road to the decline and fall of the West.

But the original version of the plastic flamingo may be singing its swan song after inspiring countless pranks — and being alternately celebrated as a tribute to one of nature's most graceful creatures and derided as the epitome of American pop culture kitsch.

Union Products Inc. stopped producing flamingos and other lawn ornaments at its Leominster factory in June, and is going out of business Nov. 1 — a victim of rising expenses for plastic resin and electricity, as well financing problems.

The small privately held firm has been in talks with a pair of rival lawn ornament makers interested in buying the molds and resuming production of the flamingos, designed in 1957 by local son Don Featherstone.

"We think the flamingo will go on," Keith Marshall, Union Products' chief financial officer, said at the company's aging brick factory, where just a few years ago more than 100 employees churned out flamingos by the millions.

Just a couple workers were still around to wrap up business. At the front desk stood a lone flamingo with the words "Happy 50th birthday" written with a black marker on the side, symbolizing hope that the flamingo will rise phoenix-like from the ashes to be reborn.

Other companies' knockoff versions of the Featherstone original remain in production. But the uncertainty surrounding the original has aficionados of kitsch snapping up what they can via the online auction site eBay and elsewhere in case Featherstone versions go out of stock for good.

Mike Smollon, a firefighter who sees plenty of plastic flamingos in his Boynton Beach, Fla., neighborhood, traveled to Leominster to attend a wedding last month and was surprised to learn the city about 50 miles northwest of Boston is home of the original flamingo.

"I guess it never dawned on me that pink flamingos would be made anywhere else than Florida," the 55-year-old said.

Smollon had never owned flamingos before. But, on learning of Union Products' demise, he was inspired to drop by the factory and buy a dozen pairs — $15 per pair for regular pink ones, and $25 for gold-colored special issue flamingos commemorating the bird's upcoming 50th birthday.

"This could be the end of them, and I wanted to get some," he said.

Smollon shipped the flock home and gave most of the birds to friends. He kept the most valuable ones for himself — those he had autographed by Featherstone during a visit to the retiree's home in Fitchburg, just down the road from Leominster.

My wife will be utterly devastated.

This entry was posted in News. Bookmark the permalink.