After 50 years, that kitschy icon, the plastic pink flamingo, had flown its coop in Leominster, but a local company has announced plans for a new one - an injection molded flamingo made from recycled plastic in the Pioneer Plastics City.
``This new flamingo will be designed, built and manufactured right here in Leominster,'' said Keith Boisvert, vice president of operations at Leominster Flamingo Co. The new company announced its plans during the city's Summer Stroll festival, held downtown June 23.
Leominster Mayor Dean J. Mazzarella led a celebration of the 50th anniversary of the pink flamingo, complete with a birthday cake. He proclaimed the flamingo official bird of the city of 45,000. He named June 23 as Pink Flamingo Day and Don Featherstone Day, in honor of its creator, who led a parade in his 1931 Packard.
The local plastics industry has seen its ups and downs, including the loss of several housewares molders in recent years. But like the phoenix ... err, the pink flamingo, Leominster will rise again, local officials said.
The plastic pink flamingo was born in 1957, when Union Products Inc. hired Featherstone to sculpt new lawn ornaments. His first design used two injection molded halves that were glued together. Then in the early 1970s, Union Products began to blow mold the flamingos, resulting in the rounded shape, with the spindly wire legs, that became so famous.
``Where else could you buy tropical elegance for less than 10 bucks,'' he quipped in a speech at the Summer Stroll.
Featherstone retired in 2000. Then last year, Union Products shut its doors. In May, injection molder HMC International LLC of Rome, N.Y., bought the machinery, intellectual property and the molds - including three blow molds for the flamingo and the original tool for the injection molded bird.
The final nail in that coffin came June 22, the day before the Summer Stroll, when a local developer bought the aging Union Products building in a foreclosure auction.
``Going to the auction yesterday was like going to a funeral,'' Featherstone said.
But Boisvert said brighter days are ahead.
``I can't control the past, but you know what? We can control the future. And this new flamingo will be manufactured here in Leominster once again,'' Boisvert said in a speech, as people cheered.
More details will come out later this summer, but Boisvert, who has worked in local plastics factories for 15 years, said it will be injection molded on multicavity molds. Once the final design is completed, Leominster Flamingo Co. will meet with local mold makers and then molders.
The company also plans to open an organic foods restaurant downtown, the Flamingo Cafe, sporting memorabilia from the area plastics industry.
Meanwhile, HMC and its sister company, Faster-Form Corp. of New Hartford, N.Y., are marketing their flamingo as the ``original, Don Featherstone Pink Flamingo,'' a reference to Featherstone's signature blow molded into the bottom of each one.
Faster-Form issued a news release sending greetings to Leominster on its 50th anniversary flamingo party. ``There will be no flamingo flap over your plans to introduce a new-style bird, especially if it is to promote recycling,'' the company said.
Faster-Form's news release invited Mayor Mazzarella to come to New York State for that company's own birthday fete, to be held later this summer.
At the Summer Stroll, Featherstone said the new owner had not contacted him. But Featherstone and his wife, Nancy, know firsthand that flamingo mania has soared, especially after news spread that Union Products was closing down.
``I had people come to my house and say, `I just bought this at the local garden shop. Would you sign them for me?''' Featherstone said. ``They had to rush to get me before I died so I could sign their flamingos - [even] on my front porch.''
People flocked to the Featherstone house in Fitchburg, Mass. They took photos of him autographing.
Nancy continued the story: ``We told them when they came, `Are you doing this for you, or is this something you're going to put on eBay?'''
Then she continued in a high-pitched voice, quoting the autograph seekers, ```Oh no, this is for us. Oh, I'm a big fan and it's for me.' And the next week it would be on eBay, including the picture.''
Don Featherstone said a flamingo, which retailed for about $5.99, was selling on eBay with his signature for about $90. So now he charges.