I just started the Heavy Metal blog, and it's already time to depart from my machinery-beat script!
Why? Because an icon has passed away: Don Featherstone, the man who created the plastic pink flamingo. He died on Monday June 22, after succumbing to Lewy body disease, a form of dementia.
OK, maybe Featherstone's flamingo lawn ornament is not an icon in those upscale communities that impose rigid landscaping rules. Or those oh-so-earnest towns that mandate strict historical authenticity.
Well, who wants to live there anyway?
Do you really want to live anyplace that would ban you from sticking a pink flamingo in your yard? How uptight!
Here's what the blow molded, plastic pink flamingo is all about: Don't take yourself too seriously. And that is what Don Featherstone was all about, too.
Don and his wife, Nancy, dressed alike every day. They had fun.
Their cool old Victorian house in Fitchburg, Mass., looks like someplace Stephen King would love. The Featherstones have a collection of historical flamingos in their yard, including a vintage cast-iron bird that dates to 1908.
In the 1950s, when Americans started to travel to Florida, they wanted to bring a part of the Sunshine State back to their new suburban homes in Chicago, Cleveland, Detroit. The pink flamingo yard ornament took off!
Then for awhile, the pink flamingo became uncool. They were the butt of jokes. And still are. But that's exactly makes the pink flamingo such an iconic, kitschy American product.
When I started at Plastics News in 1989, the two stories I knew I would absolutely have to cover were the pink flamingo made by Union Products, and the Wiffle Ball. It changed me, meeting people responsible for both of these great pieces of Americana. There's more about business than piling up the money. Business can and should be fun!
(The other plastics story I thought would be great would be a history piece on Jarts, the lawn dart game of my youth. But note: Jarts are now illegal, thanks to all the neighborhood punks who threw them like deadly projectiles at their little brothers. If you happen to look at a Jarts website, men in black uniforms parachute down and arrest you… or force you to use those “safe” plastic-tipped lawn darts).