In a quiet corner of a bustling flea market in Leominster, Massachusetts, the last of a dying breed are stacked neatly along a chain-link fence. Once a vibrant species, this modest inventory is all that’s left of Phoenicopterus ruber plasticus–the Leominster plastic yard flamingo.
Invented by Don Featherstone in 1957, the creatures’ sole breeding ground for 50 years was the Union Products factory. From there, they migrated to front lawns and flowerbeds around the world–no small feat for such a generally lethargic creature. (The plastic flamingo has, on occasion, been clocked at the feisty speed of 120 mph, although that seems to happen only in Florida during hurricane season.)
An icon of American kitsch, the plastic flamingo remains inexplicably popular. Its demise stems not from lack of demand but from the skyrocketing costs of petroleum-based plastic resin and electricity. In 2006 Union Products stopped operating, and in 2007 the original Don Featherstone mold was sold to a factory in Westmoreland, New York, which is currently producing them.
For a time, a small group of concerned Leominster citizens planned to create a new line of birds from recycled plastic, threatening to spark a bitter cross-border flamingo feud. Sadly, these plans have fizzled, and all that’s left of the once-thriving north-central Massachusetts flamingo-industrial complex is the backlog salvaged from the Union Products warehouse. When the last bird is sold, the most flamboyant creature in New England will fade into the past. Still, no matter where the yard flamingo is produced, it will forever remain our hot-pink gift to the world.
To adopt your own, visit the Leominster Flamingo Company at Tilton & Cook Cooperative, 38 Spruce St., Leominster, MA. Open Thursday-Sunday 9-4. 978-590-7629