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Madison, Wis., names the lawn flamingo its official bird

September 2, 2009 |  6:04 pm

Flamingos30 years ago, a group of University of Wisconsin-Madison students played a prank that's remembered fondly -- by some, at least -- in Madison to this day. 

The students -- members of a group called the Pail and Shovel party, which ran UW's student government at the time -- planted more than 1,000 pink plastic flamingos on the grassy expanse near the dean's office.  (Interestingly, the student government's president at the time was Jim Mallon, who went on to become executive producer of TV's "Mystery Science Theater 3000.")

It's become a fabled Madison moment, memorable enough to induce local newspaper columnist Doug Moe to use his column as a platform to lobby for the pink plastic flamingo's designation as the city's official bird. 

Moe knew there would be naysayers, and he addressed possible objections in his column.  "I mean, Madison is a city with five official songs," he wrote. "Our council once debated renaming Bassett Street Ho Chi Minh Trail. Our manhole covers are sewer access covers. Through it all, we've always managed to laugh at ourselves. So what better symbol than the plastic pink flamingo?"

The lobbying paid off Tuesday, when Madison's City Council voted 15 to 4 in favor of designating the lawn flamingo the official bird of Madison.  The four dissenters thought the governing body had more important matters to attend to, Madison's WISC-TV reported:

"I respectfully ask for this City Council to devote more time to more serious business at hand," said Alder Thuy Pham-Remmele, of District 20.

But [Alder Marsha Rummel, who introduced the idea after reading Moe's column] defended bringing the proposal to the council.

"We are capable of multitasking in life, and if you don't have a little fun, it's not worth living, and I spent like 20 minutes on this since April," Rummel said.

We have to give Madison credit for not taking itself too seriously, we suppose.

Meanwhile, here in L.A., Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa is known for having referred to the crane (that's this kind of crane, not this kind of crane) as the city's official bird.  

We don't know about you, but we'd kind of prefer the flamingo.

-- Lindsay Barnett

Photo: University of Wisconsin-Madison student Joan O'Donnell eats a snack on Bascom Hill, surrounded by pink flamingos.  Credit: Associated Press

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