Memories of the flying Pink Pig bring nostalgia from holidays past

The Pink Pig, hosting a church group in this 2005 shot, delighted children from 1953 until 2019. (AJC file photo / Joey Ivansco)

Credit: Joey Ivansco / AJC

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The Pink Pig, hosting a church group in this 2005 shot, delighted children from 1953 until 2019. (AJC file photo / Joey Ivansco)

Credit: Joey Ivansco / AJC

Credit: Joey Ivansco / AJC

After decades of carrying happy children, the porker has retired

There are Christmas traditions that are national and regional — eating carp in the Czech Republic, wearing candles in your hair in Sweden — but there are few traditions as localized as the Pink Pig.

Atlanta’s holiday ritual of riding a flying Pink Pig (or, later, a more sedate track-bound Pink Pig) lasted more than 60 years, and kept children entertained and gave parents a breather during hectic Christmas shopping.

Priscilla the Pig first hung from a monorail on the ceiling of the toy department at the downtown Rich’s. In later years, Priscilla was joined by Percival, and they traveled outside the building, circling the Great Tree that was also a Rich’s tradition.

After the downtown Rich’s closed in 1991, Priscilla and Percival reappeared on a railroad track at the Festival of Trees, and, after that, moved to a tent outside Macy’s in Lenox Square.

Now the tradition has come to an end. Last year’s Pink Pig was canceled due to the pandemic, and this September it was announced that Priscilla and Percival would not return.

ExploreMacy’s announces Priscilla the Pink Pig’s retirement

Responding to a request from The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Atlantans (and those from nearby) conjured up their memories of the flying pig and the mildly entertaining circular ride that became a nostalgic touchstone for so many.

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The Pink Pig sticker was a symbol of pride for metro Atlanta kids. (Handout)

Credit: HANDOUT

The Pink Pig sticker was a symbol of pride for metro Atlanta kids. (Handout)

Credit: HANDOUT

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The Pink Pig sticker was a symbol of pride for metro Atlanta kids. (Handout)

Credit: HANDOUT

Credit: HANDOUT

Joy Bolt, 58, Flowery Branch

I was born in Atlanta but was raised in Alpharetta when it was just a small, country town. In order to go see Santa, we would make the trek, in pre-Ga. 400 days, to downtown Atlanta. My mother’s department store of choice was Rich’s over Davison’s so that is where we went. A visit to Santa there, of course, included viewing the Great Tree and riding the Pink Pig. My brothers, who were much older than I and were teenagers at the time, were often drafted to make this trip with my mom and me as we usually went at night for the full effect. I remember the cold of the air and the smell of the fumes because “back in my day” it was that small gas-powered monorail pig.

Being born a week before Christmas meant the holiday usually played some role in my birthday celebrations, and my most memorable Pink Pig experience was my fifth birthday. My mother and her friend piled several 4- and 5-year-olds in a couple of cars and took us down to have breakfast with Santa. Momma was quite brave to think of hauling all of these small children downtown on a weekday morning. And legend has it she really questioned her decision after breakfast was served: chocolate doughnuts, chocolate milk and Cocoa Krispies. Small kids, a week before Christmas, hyped up on Santa and chocolate and sugar. After breakfast, we all boarded the Pink Pig and it took us on a tour of the Rich’s rooftop and around the Great Tree. They even had live reindeer out there too! And even though it was daytime, it was still a magical experience. After our ride, we were given our “I rode the pink pig” stickers, to go along with our “I had breakfast with Santa” buttons. We were quite the decorated kindergartners when we returned to Alpharetta that day.

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The Pink Pig monorail at Rich's in downtown Atlanta in 1990. (AJC file photo / Michael Schwarz)

Credit: Michael Schwarz (file)

The Pink Pig monorail at Rich's in downtown Atlanta in 1990. (AJC file photo / Michael Schwarz)

Credit: Michael Schwarz (file)

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The Pink Pig monorail at Rich's in downtown Atlanta in 1990. (AJC file photo / Michael Schwarz)

Credit: Michael Schwarz (file)

Credit: Michael Schwarz (file)

Barbara Bradley, 78, Druid Hills

In the mid-1950s when I was about 9 or 10, I first rode the Pink Pig above the toy department in downtown Rich’s. Several years later, several of my sorority sisters and I were working at Rich’s as elves in Santa’s Secret Shop. We took a ride on the Pink Pig but now the Pink Pig had moved to the roof of Rich’s and there were real reindeer. Then years later, I took my son to ride the Pink Pig, but now we were at the Festival of Trees. Several years ago, I took two friends who had not grown up in this area to ride the Pink Pig at Lenox Square. I insisted that they had to wear pink. This year I was planning on taking my 3-year-old granddaughter to ride the Pink Pig but I won’t be able to do that. I am so sad.

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For their 60th birthday celebrations, Shelley Hamann of Peachtree City (left) invited her best friend Elaine Leker to a tour of Atlanta landmarks that included the Pink Pig. (Courtesy of Shelley Hamann)

Credit: Shelley Hamann

For their 60th birthday celebrations, Shelley Hamann of Peachtree City (left) invited her best friend Elaine Leker to a tour of Atlanta landmarks that included the Pink Pig. (Courtesy of Shelley Hamann)

Credit: Shelley Hamann

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For their 60th birthday celebrations, Shelley Hamann of Peachtree City (left) invited her best friend Elaine Leker to a tour of Atlanta landmarks that included the Pink Pig. (Courtesy of Shelley Hamann)

Credit: Shelley Hamann

Credit: Shelley Hamann

Gene Turner, 70, Lakeside (DeKalb County)

Being a child of the 1950s, my first memory is the Pink Pig monorail traveling above the toy department at the downtown Rich’s. What a great marketing idea that was to have hundreds of kids look down on all the toys they would then ask Santa to bring!

Rich’s eventually moved the monorail to the roof. I loved that because its route took you by the Great Tree and you could see just how big those ornaments really were. I took my children to ride, along with my mother, who was in her 70s at the time. We ALL rode! Of course, as an adult, you had to practically fold yourself to get in.

I have also ridden the Pink Pig at Lenox, this time with grandchildren. I’m glad they kept the tradition alive, even though it was very different; I shall miss Priscilla.

Starr Millen, 83, Buckhead

In 1960, I was a retail intern at Rich’s downtown straight out of college. During the Christmas season, I was one of several service managers sent to the toy department. Our job was to handle complaints from customers who had merchandise or delivery problems in a kind Rich’s way … the customer is always right!

An irate customer called and was complaining that the doll she bought and had delivered (Yes, Rich’s had free delivery back then!) had come with only one shoe … what was Rich’s going to do about it?

About that time, the Pink Pig came flying overhead loaded with happy, screaming kids (it was a monorail on the ceiling of the toy department in those days). After it passed over me and I could hear again, I told the customer on the phone that I had not heard all that she was saying because the Pink Pig had just flown over! I assumed she knew what the Pink Pig was!!! She did not think that was a bit humorous, asked for my name, and reported me to my boss! Fortunately, I had a boss with a wonderful sense of humor, sent the lady another doll, and my job was salvaged!!

I learned a lesson that day from a pig … Don’t ever ASSUME anything!

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Richeal Bair rides the Pink Pig with one of her daughters, Keira, at Lenox Square in 2018. That would be the pig's second-to-last year. (Courtesy of Richeal Bair)

Credit: Richeal Bair

Richeal Bair rides the Pink Pig with one of her daughters, Keira, at Lenox Square in 2018. That would be the pig's second-to-last year. (Courtesy of Richeal Bair)

Credit: Richeal Bair

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Richeal Bair rides the Pink Pig with one of her daughters, Keira, at Lenox Square in 2018. That would be the pig's second-to-last year. (Courtesy of Richeal Bair)

Credit: Richeal Bair

Credit: Richeal Bair

S. David Doss, 66, Rome

I am 66 and this story took place when I was about 4 years old. My Mom, my aunt, my older sister and cousin and myself made the trip from Rome to the downtown Rich’s to do some Christmas shopping, which in those days was a big deal. My sister and my cousin unfortunately were tasked with looking after me while the “grown-ups” did their shopping. It didn’t take long for this 4-year-old to get his fill of shopping and I remember showing my displeasure for most everyone to see. My Mom was well aware of the little hellion I could be, so she quickly ordered my sister and cousin to take me to ride the Pink Pig to occupy me for a bit. Well the girls were not happy with their assignment but took me to the top floor nonetheless to ride the Pink Pig. On the way to the ride, they constantly told me how they were going to run off and leave me and I would never see my Mom again. As we waited our turn to get on the Pink Pig, they reassured me they were just kidding and they would be on the ride with me the entire time. When it finally came our turn to board the “Pig,” my sister let me go first, and then she and my cousin slammed the door and off I went on the Pink Pig by myself. I remember screaming through the heavy wire door and looking down to see my startled Mom looking back up at me from the Ladies Department along with all of the other Christmas shoppers. Those were the two most terrifying minutes of my young life, and as the ride ended, I got off to the laughter of my sister and cousin, who thought their trick was absolutely hysterical. After that episode, I made sure never to go near the Pink Pig again.

Tommy Jennings, 68, Winder

When the Pink Pig showed up on the ceiling of the toy department, suddenly, Rich’s was da bomb.

We lined up impatiently to get in. We’d watch the Pink Pig as it made its way around the toy department, showcasing everything we’d want, revealing many things we hadn’t seen, and creating a list in our minds that could only be shared with Santa, as he was our next stop. Of course, Mother would be close by when we dropped in to see the Big Guy, so she’d be sure to know exactly what our wishes were.

The Pink Pig nowadays evokes those memories of family. Mother joyously driving us from Winder to downtown. The shopping trips that my brother and I endured; the drive through Lawrenceville, and hitting I-85 not far from downtown — before the elevated section was built.

I’m sorry to see the Pink Pig retired. But in my mind, it continues its run across the ceiling in Rich’s, showcasing the best they had to offer. A gentler time; a memorable time; a heartwarming time.

ExploreFrom 2003: A pink pig tale - All grown up, former patron gets back on track with a beloved Atlanta landmark
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Debbie Danielle of Lawrenceville brings out this Pink Pig ornament for her Christmas tree every year. (Courtesy of Debbie Danielle)

Credit: Debbie Danielle

Debbie Danielle of Lawrenceville brings out this Pink Pig ornament for her Christmas tree every year. (Courtesy of Debbie Danielle)

Credit: Debbie Danielle

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Debbie Danielle of Lawrenceville brings out this Pink Pig ornament for her Christmas tree every year. (Courtesy of Debbie Danielle)

Credit: Debbie Danielle

Credit: Debbie Danielle

Debbie Danielle, 65, Lawrenceville

As a native Atlantan, I have ridden the Pink Pig for as long as I can remember. My first memory was going on the trolley with my mom to the downtown Rich’s to shop, see Santa, ride the Pink Pig, and have lunch. At that time, the Pink Pig was on the ceiling of the toy department. It was magical for me. It was not Christmas until I had the Pink Pig sticker on my Sunday coat to show all my friends. Sometimes my mom would let me ride twice. What a treat! Afterwards, I got to shop in Santa’s secret shop then have lunch in the Magnolia Room.

Jayne Phillips, 75, Buckhead

I worked for Rich’s for 31 years beginning in 1970. The first 15 years were in the buying end of the business. I traveled 22 weeks a year. Rich’s asked (insisted) that I become the downtown general manager in 1989. Little did I know at the time that they planned to close the store within two years. So, down I went. The rest was a painful history when Roger Farah, chairman of Rich’s, and I had to make the announcement in the middle of a day. We called a storewide meeting, and tried to get the customers out of the store, with little success. People screamed, and then sobbed when we made the announcement. Many things transpired from that point until we closed the store in 1991. However, my managers and myself were the last people to ride the Pigs on the roof.

ExploreThe first time the Pink Pig was retired, in 1964. Spoiler alert: It returned in 1965
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The Pink Pig has been part of the Christmas traditions at Mary Ann Howard's family for four generations. In this photo from 1984, Howard takes a ride on the Pink Pig with her son Andrew. (Courtesy of Mary Ann Howard)

Credit: Mary Ann Howard

The Pink Pig has been part of the Christmas traditions at Mary Ann Howard's family for four generations. In this photo from 1984, Howard takes a ride on the Pink Pig with her son Andrew. (Courtesy of Mary Ann Howard)

Credit: Mary Ann Howard

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The Pink Pig has been part of the Christmas traditions at Mary Ann Howard's family for four generations. In this photo from 1984, Howard takes a ride on the Pink Pig with her son Andrew. (Courtesy of Mary Ann Howard)

Credit: Mary Ann Howard

Credit: Mary Ann Howard

Mary Ann Howard, 71, Stone Mountain

My husband, Henry Howard, and I both remember riding the Pink Pig along the ceiling and looking down at Toyland when we were children. It was magical. When we had children, I could hardly wait to take them to ride the Pink Pig. Each year, my friend Anne Marie Miller and I took our children. We all climbed aboard, even in 1986 when I, seven months pregnant with my daughter, had to squeeze in. By that time, the ride was outside on the roof at Rich’s. We remember the reindeer, the petting zoo, the huge candy canes and other decorations. It was a wonderful and much anticipated trip for our families. We often had lunch in the Magnolia Room afterwards. The plastic Pink Pig cups from the Magnolia Room still come out at Christmas.

When the Pink Pig eventually debuted at Lenox Square after Rich’s closed, we rekindled our tradition, this time taking our teenagers and their friends, many of whom were not familiar with the Pink Pig. It was great fun. As our children grew up and grandchildren arrived, of course, we were back in line.

Linden Longino, 85, Buckhead

Say it isn’t so! The Pink Pig was one of Atlanta’s most unifying goodwill ambassadors of all time. My three kids loved Priscilla starting in 1968, when she ran around the ceiling of Rich’s toy department.

Parents from all walks of life in our city met each other while standing in line so their kids could become “Pink Pig Friends.” Indelibly happy memories for so many of us! The Pink Pig — the beginning of Christmas and friendships.

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