A Pink Pig tale

The Pink Pig monorail at Rich's in downtown Atlanta in 1990.

caption arrowCaption
The Pink Pig monorail at Rich's in downtown Atlanta in 1990.

All grown up, former patron gets back on track with a beloved Atlanta landmark.

This story by former AJC staffer Jim Auchmutey originally ran in December 2003, when the Pink Pig returned after a hiatus that began in 1991 with the closure of Rich’s in downtown Atlanta (though it did appear at Egleston Hospital in a few of the intervening years).

Once upon a time in Atlanta, there was a big downtown department store that had a little train for children that ran through the toy department and onto the roof around a great Christmas tree that stood on a bridge right out over the street. And the best thing was, this being the South, the train wasn’t named for a reindeer but for another hooved animal: a pig!

ExploreMacys announces retirement of Priscilla the Pink Pig

Then the store closed and the pig retired to Buckhead and Christmas wasn’t quite the same. That is, until some clever merchandisers decided to bring a facsimile of the cute conveyance back on its 50th birthday — which is how David Green found himself watching grown people sniffle with emotion this holiday season.

caption arrowCaption
Jim Auchmutey in 2003 on the new version of the 'Pink Pig' at Rich's-Macy's at Lenox Square Mall, Atlanta. (JOEY IVANSCO/AJC staff)

Credit: AJC

Jim Auchmutey in 2003 on the new version of the 'Pink Pig' at Rich's-Macy's at Lenox Square Mall, Atlanta. (JOEY IVANSCO/AJC staff)

Credit: AJC

caption arrowCaption
Jim Auchmutey in 2003 on the new version of the 'Pink Pig' at Rich's-Macy's at Lenox Square Mall, Atlanta. (JOEY IVANSCO/AJC staff)

Credit: AJC

Credit: AJC

“You wouldn’t believe it. Some people cry when they see this thing,” said one of the conductors for the new Pink Pig, now spreading wiggles and giggles in a tent outside the Rich’s-Macy’s at Lenox Square. “I think we’ve had more adult riders than children. I guess they’re reliving their childhoods.”

Now that he mentioned it, that’s why I was here. I experienced the Pink Pig during the early ‘60s, when it was well on its way to becoming one of Atlanta’s fondest holiday traditions. Back then, it wasn’t Christmastime until you could go to school wearing a sticker proclaiming “I Rode the Pink Pig.”

It was a happy memory — except for one part I didn’t want to relive.

This odd tradition was born in 1953, when Rich’s bought a miniature monorail and had the design department fashion a pink-snouted head and a curly-tailed caboose. Why a pig? No one seems to know. But the novelty on Forsyth Street quickly caught on. After all, it was the heyday of the big-city department store, and almost everybody did their Christmas shopping downtown.

That changed, of course. The store closed in 1991 and was demolished three years later, and the trains -— two of them eventually, nicknamed Priscilla and Percival — were sent to Buckhead to dwell in the Elysian Fields of remembrance at the Atlanta History Center.

ExploreThe first time the Pink Pig was retired, in 1964. Spoiler alert: It returned in 1965
caption arrowCaption
In his glory days, Percival the Pink Pig and partner Priscilla transported Christmas shoppers around the roof of Rich's.

Credit: AJC file

In his glory days, Percival the Pink Pig and partner Priscilla transported Christmas shoppers around the roof of Rich's.

Credit: AJC file

caption arrowCaption
In his glory days, Percival the Pink Pig and partner Priscilla transported Christmas shoppers around the roof of Rich's.

Credit: AJC file

Credit: AJC file

In the gauze of nostalgia, I had forgotten that the Pink Pig sort of scared me. Visiting the new version reminded me why. Near the entrance, Priscilla is hanging there like a Wright Brothers plane in the Smithsonian.

“It sure is small,” said Sharika Pullen of Lithonia, who had ridden the Pink Pig during the ‘70s and was bringing her children to meet the next generation. When she told them about it, they didn’t get the concept at first; they thought they were going to hop on a real live hog.

No one would mistake the original Pink Pig for a sow. It looks more like a string of cocktail wieners. Instead of windows, it has undersize openings covered with steel mesh that resemble something on the back of a paddy wagon. Sure, it was fun zipping around the ceiling of toyland in a flying pig, but if you were prone to claustrophobia like I was, it could feel like a juvenile lockup. Now I remembered why I rode the Pink Pig only once.

Fortunately, like most of us these days, the new pig is somewhat larger. No longer a monorail, it’s an open-car kiddie train that runs on tracks like the ones that toodle around petting zoos.

My wife and I bought our $3 tickets and waited in line for 15 minutes. The 21st-century pig has proved very popular; the department store says that 1,400 people rode on the day before Thanksgiving alone.

The conductor said he had room for two more riders and motioned for us.

Pam dropped onto the pink hard-bottomed bench. I tried to wedge myself in next to her but couldn’t clear my knees, not to mention my caboose. Unbelievable! Forty years ago, I panicked because I was trapped inside the Pink Pig. Now I was panicking because I couldn’t get in.

“Please take your seat,” the conductor instructed.

I pretzeled my lower extremities and tried again. Too much sausage, too little casing.

“Sir, you need to sit down before we start the train.”

Young faces looked at me pleadingly from the other cars. I was reliving my childhood, all right: the unprepared oral book report, the time my brother cut my hair and left a premature bald spot --- all the embarrassing stuff.

I was beginning to think I was going to have to ride on the roof like a bagged deer when my sensible spouse suggested another approach. She climbed out of her seat and told me to get in first. With my legs splayed in a yoga-for-dummies position, I managed to sit down. And off we went, Pam perched in my lap like a girl telling Santa what she wants for Christmas.

I know what I want: legroom.