What comes to your mind when you think of Parma? There are many answers depending on who you ask. You have iconic locations such as Stearns Farm, or recent developments like West Creek or the Shoppes. And Polish Village and Ukrainian Village celebrate our ethnic heritage. The first thing that comes to mind for many, however, isn’t a place at all, but a thing: pink flamingos.
But why? The answer can be a little unclear.
The plastic lawn flamingo became a staple of suburbs throughout the United States shortly after its creation in 1957, and Parma was one of many to adopt this phenomenon. Locally, the flamingos were sold at Kal’s Nursery, a staple of Ridge Road for decades, and they were even bought for “Proud of Parma” (a civic group) shows back in the day.
Whether it was due to high demand or a population explosion (between 1950 and 1960 Parma’s population nearly tripled, growing from 28,897 to 82,845), Parma and flamingos became synonymous. The association was proliferated thanks to a late-night horror radio show. TV voice-over announcer for WJW Channel 8 Ernie Anderson hosted Shock Theater under the name Ghoulardi starting in 1963. One of his various skits during his time on the air was Parma Place, a parody of Peyton Place, a 60s soap opera. In the skits, Parma was at times called Amrap (Parma backwards), and included white socks, kielbasa, polka, chrome balls and of course, pink flamingos.
Parma Place became a hit, but it also earned the ire of many Parma residents, perhaps none more significant than the mayor at the time, James Day. Finding it to be a slur on the community, he fought Ghoulardi over Parma Place. The skit ended in 1966, and Shock Theater ended entirely shortly thereafter.
An anecdote Chuck Schodowski (local TV-legend who acted in the Parma Place skits) mentioned in the Plain Dealer many years after may explain what set off Day and other Parma politicians. During a high school basketball game, a banner was rolled out saying “show us your white socks.” One of the many in attendance was mayor Day’s daughter, who relayed it to him, and it spiraled from there.
However it came to be, the legacy of Parma and flamingos lives on. In 2013, Polish Village held the city’s first art festival known as Flamingo Fever. Each year, businesses display flamingos decorated by local artists, in conjunction with a banquet and flamingo auction. A local high school girls’ rugby team has also joined in the flamingo legacy, naming themselves the Parma Pink Flamingos. CLE Clothing Co. included Parma in its neighborhood shirt collection, designing a T-shirt with a flamingo wearing white socks under a pierogi moon. The Young Professionals of Parma has even designed its own flamingo stickers and apparel.*
This year marks the 60th anniversary of the lawn flamingo. But Parma’s pink bird craze is about more than a silly piece of plastic. It’s a symbol of its residents great city pride.
Post authored by Dan Tylicki.
*Special thanks to All of Her Design for collaborating in the design of the Parmadise- Women’s Tank.