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Backstory: Extinction of an American icon?

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Some might call it a suburban scourge. But thisbird also has defenders.

"I think it beats the heck out of a silver 'gazing ball,' " says the genial Mr. Featherstone. "Although when you combine them it's kind of nice."

The Union Products website depicts the three-foot-tall birds wading in a marsh. Featherstone – who rose through the firm to serve as president from 1996 to 2000, when he retired – has known buyers to deploy plastic flamingos in plausible settings. But he concedes that most go for a different effect.

"I always said if you put six of them around a tractor tire painted red, white, and blue and put petunias in it, in front of a nice house, it looks pretty tacky," Featherstone says with a laugh. He keeps 57 flamingos on the lawn of his Fitchburg, Mass., home in the summer, to commemorate the year he crafted it, fresh from art school. (He would eventually sculpt 700 "character" ornaments for the firm.)

Flamingo fanatics often end up mounting big-scale tributes of their own. Susan Cutter, a geography professor at the University of South Carolina, bought her first pair when she lived in New Jersey in 1983. She quickly assembled a flock that, she says, "migrated" with her to South Carolina 10 years later.

She now keeps 40, ceremoniously retiring ones that fade.

"They're whimsical, tacky, just plain fun," says Professor Cutter, who says she also dabbles in other flamingo collectibles, including stuffed Beanie Babies. "I love the color. You know, they bring a smile to your face. And I think that's the appeal." She calls the plant closure "a very sad day. It's such an American institution."

Jane Powell, who runs a jewelry and pawn shop with her husband in Rockledge, Fla., says an online flamingo-fan forum she visits has been abuzz about the flamingo's apparent demise. "Some of the ladies use them as reindeer replacements at Christmas," she says.

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