Atlanta’s Pink Pigs Live in History

Photo by Michael A. Schwarz/Atlanta Journal-Constitution AP

An imaginative idea by Rich’s department store executive Frank Palotta turned into an Atlanta holiday tradition. The year was 1953 and everyone did their holiday shopping at Rich’s  in downtown Atlanta. Department stores were in their heyday, and Rich’s symbolized Atlanta’s premier retail shopping experience. The flagship store was located at 45 Broad Street. Its status as an iconic city staple skyrocketed after illuminating a 70-foot live Christmas tree on the roof of the Crystal Bridge. The bridge was a four-story glass-enclosed pedestrian bridge over Forsyth Street between the main store and Rich’s “Store for Homes” across the street. This gave way to the Lighting of the Great Tree event with the tree atop the walkway, which was also lighted and filled with Christmas carolers. 

Rich’s Christmas tree atop the Crystal Bridge over Forsyth Street in  
Atlanta. Kenan Research Center at Atlanta History Center, VIS 82.384.01

The Lighting of the Great Tree drew crowds in the hundreds of thousands in-person and on television each Thanksgiving. It was the cover of Time magazine in December 1961. Today, the lighting takes place at Lenox Square shopping mall.

Cover photo by Joe Jones, retrieved from TIME.com 

In 1953, Priscilla the Pink Pig made her debut as a children’s train ride. Originally, it circled the ceiling of Rich’s toy department—known as Rich’s Wonderland of Toys—proving that pigs can fly. Two years later, the track was reconfigured to send riders out of toy land and onto the roof for an up-close look at the Great Tree. Demand for the attraction was so high that a second train, Percival, was added in 1964. The twin pig monorails remained there until 1991 when Rich’s downtown store closed. This would be the first time the Pink Pig retired. For a brief time, the Pink Pig ran at Egleston Children’s Hospital’s (now Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta) Festival of Trees before formally “retiring” into the care of Atlanta History Center.

Children waiting in line to ride the Pink Pig in front of the Great Tree. Credit: James T. Martin.

Rich’s donated Priscilla and Percival to Atlanta History Center in 1996.

In 2003, Atlantans rejoiced at the return of the tradition when a new version of Priscilla the Pink Pig debuted at the Rich’s store in Lenox Square. The new version of the Pink Pig was named the Pink Pig Ride. That same year, Rich’s and Macy’s department stores merged to become Rich’s-Macy’s. The year 2005 brought the end of an era for the Atlanta institution when Rich’s was dropped from the nameplate and the store became Macy’s, as it is known today. 

The Pink Pig Ride at Lenox Square mall operated from 2003 to 2019. Credit: Kate Howard, New Georgia Encyclopedia.

Nostalgic fans of the original ride flocked to Lenox Square every year to re-live the magic of their childhood and to spread the joy to a new generation. Each year, Atlanta History Center loaned Macy’s one of the original twin pigs to display next to the Pink Pig Ride at Lenox. The Pink Pig Ride went on its last journey in 2019. The newer Priscilla announced her retirement in 2021 after taking a sabbatical in 2020 due to the coronavirus pandemic. 

The original Pink Pig was last on display during Atlanta History Center’s Atlanta in 50 Objects  onsite exhibition. We blocked traffic on West Paces Ferry Road just to wheel it into the museum!

The Pink Pigs live on in the hearts and minds of everyone who experienced it—and in the permanent collection at Atlanta History Center. Atlantans can rest easily knowing that Priscilla and Percival are safe and sound and can make an appearance from time to time. (After all, they are retired.)