ROBERT SIEGEL, host:
From NPR News, it's All Things Considered. I'm Robert Siegel. And now, a holiday rite in Atlanta, it involves a pig, a pink one. It all started in 1953 at a local department store. Priscilla the Pink Pig was a monorail ride back then. Today, she's a short train ride at Macy's. As NPR's Kathy Lohr explains, the attraction is still plenty popular.
KATHY LOHR: Just imagine wide-eyed children waiting to ride on the Pink Pig half a century ago. A string of metal monorail cars carried them high above the old Rich's store, where they could gaze down at the wonderland of toys below.
(Soundbite of music)
LOHR: It was probably not unlike this scene from the movie "A Christmas Story," when Ralphie describes the view in front of his town's dazzling holiday window displays.
(Soundbite of movie "A Christmas Story")
Mr. PETER BILLINGSLEY: (As Ralphie Parker) Higbee's corner window was traditionally a high-water mark of the pre-Christmas season. First nighters, packed earmuff to earmuff, jostled in wonderment before a golden tinkling display of mechanized, electronic joy.
LOHR: In Atlanta, Richard Rich had his own ingenious idea which turned into a Southern tradition - the famous and very pink, Pink Pig. In fact, a decade later, there were two pigs Priscilla and Percival.
Mr. DON ROONEY (Curator, Urban History, Atlanta History Center): The pigs were bright pink with a piggy nose and a piggy tail.
LOHR: Don Rooney is curator of Urban History at the Atlanta History Center. He remembers riding the Pink Pig himself back then. He says it was a magical trip around the toy department, and eventually out on to the store's roof top by the 1960s, a three-and-a-half minute journey that cost a quarter.
Mr. ROONEY: You knew you were in for a treat as the car moved onto the crystal bridge, and around the base of the tree as you looked in wonderment down onto the city streets below. It was a big event.
LOHR: The Pink Pig is now a train ride inside a big white tent in Macy's parking lot. But for Atlantans, it's still a big event that brings back warm memories.
(Soundbite of people waiting in line)
Ms. BENAY EUBANKS: I rode the Pink Pig when I was a little girl, and I'm 57.
LOHR: Benay Eubanks and her 78-year-old mother, Hazel Price, say four generations of their family have now experienced the Atlanta institution.
Ms. HAZEL PRICE: We come every year, so we have - and I don't think we've missed because see, we had them, then the grands, and now the great.
Ms. EUBANKS: Lots of fun, part of Christmas.
(Soundbite of announcement)
Unidentified Male: All aboard. All clear.
LOHR: Most of the kids in line here are jumping up and down, literally, in their red Christmas outfits as they wait to ride the new version of the Pink Pig and listen to stories about the past.
Ms. MARY OXENDINE: That's what it was like when I was little, and it used to be up in the air. And see how the doors are? They used to get in, and they closed it, and you were completely enclosed in it.
Ms. MARTHA LONG: And you're on the top of the building, too. And you rode around the tree. It was so cool.
LOHR: Sisters Mary Oxendine and Martha Long stop to show the young members of their family historic photos on display. Three-year-old Martha Grace and six-year-old Ty squirm to get a better view of the bubble-gum-colored train cars.
Ms. OXENDINE: Ty, are you going to ride it?
Mr. TY OXENDINE: Yes.
Ms. OXENDINE: Yes. Are you ready?
Mr. TY OXENDINE: Yes.
LOHR: Mary and Martha say their family traveled more than 50 miles from Bremen, Georgia to downtown Atlanta to see the Pink Pig. Back then, it took about an hour and a half to make the trip.
Ms. LONG: It was just always such a treasure to be able to come over and ride it. And when you went under the Christmas tree, with all the decorations, it was just like a fantasy. It was beautiful.
LOHR: In the early days, there was Santa's Secret Shop, where elves, mostly high school volunteers, would check a child's list, collect a few dollars, and help them pick out small presents for their families. No Moms and Dads were allowed. Today, there's a gift shop loaded with all kinds of Pink Pig souvenirs - Pink Pig plates, Pink Pig ornaments, even a Pink Pig nose to wear. Sarah and David Carter, who've been coming for five years, try to reel in their three young children, who scurry all around the displays.
So this has become your Christmas tradition?
Mr. SARAH CARTER: Absolutely.
Mr. DAVID CARTER: Yeah. That's right.
Ms. CARTER: Come down and see Santa and ride the Pink Pig. They all have to fight who gets to hang the Pink Pig on the tree because we have the ornament. You're looking at that one that looks like the long train, so...
Mr. CARTER: The hardest part is getting through the gift shop.
(Soundbite of laughter)
Ms. CARTER: Yeah, that's right.
LOHR: As both adults and kids disembark from the Pink Pig, their smiles are big and bright, proving that Christmas has come to the South once again.
(Soundbite of Macy's atmosphere)
Ms. LONG: What was your favorite part, Martha Grace?
Ms. MARTHA GRACE LONG: I liked everything.
Ms. LONG: You liked everything?
LOHR: Kathy Lohr, NPR News, Atlanta.
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