Ask Abe: Flock of Flamingos

An Alum

How many flamingos were in the flock that appeared on Bascom Hill in 1979?

Abe

If you know your UW–Madison history, you know that flamingos on Bascom Hill became a Madison cultural icon on the first day of fall classes in 1979. It was done as a victory stunt by the Pail and Shovel Party, which — shockingly — had won the student-government election. To help solidify the party in UW history, its members — including president Jim Mallon ’79 and vice president Leon Varjian — purchased 1,008 plastic flamingos and planted them all on the hill. Why 1,008? The birds were sold by the dozen, and Varjian wanted to be able to say they had planted more than 1,000. “The smallest number divisible by 12 that’s over 1,000 is 1,008,” the late Varjian said in an interview. “And 996 is the one right below it, and then you can’t say you had ‘thousands’ of them.” Sound like a math-class question? It became one, as Varjian went on to become one of the most beloved teachers at Midland Park High School in New Jersey. To honor Varjian, Mallon, and the Pail and Shovel Party’s legacy, the flamingo “prank” continues today through Fill the Hill, an annual, 24-hour fundraising campaign for the UW.