The original ride at Rich's only cost a dime for children.

The original ride at Rich's only cost a dime for children.

The Pink Pig is considered a rite of passage for Atlanta children.

It’s a child-sized ride at the Macy’s at Lenox Square Mall that comes out during the holiday season. The pig-shaped trains named Priscilla and Percival have been around for almost 60 years and started as a feature at the former Atlanta department store, Rich’s.

Jeff Clemmons is the author of “Rich’s: A Southern Institution” and joined GPB's Sophia Saliby to talk about the history of the Pink Pig.

GPB's Sophia Saliby sits down with Jeff Clemmons to talk about the history of the Pink Pig.

Sophia Saliby: Jeff, thank you for joining me.

Jeff Clemmons: Thank you for having me.

Saliby: So, Rich's is no longer around, but it has a long history in Atlanta. Can you explain what Rich's was for the city?

Clemmons: It was the cultural temple, the heart of Atlanta after the Civil War. In 1867, not quite two years after, the store started, and it grew up right alongside the city.

Saliby: Where did the idea for the Pink Pig come from? It went through several iterations before that iconic pig ride. 

Clemmons: Rich's never started out to create a ride that would become synonymous with Christmas and with the store. 

As you indicated, there were multiple different names throughout about a three year period. In 1959, management at Rich's wanted to figure out a way in which to make it uniquely Rich's, different than the other ones across the country.

So they had a meeting one morning, and Dudley Pope who was in charge of the display department pondered out there and asked people, 'What could we do? How could we make this uniquely Atlanta?' Someone had seen a cartoon of a pig and had said, 'You know what about a pig?' And believe it or not, that stuck. 

Rich's display department went and crafted the front face and the tail for the ride. And in '59, it prevailed as the Rich's Pink Pig.

Saliby: Could you paint us a picture? What was it like to ride the Pink Pig opening day in 1959 as a small child?

Clemmons: It was a pretty special ride. I mean, this is pre-Disney World. So this is a ride that is suspended above the toy department. You crawl into basically four or five cars that are linked together with a pig's face and a tail on the back. They lower the door around you, and you're in this ride with several other kids swaying back and forth on this I-bar that hangs from the ceiling.

You see the toy department below you, and you're in awe of all the things you see. As a kid, you can see your parents, and you wave down to them.

When the store eventually moved the monorail to the top of the store outside of the toy department and put it on top of the building, it was suspended from a metal bar from the top of the building. [It] went around, not only the building, so you're six floors up outside in this monorail, but you're passing around the Great [Christmas] Tree that's on top of the store.

At later times, they would put reindeer and animals below you, so there'd be a Santa's Workshop and animals below. So it had to have been overwhelming for children in a good way.

Saliby: Through this, you must have talked to many Atlantans over the years about the Pink Pig. What types of memories do they have about the monorail, the Pink Pig itself or being on the roof?

Clemmons: Everybody's got a story about the Pink Pig. It's usually everything from a child being in awe and they remember riding above the toy department or riding when it was on top of the store, seeing the downtown lights to children talking about how they remember their parents folding in on themselves trying to fit inside the ride because it was so small.

But everybody that I've talked to has loved the Pink Pig.

Saliby: Every Macy's now is more or less the same. Why was it important for the company to keep the Pink Pig and keep putting it out as a train ride every year?

Clemmons: I think, overall, what Rich's really understood is giving back to the community and being a part of the community. Because we forget that, again, this is pre-Disney World. It's pre-internet. It's pre-computers.

So, [for] a lot of people, you went to department stores because it was the center of culture. It's where you could go and get a view of the world.

You can imagine as a child, walking into Rich's, and you go to the rooftop and you're riding this Pink Pig monorail around this huge 90-foot tall tree with reindeer and all below you. It had been a pretty magical experience.

Saliby: Jeff Clemmons is the author of "Rich's: A Southern Institution." Jeff, thank you for joining me. 

Clemmons: Thank you for having me. 

This conversation has been edited for clarity and conciseness.