Did you know swans have been around Lakeland for nearly a century now? The earliest records date back to 1923 (the same year of Yankee stadium’s grand opening + Time Magazine’s first issue).
Though little is known of Lakeland’s first population of swans (except that they were well-loved by their people), we do know how the current population’s ancestors arrived.
Back in the 1950s, the swans were slowly decreasing in number due to various illnesses + not-so-friendly alligator neighbors. In 1953, the last pair of birds quietly disappeared. Travelers + locals alike immediately felt the impact of their absence.
Across the pond, a pair of native Lakelanders — Mr. and Mrs. Pickhardt — heard the news all the way from where they were stationed on a UK Air Force Base. Mrs. Pickhardt wrote a letter to Queen Elizabeth II to see if she’d be willing to gift a pair of her royal swans to our city.
Luckily for us, Queen Elizabeth replied to the request with notice that two of her royal swans would be donated to Lakeland, Florida. With the request completed, Mrs. Pickhardt now had to obtain a permit required for transporting the swans overseas and raise the funds for shipping fees.
The fundraising for the $300 expense began in Lakeland with a drive, but only $7 came in through this effort. Word continued to spread though, and neighboring cities Orlando and St. Pete pledged to help Lakeland raise the money.
As the final preparations were being made for the swans’ flight, an oil barge sank in the river where they lived, causing a spill all over the birds. Transportation was delayed as the birds were being evaluated and thoroughly washed and as travel permits were renewed.
The birds finally landed in Lakeland on February 8, 1957 and were safely placed in Lake Morton. However, by the following Sunday morning, they were no longer there. The city began searching for the adventurous pair, and The Ledger’s morning paper read, “Copters and Crew Combing Lakes for Swans.” Turns out, the female swan had been on Lake Morton the whole time and the male swan was found and returned four days later. From there, Lakeland’s royal swan family grew and we kept our iconic title of “Swan City.”
Today, Lakeland’s swan population has grown to an estimated 80 swans — and we’re thankful for each of them.