Lakeland to celebrate 65 years since Queen Elizabeth II gifted city with swans

While the Queen of England celebrates her Platinum Jubilee for being on the throne 70 years, Lakeland is celebrating its Sapphire Jubilee.

On Tuesday morning under overcast skies, city officials and swan lovers gathered on the shores of Lake Morton to commemorate a momentous event 65 years ago, to the day. On February 8, 1957, the original pair of swans arrived in Lakeland from England, a gift from Queen Elizabeth II.

But the story of Lakeland’s swans starts in 1926, when the city’s swan population sat at about 20. The city even established a Swan Department to oversee the birds.

However, by 1954, the last swan passed away after others became victims to alligators, dogs, diseases, chemicals, and human interaction, according to city officials. The community came together to raise funds to purchase new swans, but that didn't work –until the Queen stepped in.

When the Queen’s swans arrived in ‘57, they became instant celebrities, and still are today.

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"It is just the rite of passage for you to bring your children or grandchildren down here to feed the swans or watch the swans," commented Lakeland Mayor Bill Mutz, as he stood next to a costumed 15-foot-high swan, which towered over the chilled crowd.

To celebrate the occasion, the swans were presented with a cake made of rice and prepared pellets. The few birds on shore were clearly disinterested. However, the ducks that happened to be waddling by dove in immediately.

Lakeland swan

"The swans are a little more finicky," explained Patrick Patterson, creative services manager for the city.

Although life may be going swimmingly now for the latest generation of swans that now inhabit Lake Morton, their ancestors got off to a rough start.

MORE: 29 baby swans released on Lake Morton

The original Royal pair were put on a barge that sunk. They managed to survive, and five months later, they embarked on their transatlantic journey again.

They arrived in Lakeland to great hoopla and excitement. The following day, the male flew off and a search party had to be organized. He was found, but later died. His mate was eventually paired with a local swan.

That couple bred and formed the foundation of Lakeland’s flock today.

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They certainly have made an impression on generations of Lakelanders and visitors.

"You look at all our city cars," pointed out the city’s director of Parks and Recreation. "You look at our shops downtown. Everybody emphasized the swan."

In an excerpt, Lakeland officials said: 

To make their trip across the big pond, the swans had to be taken from their roost along the Thames River outside of London. Unfortunately, an oil barge sank and contaminated the royal flock including the two swans bound for Lakeland. The process to restore the oil-soaked birds to good health took over five months. The flight arrangements were all reworked and their final leg of the journey was a two-week impound in New Jersey. On February 8, 1957, the swans eventually arrived by Riddle Airlines from Clifton, New Jersey. They were met at Drane Field Airport (now Lakeland Linder International Airport) by the Mayor, City Manager, and the President of the Chamber of Commerce. The entourage traveled by motorcade to Lake Morton where the community crowded to see the royal swans released on Lake Morton. 

According to the city, swans can live for up to three decades. An annual Swan Roundup is held in Lakeland for the swans to receive a veterinarian checkup.