LAKELAND, Fla. — Before Lakeland's iconic swans found homes in lakes and ponds in our community, they took a trip across the big pond — 65 years ago today.
And these weren't just ordinary swans, they were a royal gift from none other than the British monarch herself, Queen Elizabeth II.
As the queen celebrates 70 years of service at her Platinum Jubilee, Lakeland's royal birds are celebrating their Blue Sapphire Jubilee in honor of the 65th anniversary of their arrival.
The swan story dates back to 1926 when Lakeland established a Swan Department to oversee about 20 swans living in the city. The birds are said to have arrived through seasonal residents who wanted them as pets for their winter homes.
The swans thrived for years in local bodies of water including Beulah, Bonny, Hollingsworth, Hunter, Mirror, Wire and especially Lake Morton, according to the city. But by 1954, the last bird had passed, leaving Lakeland swan-less.
For three years, locals worked to fill the swan void to no avail. That was until one Lakeland resident, who the city says was living in England at the time, decided to take the matter straight to the top.
If you didn't know, the royal family actually owns all the unclaimed swans in England. The swan population is tallied each year in an event called "Swan Upping."
The queen reportedly responded to the resident's request by donating a mated pair of swans from her royal flock.
After hitting a few roadblocks, like an oil spill along the Thames River and a stay in New Jersey, the city says the swans arrived at Drane Field Airport, now Lakeland Linder International Airport, on Feb. 8, 1957.
The birds were met with pomp and circumstance by the mayor, city manager, and the president of the chamber of commerce before traveling by motorcade to Lake Morton, where they were released.
According to the city, the male swan, unfortunately, passed before the two could mate. But, the female was taken to a swannery where she selected a commoner as her mate and thus began Lakeland's swan population that we know today.
Over the years, Lakeland's royal swans have become a staple of the community, drawing visitors from all over. Each year, the city holds a Swan Roundup so the birds can receive an annual veterinary check-up.