2,300 pounds of concrete Christmas spirit
When most people think of yard art, they envision flamingos, plastic light-up Virgin Marys, and gnomes with pointy hats and mischievous grins. A five-foot tall, 2,300-pound cement gorilla dressed in a holiday costume is never the first thing on the list—unless you live in Plaquemine.
For over ten years, the Plaquemine Gorilla has dutifully guarded the Schwing family home on Highway 1. Gayle Schwing says her Fay Wray-esque love affair with the gentle giant began as a long running joke with her late husband, Edward. The couple owned a vacation home on Grand Isle. On the way there, they would pass D&D Ornamental Concrete in Napoleonville. Schwing says her husband would point to the statue and say, “I’m gonna get that gorilla.”
In September of 2002, the gorilla found his way to her front yard. At first, Schwing was unhappy and embarrassed with her husband for his large impulse purchase. But the gorilla eventually wormed his way into Schwing’s heart.
During a heavy storm that fall, the family decided the gorilla needed protection. Schwing’s daughter managed to squeeze him into a rain slicker. Later that year he donned a witch hat for Halloween. Schwing’s husband demanded more professional costumes for his unlikely muse. A seamstress was hired and the gorilla found himself decked out for Christmas in Santa Claus suit complete with a hat.
When Edward died in April 2003, Gayle took all of the flowers from his service and placed them around the gorilla. At that point, it was obvious the concrete giant had become a member of the family.
Schwing kept the new tradition of dressing the gorilla. It takes two people to help him into his custom-made couture. His collection has even grown to six signature looks. He dresses for Mardi Gras, Easter, Fourth of July, LSU football season, Thanksgiving, and Christmas. The Santa Claus suit remains Schwing’s favorite. The gorilla even has a spotlight so he can be viewed from the road at night.
The town has embraced this loveable ape as their unofficial mascot. People have brought their children to have holiday portraits taken with him for years. Passing motorcycle clubs have been known to snap a picture or two.
Schwing believes that Edward bought the gorilla so she would always have something to remember him by. Even though it has never occurred to her to name her giant brute, she says, “It means so much to us as a family. No one else should ever have it. And I will never move it.”