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Find Out Who Dresses Wink the Penguin, Jackson Heights' Mascot, on Saturday

By Katie Honan | January 4, 2016 5:01pm
 The bronze statue has been in the neighborhood since 2001. 
The bronze statue has been in the neighborhood since 2001. 
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DNAinfo/Katie Honan

JACKSON HEIGHTS — For years, it's been a bit of a mystery who dresses up the bronze penguin statue at the ElmJack Malls on 75th Street and 37th Road.

Wink the penguin, as it's known, has been decked out in everything from a Santa suit to a witch costume to a Colombia soccer jersey, becoming a sort of mascot for the neighborhood. 

Even the boulder where Wink lives has been decorated in keeping with the season.

On Saturday, the statue — and the woman who's dedicated her time and energy to dressing him up — will be honored by neighbors with an official ceremony. 

"Come and finally meet this person who dresses Wink for every occasion," the Facebook invitation says. 

"Wink is our town mascot, Wink is fascinating to everybody," Councilman Danny Dromm said of the gender-bending penguin.

"Wink can be a man or a woman, it depends on what seasons of the year or what holiday."

The penguin gets dressed up in drag for the annual pride parade, Dromm said. 

Wink was first brought to Jackson Heights in 2001, by the city's then-Parks Commissioner, Henry Stern.

John Sabini, the neighborhood's former city councilman, was sick of drivers jumping the pedestrian median near his office and he requested some sort of protection, according to a New York Times article at the time.

Sabini provided $412,000 in capital funds to beautify the ElmJack Malls on 75th Street, between 37th Street and 37th Road in Jackson Heights. 

Wink couldn't decide who to root for during the 2014 World Cup. (Facebook)

Stern came up with the penguin idea, saying he was inspired by the neighborhood's Argentinian community. Magellanic penguins can be found on the South American country's coast.

The parks boss originally wanted to also install a flamingo at the 37th Avenue side of the mall, but the Parks Department determined its delicate neck would be susceptible to damage, a spokeswoman said. 

After nearly 15 years, Wink is the only penguin statue left. His partner was stolen at some point in the mid-2000s, officials said. 

Wink himself went missing for a few months in 2009, a day Dromm, whose office is nearby, vividly remembers.

"People came to me screaming, 'Wink's gone! Wink's gone!," he said.

Six months later the statue was found belly-up near his boulder, but by the time Dromm found a cart to bring it to safety it was gone again.

Wink returned for good a few months later, placed firmly in concrete as mysteriously as when he left.

He's been a star of the neighborhood ever since.

Wink decorated throughout the years.


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