Two cement bunnies painted pink were installed in Carl T. Langford Park and Lake Como Park. Orlando Sentinel reporter Jon Busdeker went on a quest to find out where they came from.
It's not too often someone asks me to look into the sudden appearance of pink bunnies.
Actually, that's never happened until last week.
A colleague here at the Sentinel called me over to her desk to ask if I knew anything about the pink bunny in Carl T. Langford Park. She noticed the cement critter one day, but couldn't figure out why it was in the downtown park.
I took the case and headed to the park.
In the sea of green at Langford Park, just east of downtown Orlando off Central Boulevard, the bright pink bunny stood out. The three-foot tall statue sits near a walking path about 50 yards from the Carl T. Langford Center.
A closer look revealed a plaque at the base of the bunny that read: "In Loving Memory of Charles Thomas Smith, our beloved Easter Bunny."
The name didn't mean much to me, but I spotted a city employee who told me that he installed the bunny - along with another one a few miles away at Lake Como Park - a few weeks ago.
He said to call Orlando City Commissioner Patty Sheehan, saying that she'd be able to complete the pink bunny puzzle. Sheehan agreed to meet me at Lake Como Park and explain the origins of the two bunnies.
She pulled up in a convertible with the top down and stepped out. Sheehan wore a pink polo shirt - perhaps a coincidence, perhaps a clue.
After the niceties, I got the point: What's the deal with with the pink bunnies?
"They are in honor of my former assistant Chase, who passed last year," Sheehan said.
Charles Smith, the name on the plaque, is Chase Smith, a longtime aide to both Sheehan and Orange County Mayor Teresa Jacobs. Smith died in August 2013, shortly after being diagnosed with cancer. He was 41.
But that didn't explain the pink bunnies.
"One time I needed somebody to play the Easter Bunny at one of the community egg hunts," Sheehan said.
Smith agreed, which stunned Sheehan because "he never really liked to go out in public that much." He continued playing the Easter Bunny for the next several years at the hunts held at Lake Como and Langford Park.
"He was a complete natural," Sheehan said."The kids loved him. He became the Easter Bunny. That was just part of his identity."
When Smith died, Sheehan and others wanted to do something to honor him. Using private donations, they raised enough money to buy two, pink Tabeuia trees and two, pink cement bunnies. The statues were installed the Friday before Easter, and, like any other memorial installed in a city park, the bunnies had to go through an approval process, Sheehan said.
"The man did something special; we wanted to do something to memorialize him," she said.
While some of have nicknamed the bunnies "Pepto Bismol Harvey," Sheehan said that, for the most part, the response has been positive.
As for Smith, Sheehan said he would probably be a bit embarrassed by the statues because he never liked a lot of attention. But those who knew him say it's the "perfect, enduring memorial" for him, Sheehan said.
"Chase Smith....I still miss you, and thanks for being part of our Easter forever," she said.
Before Sheehan and I parted, she gave me a belated Easter present: a package of pink Peeps.