Many of the names and some of the descriptions in this blog have been changed to protect the guilty.

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

More Old Forest Park Zoo Animals

It’s always great to get “new” photos of Forest Park animals of yesteryear, and recently there have been many pictures published online, both on the masslive.com website and on the Facebook pages “You know you’re from Springfield, Ma if…” and “Springfield, 413, Then and Now,” as well as “You Know You Grew Up at The X if.” We’ll start with our favorite: Morganetta.

Gail Shapiro had posted the above Morganetta photo on “The X” Facebook page.

The above silhouette is from a series of photos published in the June 27, 1971 edition of the Springfield Republican.

Another nice shot that was posted by Gail Shapiro (above).

Another take on the 1972 incident in which Snowball was shot in the head by a Springfield police officer after she chomped into the arm of teenager named Jody and wouldn’t let go. A commenter on my original Snowball post claims: “The girl was drunk and had been egged on by my cousin Beth, who was also drunk, to pet the bear. Beth didn't suffer and although she was the instigator, my aunt always maintained that Jody had been the one to start the incident.”

Little Jiggsy the chimp!

Jiggsy lived with his mom Nancy and dad Jiggs (before the latter escaped and was shot to death by the Springfield Police in 1967) in the cage on the left with the plastic sheeting in front of it (above). In 1973-1974, a case of bovine tuberculosis claimed some of the zoo’s animals, so officials put plastic sheets in front of the chimps’ cage to stave off contamination. However, another commenter, “Classical ’75 X Guy” claims that the shield was put up because “Jiggsy was such a nasty pig.... he would throw his scat at you, he'd pee on you, and he had a chronic masturbation habit.....Nasty little bugger. Oh man the smell in that place is coming back to me right now.”

After Red the kangaroo was killed by lightning in 1963, he was replaced by Ace (above) in 1966.

I remember these bears also played on tire swings.

Lion cubs Patrick and Brendan in 1970. The sons of Harry and Tillie were born on St. Patrick’s Day that year and were named Patricia and Erin—until their caretakers noticed they had penises!

Was this Patrick or Brendan?

Harry and Tillie had a few more cubs, but in 1974 they were all shipped to the Roger Williams Zoo in Providence, RI—a place that was better equipped to raise the animals into adulthood. I enjoyed seeing Harry and Tillie, but their cage was tiny, and their offspring deserved a better fate.

In 2013 Samson (above) was the first lion to grace Forest Park in decades. Born earlier that year in Tennessee, he was relocated to the Kalahari Zoo in Sandusky, OH, where there were plans to create a permanent home for him. The Zoo at Forest Park “babysat” Samson that summer with the option to fund a permanent exhibit for the lion—and possibly others. The zoo was floating up the idea of accepting donations to keep Samson, but the public’s appetite for a lion exhibit wasn’t too ravenous. Perhaps the memories of Harry and Tillie pacing in their cage, along with the pathetically small cages that housed Snowball and other animals at the old Forest Park Zoo, factored into Samson leaving in October of 2013. So take your last looks at Samson, folks, but know he went to a better place:

Today, the Zoo at Forest Park is a wonderful—but small—zoo, and shouldn’t seek to expand without enough funding. This was underscored by the fact that two monkeys died there last January when their shed’s heating system shut off due to an electrical surge. Two area companies donated funds for a standby generator. The zoo admits one of its challenges is having enough money to put improvements into place, so it certainly doesn’t need to go for a permanent lion exhibit in the near future.

In fact, the OLD Forest Park Zoo wasn’t properly prepared to house its lions, a tiger, and a leopard—never mind an elephant and a polar bear. When city officials finally admitted this, they got rid of the animals in 1974, sending the tiger, lions, and ocelot to Safari Animal Country in Saratoga, NY. What happened to the monkeys and the chimps in the old Forest Park Zoo? The Springfield newspapers didn’t say. They were likely sold to an animal dealer. 

By 1979, after Snowball died and Morganetta was transferred to the Los Angeles Zoo, it was down to a handful of birds:

One more old Forest Park Zoo animal: my friend Craig Stewart’s rabbit. He was donated to the zoo after he scratched Craig as a toddler—the aftermath of which I witnessed when I saw his bloody finger. The bunny had to go. After that, we actually made it a point to visit the zoo’s rabbit cage—usually the last stop of every zoo trip—and check out Craig’s rabbit (or at least what we thought was Craig’s rabbit, because there were several white ones with dark patches around the eyes).

I asked Craig if he remembered the rabbit’s name and he didn’t. But he informed me that he had picture of him holding the critter. “It would take me a while to find it,” he said. “And you can see that I peed my pants in the photo. There’s a spot.” 

Well, Craig finally supplied the photo. The rabbit is on his left shoulder. And as for the stain—no need to point THAT out.

I like to think the critter lived out its days in relative happiness, but Classical ’75 X Guy, in an earlier comment, informs me that might not have been the case: 

As far as your friend’s white rabbit goes, I’ve got some bad news…My buddy worked at the zoo and part of his job was to tend to the rabbits. There was this old Italian guy from Trafton Road that would come in to see my friend with bottles of his homemade wine which he would trade for live rabbits. As we all know, rabbits are very prolific and this equaled a very regular supply of very potent wine. I can only guess what the guy did with the rabbits, but the wine was delicious…I’m not saying your buddy’s rabbit ended up in the stew pot but there is a decent likelihood that it did!!!”

After animal deaths at the old zoo from police bullets, lightning, bovine tuberculosis—and packs of dogs killing deer in the ravine—why am I surprised at this revelation? The wine was delicious, and I hope Craig’s rabbit was as well.