Friday, May 22, 2009

Mastodons of the Midway: A short history of Chicago zoo elephants.

Mastodons of the Midway: A short history of Chicago zoo elephants

With the death of Affie the elephant at Brookfield Zoo on May 15, Chicago is left with only one zoo elephant. Here's a look at the pachyderms of the past:

1888: Barnum and Bailey Circus visits Chicago, and local officials ask the circus to donate an elephant to the Lincoln Park Zoo. Circus owners respond that if they gave Chicago an elephant, every town would ask for one. But they're perfectly willing to negotiate a sale. The zoo buys an elephant named The Dutch and other animals for $3,000. The Dutch is renamed Duchess.

1891: Duchess escapes the zoo and wreaks havoc along North Avenue, entering a saloon and wrecking its fixtures and glassware. Police scramble to corral the pachyderm, and a horse is killed in the chaos. Damage is put at $1,500.

1900: Duchess, who is described as calm among children, works with four camels to give rides to zoo visitors for 5 cents apiece. The rides are discontinued a few years later.

1904: A story in the Tribune begins with an imaginary dialogue between Duchess and zoo director Cy DeVry in which Duchess complains about being kept in chains since the North Avenue rampage and adds: "My supply of peanuts would be scorned by any self-respecting circus elephant." DeVry allegedly reminds her that "you ran away...and cannot be trusted."

1906: Ald. "Bathhouse John" Coughlin, one of Chicago's most corrupt and colorful politicians, pays a reported $3,000 for a Lincoln Park Zoo elephant named Princess Alice and sends the elephant to his private zoo near Colorado Springs, Colo. The Chicago zoo is willing to give up the animal because its trunk was damaged when it got stuck in a door jamb.

1908: Lincoln Park Zoo builds a new elephant yard, and Duchess is finally unchained.

1924: Duchess dies at an advanced age, estimated at 85-90 years by zoo director Alfred Parker. The zoo buys another elephant from the Philadelphia zoo. Parker writes to an aide: "I am having quite a bit of trouble getting transportation for the elephant. The express company talks of chartering a car and I cannot see the joke." The pachyderm arrives via train and is called Deed-a-Day, a reference to a Boy Scout campaign to pay for the elephant.

1936: The Chicago area's new zoo, Brookfield, adopts Ziggy, an elephant with a checkered past. Ziggy was entertainer Florenz Ziegfeld's gift to his 6-year-old daughter, but he smashed up the family's greenhouse and was sent away. He eventually joined a vaudeville act called Singer's Midgets, featuring little people. During his show business career, Ziggy reportedly attacked a trombone player and threw him 30 feet. At Brookfield, Ziggy's troubles continue, and in 1941 he attempts to gore his handler, Slim Lewis, who escapes between his tusks. Henceforth, Ziggy is chained up.

1940: Brookfield officials announce that Ziggy and his companion, Nancy, are expecting a baby. The zoo throws a baby shower attended by 40,000 people, and the National Dairy Council donates a 400-gallon bottle. But zoo officials later make the embarrassing announcement that Nancy was never pregnant -- she had just gained some weight.

1942: Deed-a-Day dies at Lincoln Park. An autopsy finds that she swallowed glass from broken whisky bottles that callous zoo patrons threw into her enclosure.

1943: Lincoln Park Zoo acquires Judy from Brookfield Zoo. But the 35-year-old elephant refuses to ride in a flatbed truck, so she walks the 18 miles to her new home. The trek is wisely scheduled in the evening, after rush hour.

1965: An elephant shipped from Bangkok en route to a zoo in Michigan City, Ind., is dead on arrival at O'Hare International Airport.

1969: Michael Sneed -- then a Tribune reporter, now Sun-Times columnist -- reports that Brookfield has kept Ziggy chained to a wall for decades. The article inspires a fund-raising drive that pays for outdoor facilities for Ziggy, who dies in 1975 in his mid-50s.

1971: Judy, the much-beloved Lincoln Park resident who is known for her "shimmy dance" and might be the oldest elephant in captivity in the U.S., dies at Lincoln Park Zoo.

1990: Shanti becomes the first elephant born at Lincoln Park Zoo.

2005: After the deaths of three elephants in less than two years, Lincoln Park Zoo suspends further exhibition of the animals, pending study.

2009: At Brookfield, 39-year-old Affie dies, leaving her younger pal, Christy, as the only elephant in a Chicago zoo.

-- Mark Jacob

Sources: "The Ark in the Park" by Mark Rosenthal, Carol Tauber and Edward Uhlir; "Let the Lions Roar" by Andrea Friederici Ross; "Lords of the Levee" by Lloyd Wendt and Herman Kogan; and Tribune archives

Courtesy of Mark Rosenthal

"Mark's book THE ARK IN THE PARK is available through Amazon. com. It is a great read and a must have for any zoo fanatic. The history lesson is wonderful. Also available is Dr. Fisher's equally important Illinois zoological history book, DR. FISHER'S LIFE ON THE ARK."

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