Saturday, April 28, 2012

Landing in New York, on All Fours

Among the millions that entered America through the Port of New York in the 20th century, one group stood out in especially high relief. Some, in fact, were 17 feet tall.
Even the stodgy New York Times paid attention when a new shipment of animals landed, usually from Africa, most on their way to zoos around the country. The marvelous incongruity of such photogenic, sentient cargo on the industrial Brooklyn waterfront must have been a godsend to photographers more accustomed to shooting pallets full of flour and coffee sacks. However, the anthropomorphic news accounts and photo captions of the day could not fully cloak the hardships that some animals endured in crossing the seas. For instance, the giraffes pictured below had come through a storm in the Mozambique Channel so fierce that it smashed their crates on the deck of the freighter Lombok, granting them — at least briefly — the run of the ship. Five years later, in 1962, the same freighter took 50 days to reach New York from Cape Town, by way of the Suez Canal and the Mediterranean.
Only one spur-winged goose died from a manifest that included five rhinoceroses (Slide 2), a lion named Tulla (Slides 5 and 8), four elephants (Slide 6), and four giraffes and three zebras (Slide 15).
Josephine, a young baboon on her way to the St. Louis Zoo, clearly won the hearts of at least two news photographers in 1957. (Slides 3 and 16.) She and 27 other animals arrived at the Bush Terminal in Brooklyn after a 28-day journey aboard the freighter Lawak from Mombasa, Kenya. All the animals were seasick at one time or another, said Ann Ruhe, of the family of Louis Ruhe Inc. of Woodside, Queens, which had been in the animal importing business for 110 years. But she added that all the creatures eventually managed to get their sea legs.
No record was made of what Josephine photographed that day — if anything — or if she returned the camera before heading off to Missouri. When Mrs. Ruhe was asked at what age baboons became vicious, The Times reported, she snorted a bit before answering: “You could say, I suppose, that they get that way at about the same age as people do.”
William C. Eckenberg, who was on hand for the arrival of the Lombok in 1962, had also photographed the attempted rescue of the cave explorer Floyd Collins in 1925, Charles A. Lindbergh’s takeoff for Paris in 1927 and, using a soundproofed camera, performances at the Metropolitan Opera House when it was just south of Times Square. He was used to excitement.

Courtesy of Mark Rosenthal

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