Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Franklin Park Zoo Grows and Grows

I vaguely remember visiting the zoo with my parents in the early Sixties. I do remember the elephant house, the big cat house, and the monkeys. For at least one summer, around 1967, St Thomas band held marching practice in the infield grounds just inside the Blue Hill avenue entrance. Unlike my mother, who had names for the zoo animals and pulled a sled from Amory or Oakdale street to the park to go sledding (think about it), I never spent much time at the zoo or park.

Go here to see a 1924 map of Franklin Park that shows the location of the lion and elephant houses, the bird cage and the bear pens.

On October 4, 1912, the new bear exhibit was opened at the Franklin Park zoo to an audience of nearly 10,000 people. Mayor Fitzgerald, City Council President Attridge and Councillor Ballentyne released 12 bears from their enclosed housing to the open pens near Walnut avenue. John T. Benson, curator of the zoo, boasted that the bear enclosure was the best in the world. Mayor Fitzgerald gave credit to George Parkman, whose bequest of $6,000,000 in 1910 for the parks of Boston destined the city to have the most wonderful parks in the world.

By June of the next year, two of 137 planned building had been built - the bear dens and the bird cage. Two monkeys were housed in a small circular building near the refectory, which stayed crowded throughout Sunday visiting hours. Present sensibilities would be deeply offended by the scene observed by the Globe reporter - a monkey given a hand mirror to play with, which it bit and broke, only to examine the resulting shards of glass. An agouti was in the next cage, and an adjutant stork, described as a "horrid bird." Its eye is "large, full of intelligence, and it has an expression of utter cynicism." Here, I think we can see the writer having some fun, as with the description of a camel on loan to the zoo - "He is an unpleasant, two-humped, supercilious affair..."

At the periphery of the temporary building were elk, a wild boar, and a buffalo. Bears, wolves, skunks and spotted ocelots were held there as well, with the building being planned for later use as a hospital and quarantine.

At the bird cage, which had been delayed in opening by a strike, four eagles perched on the branches of the enclosed trees, and a demoiselle crane performed its dance.

The bears included polar, Siberians, browns and a black, giving a population of 15, with Indian bears still to come.

The tropical birds in the collection had not all fared well, seven having died over the winter, including four flamingos from Florida and two German storks had died as well.

By December of the same year, permanent housing was in place near Blue Hill avenue for the buffalo, elk, llama, goat and red deer. Louis A. Mowbray, curator of the Aquarium, had taken temporary charge of the zoo since the retirement of John T. Benson, holding the position until the new curator, Arthur B. Baker, was to take over on the first of January.

In July of the following year, 2 lions and 10 monkeys arrived in Boston by steamship. The lions had been captured in Africa by Mr. Nelson Slater, who left Harvard and was "famous as a daring motorist, then turned to the African continent for thrills." Such were the times. Another donation to the zoo was a black bear cub from Oregon, given by the comedian Eddie Foy. The cub had been appearing with the Foy family at the Palace Theatre, and was said to be a favorite with women and children.

January of 1915 saw the opening of the new elephant house, home for Tony, Waddy and Mollie. The facility included an exercise yard and a pool 60 feet by 60 feet across, and sloping to seven feet deep. The elephants had come from a vaudeville show, and there was room to allow for similar performance.

A new round house contained leopards, pumas, wolves, red foxes and a wild-cat. The newly arrived lions were kept here, as well as one hyena. The polar bears enjoyed a swim in their pool, even when they needed to stamp through the ice to reach the water.

The second season of the Franklin Park Zoo started with a collection of 856 animals, including 705 birds and 151 mammals. Among the most popular attractions were the golden baboons, Jack and Jocko; Spider and Prince, the ring-tailed monkeys, Mutt, the spotted hyena and Sultan, the leopard.

In January of 1921, the lions, leopards and spotted hyena were moved to the new Lion House. Under the watchful eyes of the monkeys, and with meat tempting them into them each in succession into the travelling crate, each animal yielded and made the short trip. The exception was Sheila, the leopard, who refused the enticement offered and had to be corralled with a noose and drawn into the crate.

Resources: Boston Daily Globe, October 4, 1912, June 1, 1913, December 21, 1913, July 27, 1914, January 4, 1915, April 4, 1915, and January 14, 1921.


  1. Thank you, thank you, thank you for your commentary on the early evolution of the zoo. I have literally spent hours looking for this information online and for some reason, never been lucky enough to find this site!

  2. myruprecht I have done the same!

    Not Whitey,
    Are there any photos of the elepahant and lion house in use? Or after the animals left?
    Is there anymore information available? I have so many questions!
    (My email is safbsaa@aim.com)