PODCAST: Central Park Zoo

From an odd assortment of abandoned creatures, to one of the most notorious zoos in the world, take a tour with us through Central Park’s storybook zoo.

In the podcast I erroneously stated that a famous political cartoon using the Central Park Zoo as a political metaphor also featured Ulysses S Grant depicted as an ass. Perhaps that was some sort of Freudian partisan comment, because Grant himself is not in the cartoon, although it is about his alleged ‘Caesarism’, running for president for a third term back when it was constitutionally possible — but untraditional — to do so.

The ass in the cartoon below actually represents the New York Herald, the flagrant publication which ran the article on the Central Park Hoax as well as coining the phrase ‘Caesarism’.

The cast of the Zoo is featured (hmm, I didnt realize the Zoo had unicorns), as well as an elephant representing the republican vote, being scared off by the Herald’s bombastic opinions on Grant. This is the origin of the elephant as the symbol of the Republican Party:

Now, onto the Menagerie! This postcard nicely displays the early collection’s unplanned evolution:

Before the Arsenal served as headquarters of the city park service and anchor to the Zoo, it was the temporary location of the Natural History Museum as well as workspace for paleontologists and their dinosaur skeletons.

Part of the zoo’s rebirth in the 80s included the restoration of the Delacorte Clock, a throwback to grandiose European clock design that greets each hour with a parade of dancing animals and tinkling music. It was a gift of George Delacorte, founder of Dell Publishing Company, who also graced Central Park with a theatre and statuary depicting Alice In Wonderland. Over forty years old, the clock and its tinny nursery rhymes can be actually be heard from Fifth Avenue if you listen closely enough.

Although close in style, the nearby Dancing Goat fountain sculpture and its companion Honey Bear are actually from the 1930s, where they once flanked a lavish cafeteria inside the zoo that was demolished in the 80s to make way for the rain forest.

And a couple of our celebrity stars of the zoo:

Patty Cake and her mother were quite the sensation in the early 70s. The first gorilla ever born at New York, she was named in a much publicized newspaper competition, and ever since, she has unquestionably been the city’s most famous gorilla.

Most baby gorillas are actually taken from their parents to be nursed, however Patty was cared for by both her parents, Lulu and daddy Kongo. Her father eventually fell on her, breaking her arm, and she was eventually transferred for a time to the Bronx Zoo. Her custody battle between the two zoos was even covered by Time Magazine.

Now as a permanent resident of the Bronx Zoo, queen of the Congo Gorilla Forest, at age 35, Patty is a proud mother of nine, including two rare twins, Nngoma and Tambo. And like any New York society diva, she’s also had four husbands.

In spirit, she’s also doing her share to stop gorilla poaching in Africa, through a charity called ‘The Pattycake Fund’.

Gus, the no-longer-depressed polar bear, was really diagnosed by an animal behaviorist with psycotic tendencies, and the animals plight was so publicized that he made the cover of Newsday, significant coverage on CNN, and somebody actually wrote a play about him. Changes to Gus’ habitat were soon made, including better water circulation, and Gus’ mood has improved substantially. And anyway, why should he be depressed? He has two wives — Ida and Lily.

And finally take a gander at this painting from the mid 19th century of Central Park in its wilder days. The building in the back is the castle-like Arsenal, before a menagerie started appearing.

4 replies on “PODCAST: Central Park Zoo”

I love your podcasts, but this one on the Central Park Zoo was gossamer thin and a great disappointment. Nothing about the mechanical musical animal clock – the jewel of the zoo or about the pony rides at the Southern tip?

Hi Suzanne,

Indeed — it was gossamer thin! You’ll note that we recorded that episode in 2007! In fact, it’s one of our first. So yes, we were just figuring out the show. It sounds like perhaps we should revisit this topic, doesn’t it?


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