Writing the History of the Central Park Zoo
Joan Scheier, Central Park Zoo-Docent
My name is Joan Scheier and I have been a docent at the Central Park Zoo in New York City since April 2000. One day in April 2001 someone pointed out that there were many books about Central Park, but none written just about the zoo. I was surprised to find this was true. I went to Barnes and Noble to see who published books about local history. This turned out to be Arcadia Publishing Company, in Portsmith, New Hampshire. They had never done a book about a zoo before. They asked for a book proposal and an outline. This was to include 4 to 6 chapters and 20 photocopies of images that I planned to use complete with captions.
My background as a NYC school librarian from 1969 to 1997 and a native New Yorker helped me to know where to go for materials. The Parks Department has a large print archive, as do many museums in New York City. My book contains 60 photographs from the Parks Archives. This led to visit other museum archives in New York City. I also obtained images from Postcard collections as well as photographs from private collections, which included a photograph of the baby gorilla Patty Cake born in the Central Park Zoo in 1972.
I was led to web sites such as Zoohistorians.com@yahoogroups. I posted a notice stating that I was doing a book about the history of the Central Park Zoo. I received information and photographs from the menagerie, the Robert Moses Zoo and the current zoo of 1988 run by the Wildlife Conservation Society. Many of the responses I received came from all over the world.
It is also important when doing a history to interview individuals who worked at the zoo. I was able to interview former directors and keepers that worked in the zoo of 1934. It was most interesting that when I showed them photographs they could tell me exactly who the animal was and the changes made in the zoo. Dan Wharton, the present director of the Central Park Zoo had a postcard collection, which I was able to use. Steve Johnson, Bronx Zoo librarian and Diane Shapiro who runs the Bronx Zoo photo archives were most helpful giving me ideas of where to track down photographs and information.
I found many resources in magazines and newspapers dating back to the 1860’s when the menagerie began. There were articles concerning the building of the Robert Moses Zoo of 1934 and about its closing in 1983. The reopening of the Zoo under the Wildlife Conservation Society was covered in print and photographs.
The book was accepted for publication in March of 2001 and the deadline for the final draft was June June 15, 2002. The book is divided into four sections (1) The Menagerie 1860-1934. (2) The Robert Moses Zoo of 1934-1983. (3) The Wildlife Conservation of the present that opened in 1988. (4) The Lehman’s Childrens Zoo of 1961 and its replacement, the Tisch Children’s Zoo, 1997.
Politics and time aside this was a very rewarding experience. It is very exciting to see the total histories of your zoo come to life. Local libraries, historical societies, newspapers and magazines are excellent resources for documenting your zoos’ history. It is important to note that it need not be a book of 200 images. It could be a small pamphlet depending on the resources available to you. I encourage all of you to look into your zoos history, whether it is zoo of over one hundred years old or new to the zoo community.
The Menagerie 1864-1933- Slides # 1-12
1. Photo dated 1865 show ladies dressed elegantly in long skirts, hats and gloves. The signs over the cages tell the visitors that they were seeing. The gentleman on the right is looking at the camera that was a new invention. Photo: Archives Museum Of the City Of New York.
2. This is a drawing showing the menagerie. The nicknames for these collections were “Postage Stamp Collection.” Photo: Collection of The New York Historical Society.
3. The photo dated 1886 shows the dress of the day. The gentleman on the right is using one of the first preloaded cameras to get the image of the elephant. The camera was then shipped to Kodak where the photos were developed and reloaded with new film, enough for 100 exposures. Photo: Collection of the Brooklyn Museum of Art X892.8
4. The Arsenal was built in the 1840’s in preparation for storing munitions for the Civil War. It became a place for New Yorkers to donate animals. In 1871 a more formal menagerie was constructed. Buildings and enclosures were built as animals arrived. Donations were also made by the circus and carnivals.
Photo: Museum of the City Of New York.
5. As the collection grew and could no longer be kept in the basement it became necessary to build animal enclosures. It was still not unusual to house certain animals in the Arsenal basement at night. Postcard: Collection of Joan Scheier
6. It was stated in the Annual Report of the Department of Parks, New York, August 9, 1874 that the Central Park Menagerie received in addition to other animals, one polar bear and two seals. The polar bear and the sea lions are two species that have been in the Central Park collections from 1874 to the present. Postcard: Collection of Joan Scheier.
7. One year after the Parks opening in 1858 a bear cub was presented. Philip Holmes, a park worker was appointed the bear’s keeper. Deals were made with animal brokers and exchanges were often made between zoos. Postcard: Collection of Joan Scheier
8. Many animals came from the circus and spent the winters in the menagerie. The keeper shown here would have trained his elephants when the circus was not traveling. Postcard: Collection of Dan Wharton, Director, Central Park Zoo.
9. It was not unusual to see a dressed and trained animal in the menagerie. Babe, the monkey was trained to swing and dress in a costume. The menagerie also took in animals that had retired from the circus but still were healthy and able to entertain visitors. Postcard: Collection of Joan Scheier.
10. This shows the concession stand just a few feet off of Fifth Avenue. Photograph: New York City Parks Photo Archive.
11. In 1934 it was apparent a new permanent zoo was needed. The twin chimneys on the top of the Menagerie building are mirrored in the twin buildings seen on Central Park West. Animals were moved to other zoos to make way for the Robert Moses Zoo that would open in December of 1934. Photograph: New York City Parks Photo Archive.
12. This final photo of the menagerie was taken from the building across Fifth Avenue. The view is looking north over the rooftops and turrets of the Arsenal. Robert Moses became the first commissioner of a citywide park. He proclaimed the Arsenal would become the headquarters of the Parks Department. It would be the second time in New York City history the Arsenal would be the anchor of the zoo. Photograph: New York City Parks Photo Archives.
The Robert Moses Zoo 1934-1983
13. Robert Moses received the completed architect plans for the nine new buildings within sixteen days. The cost would be $400,000 and would be built in nine months. Red brick was used with white concrete trim. Photograph: Alajos L.Schuszler/New York City Parks Photo Archives.
14. This shows artists standing on a scaffold hand painting the mural that sit atop the restaurant. The mural was 80 feet long and depicted the animals found in the zoo. Photograph: Alajos L. Schuszler/New York City Photo Archives.
15. The images painted on the inside walls of the Arsenal by Allen Saalburg show scenes of activities within the park, including the zoo. Photograph: Alajos L. Schuszler/New York City Parks Photo Archive
16. The concession cart with the Parks Logo sold snacks and ice cream to the visitors. This cart reminded visitors of the Good Humor trucks that could be seen in New York City in the summer.Photograph: Camden Studio/New York City Parks Archive
17. Allen Saalburg, who painted the park scenes in the lobby of the Arsenal, adorned the movable carts, named “Carretinas” with painted animals. The carts contained souvenirs and snacks. Photograph: New York City Parks Photo Archives
18. The Central Park Zoo is also home to many statues and friezes. The iron monkey holding on to its weathervane is good example of the whimsical style to show the visitors in one glance what was inside the building. The weathervanes were made by Wilhelm Hunt Diedrich for the zoo of 1934 and reside in the zoo today. Photograph: Alajos L. Schuszler/New York City Parks Photo Archive
19. F.G. Roth was a versatile sculptor and could portray animals in whimsical poses. This frieze shows the gorilla chewing on a twig in a life like pose. Photograph: Alajos L. Schuszler/New York City Parks Photo Archive
20. There are eight eagles in the zoo of 1934. They were taken from the top of piers of bridge that went over Shore Road in Brooklyn. Photograph/New York City Parks Photo Archive
21. Opening day December 2, 1934, 1200 invited guests were seated in front of the Arsenal. Next to the Arsenal, the bird and monkey house were intended to harmonize with the Arsenal. Above the doorway the Parks Flag, State Flag and the Stars and Stripes flew to welcome all visitors. Photograph: Museum of the City of New York Print Archive
22. The new zoo opened with elaborate ceremonies and large crowds. It has been estimated that 25,000 attended on opening day. This view diagonally across from the elephant house shows a birdcage, sea lion pool, monkey house as well as the Arsenal and the buildings along Fifth Avenue and Sixty-sixth Street. Photograph: Alajos L. Schuszler/New York City Parks Photo Archive
23. Opening day with the view of the South Gate Kiosk. The birdhouse and Arsenal can be seen in the background. This path is still in use as entrance to the park and the zoo. Photograph: Alajos L.Schuszler/New York City Parks Photo Archive
24. This photograph is entitled ” Daily Aquatic Show” The sea lions wait atop their platforms for the keepers to appear with their meal. Crowds were always happy to hear them barking in anticipation. The background shows the dining terrace with the animal murals. Photograph: Museum of the City of New York Print Archive
25. The Central Park Zoo become home to three gorillas. Kongo seen here sitting on his favorite toy, a tire. The cages were enlarged to double size to give the gorillas more room. Kongo weighed 260 pounds and was the father of Patty Cake. Photograph: Wildlife Conservation Center Headquartered at the Bronx Zoo
26. Patty Cake, pictured here with mother Lulu came as a surprise. No one knew that Lulu was Pregnant. Patty Cake was born on September 3, 1972. Lulu tugged on keeper Richard Lagano’s shirt and held up the black ball for him to see. This was a first for Central Park. Gorillas were an endangered species and few were born and raised in captivity. In 2002 Patty Cake celebrated her 30th birthday at the Bronx Zoo where she now resides. Photograph: Dr. Ronald D.Nadler, Yerkes Regional Primate Research Center of Emory University
27. The elephants were the largest animals in the zoo. Their enclosure was down below ground level and separated by an additional low railing from visitors. Photograph: NYC Municipal Archives, WPA neg. #7181
28. The pose of this buffalo in 1936 may look familiar as it is the images that appears on the nickel bearing its name. The model for the buffalo nickel is Black Diamond and designed by James E. Fraser. Photograph: Alajos L. Schuszler/New York City Parks Photo Archive
29. Babies were born in the zoo and did well. Under Parks Commissioner August Hecksher, 1967-1972 there was a change to more larger and natural settings. Bars were placed around the trees to protect them for animals and thus allowing them to bloom in the spring to provide shade for the animals. Photograph: New York City Parks Photo Archive
30. This photograph taken in 1941 shows the polar bears climbing on the rocks. Schist rock is natural in Central Park and was an easy surface to clean with hoses. Photograph: New York City Parks Photo Archive
31. Sea lions enjoying the winter sun, with the Lion House in the background. Today, because of the constant circulation of the water, the sea lion pool no longer freezes in the winter. Photograph: New York City Parks Photo Archive
32. Each California sea lion is napping on one of their platforms. Beneath the top platform is a cave with room for them to go into at night. Photograph: NYC Municipal Archives neg. # 570G
33. The lion house also housed tigers and cheetahs. The cheetah is shown in the outdoor caged area. This is a sharp contrast to the home of large cats today at the Bronx and Queens Zoos. Photograph: Alajos L. Schuszler/New York City Parks Photo Archive
34. The 1960’s brought about a change in the attitude concerning the comfort and care of the animals. This photograph shows a lion on a sleeping platform. By the standards of today that might not seem like a giant step in imitating natural behaviors but it brought the zoo in the direction of building natural habitats in the Central Park Zoo of 1988. Photograph: Wildlife Conservation Society headquartered at the Bronx Zoo
35. A view of the zoo from the roof of the Arsenal. The bear pit in the background is alongside the Lion House with open cages. Photograph: NYC Municipal Archives WPA neg. # 403
36. A view showing the Elephant house facing the inside of the zoo. Murals depicting life in Africa were painted atop this exhibit. Photograph: NYC Municipal Archives, WPA neg. # 983
37. A final photograph taken in 1984 before the zoo closed for renovation. The zoo would now be run by the Wildlife Conservation Society an organization that sees over zoos and aquariums. Attitudes toward zoos had also changed. Small cages and large animals were replaced with natural open spaced habitats. Photograph: Wildlife Conservation Society headquartered at the Bronx Zoo
38. This aerial view shows the quadrangle arrangement of the zoo. The zoo occupies 5.5 acres of Central Park located at the southeast corner of the park. The Arsenal would remain the anchor of the zoo of 1988. Photograph: Alajos L. Schuszler/New York City Parks Photo Archive
39. Aerial view of the zoo shows the Arsenal and Fifth Avenue and 65th Street directly in front of the Zoo. Photograph: Alajos L. Schuszler/New York City Parks Photo Archive
40. The Delacorte clock installed in 1965 fell into disrepair. Today the clock has been completely restored and now runs by computer. Dancing around the clock are six animals playing musical instruments. Two bronze monkey strike the hour and the half hour. Photograph: Joan Scheier
Wildlife Conservation Society 1988- Present
41. A long time aim of the Central Park Zoo was to include an on site educational facility. The monkey house was renamed the Hecksher Zoo School and is now used for on going education for zoo docents, school groups and the general public. Photograph: Joan Scheier
42. All but two of the buildings of the Moses zoo were demolished and serve new uses today. The birdhouse is now the gift shop and carries zoo related educational items. The limestone friezes from the birdhouse remain from the 1934 zoo as does the chimney. Photograph: Joan Scheier
43. Dancing Goat was located on one side of the restaurant in 1934. The statue remains on the walkway along the zoo path. Photograph: Joan Scheier
44. Honey Bear is a six foot high bronze statue that became part of the non animal collection inside the Central Park Zoo. These bronze statues were designed and executed by F.G.Roth. Honey Bear is playfully sticking out her tongue while standing on her hind legs. Photograph: Joan Scheier
45. The bronze statues were moved to new places in the park. The Tigress and her cubs have now been placed in the Intelligence Garden, a quiet space with benches to rest and enjoy the skyline looking south and east. Photograph: Joan Scheier
46. The popular polar bears and sea lions were given tenure at the new zoo. The sea lion pool still occupies the center of the zoo. Opening day began with Mayor Edward Koch feeding the sea lions and Richard Lattis, senior vice president of the Wildlife Conservation Society looking on. Photograph: The Wildlife Conservation Center, Bronx Zoo
47. The largest animal in the zoo, the polar bear enjoys the 90,000 gallons of water pumped at 1,000 gallons a minute. There are many caves to hide in and rocks for napping. The Polar Zone is home to harbor seals, artic foxes, penguins and puffins. Photograph: The Wildlife Conservation Society headquartered at the Bronx Zoo.
48. The senior citizen in the Polar Zone is Breezy a California Sea lion. She is over 30 years old and is thought to be the oldest sea lion in captivity She is blind but is healthy and alert. She is a long time favorite of visitors to the zoo. Photograph: Animal Department, Central Park Zoo.
49. The sea lions fly through the air with the greatest of east launching from their man made rock island. They remind visitors that the zoo of today is not just about seeing animals for amusement but also for teaching and enlightening visitors about the animals we share the planet with. Photograph: Ferne Spieler
50. The Edge of The Ice Pack in the polar region is home to two varieties of penguins, gentoo and chinstrap. This is a climate-controlled area with water kept at 48F. This habitat was designed to look and feel natural to the penguins. Our penguins are hand fed. One keeper will feed the birds while the other will keep track of the feeding. Photograph: Wildlife Conservation Society headquartered at the Bronx Zoo.
51. Our breeding program with the penguins is one of the most successful in the country. Visitors can watch the penguins from above and below the water. Photograph: Ferne Spieler
52. This rock island is home to a snow monkey troupe. There are no bars; a large moat separates the monkeys from the visitors. Photograph: Wildlife Conservation Society headquartered at the Bronx Zoo In former zoos animals were allowed to breed with little thought to space or the consequences of inbreeding. Today the SSP gives guidelines to accredit zoos for animal births. This enables the zoos to know the genetic background of the breeding animal. This is Manny, a snow monkey born at the Central Park Zoo, May 22,2001. Photograph: Ferne Spieler
53. As you approach the final curve of the rain forest you will be able to view a troupe of black and white Colobus monkeys. The habitat contains rocks and branches for climbing, hiding and napping. The Colubus can be viewed that goes from floor to ceiling. Photograph: Wildlife Conservation Society headquartered at the Bronx Zoo.
54. Several Colobus babies have been born and raised successfully in the Central Park Zoo. Ella was welcomed on February 20,2002. Baby colobus monkeys are white at birth but soon take on the coloration of the adults. Photograph: Ferne Spieler
Children’s Zoo- 1961- Lehman Children’s Zoo
55. The Lehman’s Children Zoo was made possible by a generous donation from Mrs. Lehman, the wife of the former governor. The gate was sculpted by Paul Manship and signified the couple’s 50th anniversary. The children’s zoo had one rule. NO ADULT ADMITTED WITHOUT A CHILD. Photograph: Joan Scheier
56. It was a hit from the start. Many fancily buildings included one in the shape of a what that came to be known as Whale-y. Children walked through the whale in order to enter the zoo.Photograph: New York City Parks Photo Archive
57. In 1995 when the zoo was scheduled to be replaced the children in Rockaway Queens adopted Whale-y and he was brought to a traffic island facing the ocean. Postcard: Collection of Joan Scheier.
58. Steps led up to slide that went down the rabbit hole. The storybook themed zoo has been said to Be the precursor of larger theme parks, such as the Magic Kingdom that did combine storybook characters and rides. Photograph: New York City Parks Photo Archive
Children’s Zoo- 1997- Tisch Children’s Zoo
59. The familiar gates once again welcomed visitors to the new children’s zoo. Many exhibits in this new children’s zoo are educational and interactive. Photograph: Joan Scheier
60. Fiberglass books next to each animal have a graphic that tells something about the animal. Photograph: Joan Scheier
61. The keeper will explain to children how to pet the animals and the best way to feed them pellets. This zoo allows New York City children to see, hear and feed farm animals. Onyx, a newborn goat is being introduced to the visitors. Photograph: Wildlife Conservation Society, headquartered at the Bronx Zoo.
62. Three stone rabbits are lined up next to the rabbit exhibit. The opening of the face allows children to become rabbits. The children’s zoo provides the visitors with two zoos for the price of one. Photograph: Joan Scheier
63. Interactive exhibits include a spider web of rope for children to climb upon, large man made lily Pads to cross the pond where frogs and turtles reside. Photograph: Joan Scheier
The Ones That Got Away
I was very fortunate to include almost all photographs, postcards and drawings that I wanted for the book. But, there were three that I wanted- but could not be included.
64. This is cover from The New Yorker Magazine ca. 1940 that shows a cheetah sleeping inside the enclosures while children hopefully wait at the opening to view him.
65. A New Yorker magazine from July 1944 showing a very lively children’s zoo. Many elements of this cover were incorporated into the children’s zoo of 1961.
66. This is a painting of the Central Park Zoo by Charles Prendergast. This painting shows the sea lion pool in the center and a view of the restaurant with the mural. This painting is in a private collection. I was able to write to the owner and then speak to them about what I planned to do with this painting in the context of the book. I was given permission to use this image the day after the book went to print.
I learned a lot about my zoo and met so many interesting and helpful people along the way. The main point of many speakers made at this conference is do not wait too long to find materials about your zoo. Use local web sites, zoo web sites, libraries and any historical societies and museums available to you. Find people who remember the zoo and track down keepers and former directors. I wish you all well and look forward to seeing your zoo history book join mine in my library.