Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Here There Be Tygers

Brooklynology, the wonderful Brooklyn Collection blog, had a great two-part piece last month on the history of the Prospect Park Zoo.  You can read it here and here.  The articles mostly focus on the zoo's early history, but also touch on its more troubled times in the 20s, & its general state of ruin by the 70s and 80s.  The most dramatic & tragic story of the zoo's declining years (unmentioned in the articles) was probably the 1987 mauling & death of a child who climbed into the polar bear enclosure after-hours.

Two polar bears mauled and killed an 11-year-old boy who climbed a fence at the Prospect Park Zoo in Brooklyn with two friends last night and then sneaked into the polar bear enclosure.
Four police officers shot and killed both of the bears as the animals tugged at the dead boy's body, said the city's Parks Commissioner, Henry J. Stern. The police said it took 20 blasts from 12-gauge shotguns firing rifled slugs and six bullets from a .38-caliber revolver to bring down the animals, which stood 8 feet tall and weighed more than 900 pounds.
A police spokesman, Officer Peter O'Donnell, said the dead boy and two other boys scaled an outside fence shortly before 7 P.M. The 11-acre zoo had been closed for hours. The boys intended to go wading in the moat that is just inside the enclosure where the bears were sleeping. (NY Times)

The zoo was closed for renovations the following year, and reborn in 1993 as the Prospect Park Wildlife Conservation Center.  Happier days for both man and beast.

Over the last few days, I've been exploring the film clips newly released from the British Pathe archives, and there's plenty of New York-related material.  Here's footage of tiger cubs & mother at the Brooklyn zoo in 1948.

This is the zoo in its Robert Moses era, looking horribly bare to today's viewer, though the zookeeper and her wicker-basket scale are splendidly stylish.   I remember the zoo looking equally stark in the 80s.

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