Lincoln Park Zoo — Better’n Star Wars for Kids in the Sixties


Way back when…

My niece in OKC frequently takes her chillens and their cousins to Lincoln Park Zoo.

Even though they were raised on Harry Potter and Disney World, they love going to the zoo.

I think that’s great, but, really, there is no way a zoo trip can be as awesome to them as it was to us in the Sixties.

I was probably nine years old when we made our first “expedition” all the way from Norman to Lincoln Park Zoo.  If memory serves, it was a 9,000 mile journey that took about three months.

I was either with my best friend Steve, or my cousins, or all of them, and possibly a sister or two.

What’s clear is that we were all psyched.

For years, we had been watching *Bob Jenni doing guest spots on Foreman Scotty.

He was always handling snakes and gila monsters and other animals that would kill you dead if you messed up.

We boys were GLUED to the television when Bob was on, quietly rooting for the snake to get lose and maybe bite somebody, just a little bit.

So when we went to the zoo, we were hoping to see some seriously dangerous critters, running wild and eating kids, if we were lucky.

My memories of the zoo are a bit faded, but I remember that the Mothers and Aunties were dead keen on this being an EDUCATIONAL trip, so we were all armed with our Friends of the Zoo Key.

Zoo Key

The Lincoln Park Zoo was the second zoo in America to have these keys, which magically accessed 40 talking storybooks spread out across the zoo.

The idea, of course, was that well-behaved children would slowly walk to the first education station, where they would listen carefully, and possibly even take notes, before quietly walking, single-file, to the next station.

What actually happened, of course, was that kids fought like wild animals for the honor of using the precious, plastic elephant key.

I still have a painful memory of being involved in an altercation — not my fault — at one particular Talking Storybook station.

It ended with me holding most of the elephant key in my hand, but the “key” bit had been broken off in the talking book machine.

You have no idea how unhappy my Mom was.  I got the look. I knew there would be hell to pay when we got home.

But in the meantime, I was nine years old, with friends and cousins, at Lincoln Park Zoo, so we raced off to see the monkeys.

And, man, the monkeys were awesome because they had a whole ship to misbehave on!

Monkey Ship

Watching them swing from the masts and climb the chains was way more exciting than any future Indiana Jones movie could ever be!

But the best thing about monkeys wasn’t that they would swing and climb.

No, the ABSOLUTE BEST thing was that one monkey would poop in his hand and throw it at the other monkeys.

Now, if you were a nine-year-old smelly boy who had gotten to eat a snowcone, and run around the huge zoo like a banshee, and broke the elephant key in the talking storybook machine, and got scolded, repeatedly, and had a Coke and another snowcone, and ran around some more, and then saw a real live monkey poop in his hand and fling it with reckless abandon?

Well, you would be in little boy heaven.

We then got to see two HUGE beasts that are still vivid memories, one sad and one terrifying.

It was back in the days before zoos — even leading zoo like in OKC — really knew how to care for animals in their native environment.

Judy the Asian elephant was twenty-something years old, but she seemed much older to me.  Kids had donated their pennies and nickels to help bring her from Thailand.

Judy the elephant

I seem to remember that her trainer made Judy carry stuff around, and the kids would applaud.  But she seemed sad to me.

A quick Google search shows that “Judy and Bab-Bo the chimp were the only two animals in the world ever trained to do a mouth-to-mouth carry” (trained and presented for the Oklahoma City Zoo by Geo. W. Slim Lewis).

After we got tired of watching Judy, who was sad but sweet, we raced over to see the scariest animal on the entire planet — a polar bear that was, in my estimation at the time, well over 900 feet tall.

He’d stand upright, so very, very tall, and then swim under the water.  And he’d look at you.  Hungrily.

Like he wanted to reach out his long hairy arm and snatch you and eat you whole.

Like he’d done to a poor young girl not that long ago who did not listen to her parents and got too close to the cage.

At least that’s what we were told in an attempt to make us quite climbing on the bear bars.  Didn’t work.  And nobody got eaten.

Although I have not seen one of my cousins in a long, long time.


*Click HERE to see Bob Jenni in a scary snake video — he’s at about 9.17.

**You’re new here, right?

BONUS — Go HERE for a cool book on Amazon about the zoo.

Note: Thanks to old classmate Debra Parrish for helping jog my memory.

2 Responses to “Lincoln Park Zoo — Better’n Star Wars for Kids in the Sixties”

  1. J-P says:

    ***********Disney WORLD. Get your stuff straight man!

    • hams says:

      I stand corrected. Apologies for niece-spamming you. I thought this was a Disneybot until I saw the email address as I was nuking the comment!

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