Smokey Bear, Washington, DC, 20252

Did you know that the living, breathing em“bear”diment of one of the most popular advertising icons in U.S. history called the National Zoo home? The famous Smokey Bear lived in DC for 26 years—from 1950 as a rescued cub until his death in 1976.

Smokey’s message, the national forest fire prevention campaign, was launched during World War II, after a Japanese submarine bombed an oil refinery near the coast of Santa Barbara, California, in 1942. Fear spread that more Axis attacks would wreak havoc on one of the West Coast’s most precious resources—lumber. After the Wartime Forest Fire Prevention Program’s campaign (featuring scary Axis cartoon humans) didn’t really take off, they looked for a mascot that could better grab the attention—and hearts—of the American people, much like Bambi did at this time. (After all, people have an easier time listening to cute animals than other humans, right?)

Portrayed as a friend of the forest, Smokey began appearing in 1944 on stamps and posters across the country. (Congress passed an act that placed Smokey under the control of the Secretary of Agriculture and stipulated that use of any collected royalties and fees was to be used for continued wildfire prevention education.) After the slogan and bear image endured multiple iterations, the Smokey campaign that most of us are familiar with—the “Only You” campaign with the adorable hat-wearing bear—launched in 1947 by the U.S. Forest Service and the Ad Council. (Washington, DC, disc jockey Jackson Weaver served as Smokey’s radio voice by uttering into an empty trashcan, “Remember, ONLY YOU can prevent forest fires.”)

 

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And then the (unfortunate) opportunity arose for the Forest Service to bring Smokey to life….

In May 1950 a forest fire broke out in the Lincoln National Forest near Capitan, New Mexico, ultimately destroying 17,000 acres. Among the rubble firefighters found the seriously injured black bear cub, with severe burns on his paws and legs, clinging to a charred tree. With no mother bear in sight, a New Mexico game warden, Ray Bell, arranged for the five-pound bear, nicknamed “Hotfoot Teddy,” to be flown to Santa Fe for treatment. While recovering, the cub stayed with the Bell family, who helped nurse him back to health with hot infant cereal, milk, and honey.

Meanwhile, the rescued cub’s story became a national story, and people craved information about his recovery. Perhaps realizing the value the cub could serve as a conservation and wildfire prevention spokes-bear, once healed the cub, now named “Smokey,” was presented to the U.S. Forest Service with the promise that the agency would use him specifically for these purposes. As a survivor of a devastating fire, Smokey was the perfect advocate for the Forest Service’s fire prevention campaign. (Move over, Bambi!)

 

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After Smokey was turned over to the Forest Service, he needed a permanent home that could accommodate a growing, rambunctious black bear. A month after his rescue, the celebrity was flown in style to Washington, DC, in a personalized Piper airplane—courtesy of Mr. Piper himself. (During an overnight stop, the St. Louis Zoo arranged for a special room for the bear!) He finally arrived at his new home to much fanfare at the National Zoo as a healthy, famous four-month-old cub on June 29, 1950. (His first stop in DC was a reception at the National Airport’s Presidential Room, where he adorably nibbled on the rug, Venetian blinds, and anything else he could find.)

Smokey became an instant celebrity at the National Zoo. The Washington Post described the scene: “children screamed with delight and photographers flashed scores of bulbs.” Numerous gifts and thousands of fan letters per week poured into the zoo—so many, in fact, that the postal service eventually gave the celebrity his own zip code (20252)!

 

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In 1962, Smokey was introduced to a female black bear, Goldie, who also arrived from New Mexico via police escort up Connecticut Avenue. They never had a cub of their own (they weren’t even observed mating), but they “adopted” a son, Little Smokey, in 1971. Little Smokey was another orphaned bear from New Mexico. The younger Smokey’s name was officially changed to “Smokey Bear II” during a ceremony when the elder bear officially retired in 1975. Smokey II lived at the National Zoo until his death in 1990.

Smokey Bear died at the age of 26 on November 9, 1976. His celebrity earned him a front-page obituary in the Wall Street Journal. As stipulated by a congressional resolution, he was flown back to New Mexico to be buried in Capitan, close to where he was rescued. His final resting place is memorialized in Smokey Bear Historical Park.

smokey-grave
Smokey’s memorial in Capitan, New Mexico. Photo: Smokey Bear Historical Park

In 1978, the National Zoo, with Forest Service representatives in attendance, honored the longtime celebrity resident with the opening of Smokey Bear Park, a renovated area with moated enclosures for various species of bears. It is currently sitting animal-less on the American Trail, with no indication that this park even existed. Given that it’s such a beautiful section of the zoo, we hope that it will be revived in the near future, complete with a remembrance of the impact that Smokey had on millions of Americans.

smokey-bear-park
The former Smokey Bear Park at the National Zoo. We hope to see animals in this space in the near future. Photo: DC Zoo Walks.

Bonus footage! The story of Smokey, as told by Hopalong Cassidy:

 

Sources

Bannicoff, Tad. “Bearly Survived to become an Icon.” Smithsonian Archives blog (May 27, 2010), https://siarchives.si.edu/blog/bearly-survived-become-icon

Broache, Anne. “A Bear-Handed Grab.” Smithsonian Magazine (June 2005), https://www.smithsonianmag.com/arts-culture/a-bear-handed-grab-41187866/

Charlton, Linda. “Smokey Bear Dies in Retirement.” New York Times, November 10, 1976 (https://www.nytimes.com/1976/11/10/archives/smokey-bear-dies-in-retirement.html)

Chronology of Smithsonian History. “Smokey Bear Arrives at National Zoological Park.” https://siarchives.si.edu/collections/siris_sic_1084

“Goldie Bear Heads for Red-Carpet U.S. Capital, Wedding.” The Albuquerque Journal, August 8, 1962, https://foresthistory.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/01/SBC_27_Oct_1962.pdf

Kelly, John. “The biography of Smokey Bear: the cartoon came first.” Washington Post (April 25, 2010), http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2010/04/24/AR2010042402441.html

National Archives. “Little Smokey” (video). National Archives Identifier: 1849 / Local Identifier: 16-P-1147. https://catalog.archives.gov/id/1849

National Archives. “The REAL Smokey Bear.” The Unwritten Record blog. https://unwritten-record.blogs.archives.gov/2013/10/31/the-real-smokey-bear/

Py-Lieberman, Beth. “Smokey Bear, the Spokesman and National Zoo Highlight.” Smithsonian.com (August 9, 2011) https://www.smithsonianmag.com/smithsonian-institution/smokey-bear-the-spokesman-and-national-zoo-highlight-46338270/

Smithsonian Institution. Annual Report of the Smithsonian Institution, 1950. https://ia601408.us.archive.org/16/items/annualreportofbo1950smit/annualreportofbo1950smit.pdf

“Smokey Arrives, Makes Smash Hit at Airport as Super-Duper Incarnation of Teddy Bear.” Washington Post, June 30, 1950, B1.

Smokey Bear, “the Living Symbol”. Smokey Bear Historical Park website. http://www.emnrd.state.nm.us/SFD/SmokeyBear/SmokeyBeartheLivingSymbol.html

Story of Smokey. https://smokeybear.com/en/smokeys-history/story-of-smokey

From Sandy to Wilma and Zora: American Bison and the Founding of the National Zoo

Although this might be a known story among DC zoo enthusiasts, I would be a horrible zoo history blogger if I didn’t recount the story of founding of the National Zoo. Enjoy!   KK


As you walk down the main path of the Smithsonian’s National Zoo, before you reach the popular giant panda habitats you will discover somewhat of a surprise: two American bison—Wilma and Zora. Although they might be a better fit on the American Trail, they indeed deserve this more prominent habitat; this is where they lived more than a century ago when the zoo originally opened. In fact, this species is a major reason the zoo even exists at all.

When William Temple Hornaday, a taxidermist and avid big game hunter (and by big game hunter I mean at disturbing levels by today’s standards), was appointed the Chief Taxidermist at the United States National Museum at the Smithsonian Institution in 1882, he had a vision to create an epic lifelike display of taxidermied animals. He was adamant that American bison should have a prominent place in his exhibit—and the display of which he would become most proud.

To include a vanishing American icon in his exhibit, in the spring and again in the fall of 1886, Hornaday led a Smithsonian hunting expedition to Montana with the purpose of bringing back specimens of bison “for the sake of science and to raise public awareness through the exhibition of these ‘most valuable and interesting American mammals’” (Andrei, p. 109). After all, bison populations were rapidly declining due to what Hornaday called a result of the “advance of civilization”—extreme overhunting by humans and lack of government regulations to protect them. Hornaday wanted to educate the public about this animal before it disappeared forever.

Although many of the herds of bison had disappeared by 1886, Hornaday eventually brought back his goal of twenty-five bison for his exhibit, including a live calf that had been abandoned by its mother. In a letter penned from Montana, Hornaday wrote to Spencer F. Baird, Secretary of the Smithsonian, “I think we can say without boasting that we have by long odds the finest and most complete series of buffalo skins ever collected for a museum, and also the richest collection of skeletons and skulls.”

It turns out that his experiences out West ended Hornaday’s big game hunting days. He was truly appalled by numbers of slaughtered bison and skeletal remains strewn throughout the prairie. Having a sort of conversion experience, he vowed to help save the species from total extinction and dedicated himself to conservation in general for the rest of his life. In fact, scholars argue that his “The Extermination of the American Bison,” a 179-page, extremely well-researched section of the Smithsonian Institution’s Annual Report (1889), was one of the first important treatises of the American wildlife conservation movement. “While John Muir—the famed American naturalist—was arguing for the preservation of natural habitats, such as the Yosemite National Park that was established in 1890, Hornaday recognized that the threat of extinction faced by species such as the bison was far more imminent” (Andrei, p. 112).

The wild buffalo is practically gone forever, and in a few more years, when the whitened bones of the last bleaching skeleton shall have been picked up and shipped East for commercial uses, nothing will remain of him save his old well-worn trails along the water-courses, a few museum specimens, and regret for his fate.

—William T. Hornaday, preface to “The Extermination of the American Bison,” 1889

Hornaday’s ultimate taxadermic masterpiece, titled The Buffalo Group exhibit, became a very popular attraction in DC. It comprised six specimens posed among a natural-looking scenery (including real grass and Montana dirt) in a 16′ x 12′ x 10′ mahogany case. It opened to the public on March 10, 1888, and continued to be on display for another seventy years, first at the National Museum building (the current Arts and Industries Building) and then moving across the Mall to the current National Museum of Natural History. Hanna Rose Shell emphasized the importance of the exhibit: “The Buffalo Group quickly achieved acclaim as a symbol of the early conservation movement and as an outstanding example of the new school of taxidermy of the 1880s and 1890s. Scientists as well as laypeople recognized that the group exhibit, with its suggestion of habitat, was innovative both in method and effect.” (The exhibit was reassembled, restored, and put back on display in 1996 at the Museum of the Northern Great Plains in Fort Benton, Montana.)

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The Bison Group exhibit at the National Museum, circa 1887. Photo: Smithsonian Institution Archives (https://siarchives.si.edu/collections/siris_sic_7837)

The live baby bison proved even more popular than the museum exhibit. Housed behind the Smithsonian Castle on the National Mall in the summer of 1886, Sandy the calf became an extremely popular attraction and sparked Hornaday’s desire to create a National Zoo. As a first step, he set out to create a Department of Living Animals at the Smithsonian and bring more bison (as well as other living species) to DC.

Hornaday with Baby Bison at Smithsonian
Hornaday in 1886 with Sandy the baby bison, one of the animals brought back to DC from Montana by the Smithsonian Buffalo Outfit. When Sandy became too large and ornery for the National Mall he was moved to one of Hornaday’s colleague’s farms. The calf sadly passed away soon after arrival from pasture bloat. The Washington Post reported that Hornaday was nearly inconsolable by the news (Andrei, p. 109). Sandy eventually joined the Buffalo Group museum exhibit. Photo: Smithsonian Institution Archives (https://siarchives.si.edu/collections/siris_sic_9151)

In October 1887, Director of the National Museum George Brown Goode accepted Hornaday’s proposal of a living animals department, but on a trial basis. The justification: it would give the museum taxidermists an opportunity to observe the species in their living state to improve their museum displays. Hornaday was named curator of the department.

Now it was time to start collecting animals for this live display, and thus time to head back West on a collecting expedition. In October the expedition headed west through Minnesota, the Dakotas, the territories of Montana, Wyoming, Washington, Utah, and Oregon, Hornaday and his team collected a total of 17 animals—deer, bears, foxes, lynx, eagles, prairie dogs, and other animals (Annual Report 1889, p. 214). Special freight cars were arranged to help with collection and return of the animals to DC. After a temporary wooden building was erected south of the National Museum, the collection went on public display on December 31, 1887. Hornaday noted that “It immediately became quite popular with the public. Many valuable gifts were offered and accepted…. Among the earlier gifts were an unusually large jaguar [from Eagle Pass, Texas] and two black bears [from El Paso, Texas]” (Annual Report 1889, p. 214).

Hornaday’s most prized acquisition was a pair of bison from Nebraska, and he wasted no time in pleading to the public to visit this vanishing species: “The whole movement has been prompted by the fearful rapidity with which game is being killed in the West and in the absolute certainty that in a few years many of the representative American animals will be entirely extinct,” he told the Washington Evening Star (Andrei, p. 111).

Buffalo Behind Smithsonian Institution Building
Bison grazing behind the Smithsonian building, circa 1886–89. Photo: Smithsonian National Archives (https://siarchives.si.edu/collections/siris_sic_9175)

The “mini zoo” was not only extremely popular, but it was also growing quickly in size. By the end of January 1888 it had 58 specimens of mammals and birds and by April the collection had grown to 172 animals, including six bison. It was clearly outgrowing its space on the Mall, and there was also more demand for labor and supplies in caring for the animals. (W. C. Weeden was appointed the first keeper of animals and another was shortly added to the staff.) In the Smithsonian Annual Report, Hornaday expressed hope that the next session of Congress would hear his pleas and appropriate funds to purchase land for the growing animal collection. “The many hundreds of eager visitors who daily crowd our menagerie building to the point of positive discomfort, and the numerous gifts which come to us unsought, have led Senator J. B. Beck to introduce a bill for ‘the establishment of a zoological park in the District of Columbia for the advancement of science, and the instruction and recreation of the people’” (Annual Report 1889, p. 218). These animals needed a better home, in a more natural environment.

Annual-Report-1888
A portion of Hornaday’s report to the Board of Regents, 1889.

The National Zoological Park was officially created by an act of Congress on March 2, 1889. The bill, signed by President Grover Cleveland, allocated the funds to purchase 166 acres in Rock Creek Park in northwest Washington. Hornaday became the founding superintendent. In May 1890, the Smithsonian’s Department of Living Animals officially became the National Zoological Park. Half of the operating funds for the zoo were allocated by the federal government, with the other half coming from the city. The Board of Commissioners was authorized to utilize the funds, acquire and exchange specimens, accept gifts, and to generally oversee zoo operations.

The famous landscape architect William Law Olmstead consulted on the design of the park, however the Smithsonian notes that many of his suggestions were ignored due to lack of funds. The first building on zoo grounds was the buffalo and elk barn, completed in 1891, which the Smithsonian called a glorified log cabin. The first inhabitants of the zoo were the 185 animals under the direct care of Hornaday. The first animals, two male Indian elephants and former circus performers, Dunk and Gold Dust, were brought to the zoo grounds for the grand opening on April 30, 1891, and in June 1891 the first group of animals at the National Mall were transferred to the new park. Among these animals were bison, a grizzly bear cub, a black bear, woodchucks, a panther, a bald eagle, turkey vultures, and black snakes, which were all originally acquired to be used as Hornaday’s taxidermy models. (Previously, those not killed and preserved for the museum collection had been transferred to the Philadelphia Zoo.) Thousands greeted the animals in their new home on opening day alone.

"Buffalo Barn, National Zoo"
The original buffalo and elk barn, circa 1892. This was the first building erected at the new zoological park. Photo: Smithsonian Institution Archives (https://siarchives.si.edu/collections/siris_sic_5989)
School Children Viewing the First Bison at the National Zoo
A group of school children admiring the bison at the zoo, 1899. Photo: Smithsonian Institution Archives (https://siarchives.si.edu/collections/siris_sic_10127)

However, Hornaday and the new Secretary of the Smithsonian, Samuel P. Langley, had differing opinions as to what Hornaday’s role should entail at the zoo. Hornaday wanted a larger part in defining the goals and direction of the zoo, but after continued frustrations, Hornaday resigned in June 1890.

In 1896, he became the director of the New York Zoological Society’s new Bronx Zoo, where he remained for thirty years. Due to his conservation efforts, by 1903 there were forty bison on the Bronx Zoo’s grounds. In 1905, with the help of Theodore Roosevelt, he founded the American Bison Society to continue to help save the species from extinction.

Thanks in large part to Hornaday’s efforts, the bison made a major comeback throughout the 1900s. Currently, the IUCN still considers the species “near threatened,” with population estimates at about 15,000 to 20,000 in the wild.

Not only are bison some of the first animals at the zoo, they are also one of its newest exhibits. In 2014, the National Zoo brought back the species as part of the 125th anniversary celebration after a decade-long absence. Two young females, Wilma and Zora, were welcomed to their current habitat from where it all began with Hornaday’s vision, in Montana.

 

The next time you stroll down the main walkway at SNZ, say hello to Wilma and Zora, and thank their species for the existence of the zoological park we enjoy so much!

Wilma-Zora-sign

Fun Fact: Students at two local universities, Howard and Gallaudet, were asked to name the current bison. (Both schools have a bison as their mascot.) Howard students named Zora in honor of Zora Neale Hurston, a fellow alum and acclaimed author, poet, and civil rights activist. The Gallaudet students named Wilma in honor of alumnus Wilma Newhoudt-Druchen, the first deaf woman elected to serve in South Africa’s parliament.

Sources

Andrei, Mary Anne. “The Accidental Conservationist: William T. Hornaday, the Smithsonian Bison Expeditions and the US National Zoo.” Endeavour 29:3 (September 2005), 109–113. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.endeavour.2005.05.002

Annual Report of the Board of Regents of the Smithsonian Institution for the Year Ending June 30, 1888. Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1890. Available at https://hdl.handle.net/2027/uc1.a0008314593 (includes a complete list of animal acquisitions from late 1887 to June 1888, pp. 220–222)

Annual Report of the Board of Regents of the Smithsonian Institution for the Year Ending June 30, 1889. Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1891. Available at https://hdl.handle.net/2027/osu.32435069558229

Arundel, Kara. Raising America’s Zoo: How Two Wild Gorillas Helped Transform the National Zoo. Herndon, VA: Mascot Books, 2017.

Coffman, Doug. Reflecting the Sublime: The Rebirth of an American Icon. Fort Benton, MT: The River & Plains Society, 2013.

Hornaday, William T. “The Extermination of the American Bison.” From the Report of the National Museum, 1886–1887, pp. 369–548, 1889. Available at http://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/17748

Kutner, Max. “The Historic Return of the American Bison.” Smithsonian Magazine, August 2014. Available at https://www.smithsonianmag.com/smithsonian-institution/return-american-bison-180952488/

Shell, Hannah Rose. “Last of the Wild Buffalo.” Smithsonian Magazine, February 2000. Available at https://www.smithsonianmag.com/science-nature/last-of-the-wild-buffalo-176524106/

Smithsonian Institution Archives. Historical Note to National Zoological Park Records Collection, 1887–1966. Available at https://siarchives.si.edu/collections/siris_arc_216681

Smithsonian Institution Archives. National Zoological Park History Overview. Available at https://siarchives.si.edu/history/national-zoological-park

Smithsonian’s National Zoo. American Bison Fact Sheet. Available at https://nationalzoo.si.edu/animals/american-bison

“Nicky’s News”: Bring Giraffes to the Zoo!

I came across this amazing story in Kara Arundel’s book Raising America’s Zoo, which is one of the best books I have read this year. Thanks to Kara for sharing this story about her father-in-law, and a huge thank-you to her for reviewing this post and providing scans of Nicky’s News and other fantastic images that accompany the piece.


When walking the grounds of the Smithsonian’s National Zoo in DC (SNZ), one animal that you will notice is sadly missing is the majestic giraffe. (The one remaining giraffe left in 2006 so that the zoo could start construction on the new, current elephant habitat.) Before 2006, however, the SNZ had a strong giraffe program, thanks in large part to the efforts of an eight-year-old boy. Yes, you read that correctly!

Let’s begin in 1935. . . .

The then director of SNZ, Dr. William Mann, was looking for animals to fill the zoo acreage in Rock Creek Park with newly acquired funds ($680,000) from the New Deal’s Public Works Administration. Mann had planned for a portion of the funds to build a large mammal house for elephants and giraffes, among other species. (The zoo already had elephants, but their housing, built in 1903, was a badly aging barn.) With funding procured and construction underway, Mann needed a plan to fill this new, exciting space with the main attractions.

So, who did Mann turn to for help? Congress? FDR? Meet budding journalist, eight-year-old Arthur “Nicky” Arundel.

In 1936, Nicky and a friend started their own neighborhood newsletter, Nicky’s News, from the Arundels’ Northwest DC home. They tackled neighborhood news (“Millers Visiting New York and Coming Home Soon”) and current events (“Madrid Is Bombed”) as well as adorable editorial pieces (“Adolf Hitler of Germany Is Dumb”).

Nicky
Arthur “Nick” Arundel  in 1938 in Washington, DC, at work typing his stories for Nicky’s News. Photo provided by Kara Arundel (https://www.instagram.com/p/BdfSu6Tj4j5/).

In the first issue of Nicky’s News the boys wrote two editorials: the first one argued that school recesses should be longer. And the other: The National Zoo badly needed giraffes. (SNZ acquired two Nubian giraffes from Africa in 1926, but they both died a year later and were not replaced.) After all, Nicky argued, giraffes would prevent children from contracting tuberculosis: “Children get lots of fresh air at the zoo, and they would like to go there if the giraffes were there. Not so many children would die of tooberkulowsis if there were giraffes to look at” (Arundel, p. 19).

The adamant rallying cries for giraffes were frequent in Nicky’s News. The Arundels were friends with the Manns, so perhaps the zoo director would listen?

As a matter of fact, Nicky’s venture gained traction and the operation grew, gaining 60 subscribers in just eight weeks. Nicky’s little sister and more friends were added to the staff list. The newsletter was an impressive 8.5″ x 14″ (folded in half) typewritten four-page paper, complete with advertisements and hand-drawn illustrations.

Nicky took his job as Editor quite seriously, and as any legit beat reporter would do, he went on assignment. Through his father Russell’s connections as a former secretary of a senator, Nicky attended a historic Senate Judiciary Committee hearing in March 1937—a debate of FDR’s proposal to expand the number of Supreme Court justices from nine to fifteen (which was, obviously, ultimately rejected). Nicky, wearing an adorable Editor-in-Chief badge and a suit, drew many fans at the hearing, as he was interviewed by the press and photographed with U.S. senators. Eight senators even bought subscriptions. (Nicky smartly charged them 15 cents more then the normal 10-cent monthly rate!)

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Nicky Arundel interviewing Senator Pat McCarran (left) of Nevada, and Senator F. Ryan Duffy of Wisconsin, at the Senate Judiciary Committee, Washington, D.C., March 30, 1937. Photo available at the Library of Congress (https://lccn.loc.gov/2016871448).

Six months after starting his campaign for giraffes, and a month after his Capitol Hill appearance, the Washington Post featured Nicky on the front page of the Sunday edition. Smartly taking advantage of his newfound fame, he and his staff started holding “press conferences” to address the issue. Next came calls for donations: “Nobody has sent $5,000 for these giraffes to Nicky’s News. Somebody send the money quick. Call the president up and ask him to send some money to Doctor Mann for these animals or your little boy might die of tuberkuloshus” (Arundel, p. 23).

The children of Washington want giraffes for the zoo. The new building is ready but giraffes are still in Africa. Dr. Mann is in Sumatra and can get these giraffes if someone can send him the money. Every boy and girl in Washington should telephone the district Comishioners and ask about these giraffes. The Japanese children have giraffes. So do German and French children. Are they better than we are?  

Nicky Arundel, Nicky’s News, 1937

NickysNews-WaPo
Nicky and his sister featured on the front page of the Washington Post Sunday edition, April 25, 1937. Scan provided by Kara Arundel.

Nicky certainly had Congress’s attention. In an interview with journalist Lynn Sherr in 1996, Arundel explained, “Some congressman picked up the paper on his way to work and read the editorial. They then slipped in an appropriation to fund the purchase on some bill” (Sherr, p. 146). Huzzah!

Beginning on January 12, 1937—also Nicky’s ninth birthday—Dr. Mann, accompanied by his wife Lucile, led a nine-month sea expedition funded by the National Geographic Society to procure animals for the zoo. Covering Asia, the Dutch East Indies, and Africa, as Kara Arundel points out in her book, this 3,000 mile trip involved “the largest and most unusual assortment of live animals that had ever traveled to this country in one shipment” (p. 23). Leaving America with 26 wild animals (raccoons, black bears, alligators, etc.) to exchange for others to bring back, Mann and his expedition returned via cargo boat with nearly 900 (!) animals—birds, snakes, tiger and bear cubs, various primates, etc. (In her diary Lucile Mann included a fascinating inventory of all the animals procured throughout the trip.)  Included in that haul, and to Nicky’s extreme delight, were not two, which he had campaigned for, but four Nubian giraffes—two males and two females. Acquired from Sudan on the return trip, the giraffes made a harrowing 50-day sea journey back to the United States in individual wooden, padded crates. After reaching New York on September 27, Lucile Mann writes:

There was considerable difficulty in getting the giraffes off the pier. The Sudan government had shipped them to us in 11-foot crates, and they could not get through the doors from the wharf out to the street. All that could be done was to saw them down, then and there, and the giraffes rode through the streets of Staten Island, New York, and over to Athenia with no tops to their cages at all—and it is a chilly day. Later we learned that when they got to the quarantine station, the crates would not go into the barns there. Jennifer, in desperation, said, “Well, I think the giraffes are pretty tame. Let’s lead them in.” And that was what we had to do.

The giraffes remained there in quarantine, but the rest of the animals left for DC via express train. That had to have been a true crazy train!

Mann-diary-giraffes
Diary entry by Lucile Mann, September 7, 1937. Smithsonian Institution Archives, Accession No. SIA RU007293 (https://www.si.edu/object/fbr_item_MODSI41)

NickysNews1

NickysNews2
Nicky’s announcement of his successful campaign to bring giraffes to the National Zoo’s new large mammal house, 1937. Images provided by Kara Arundel.

When the giraffes finally arrived at the National Zoo, on October 27, Mann invited the Arundels to meet the new prized possessions. The director even asked an exuberant Nicky to pick one to carry his name. There were no reports of tuberculosis among the children that day!

BULLETIN!

THE GIRAFFES ARE ALL WELL. THEY LIKE THEIR NEW HOME. DOCTOR MANN IS GOOD TO THEM. End of Bulletin.

—Nicky Arundel, Nicky’s News, 1937

Giraffes in the National Zoological Park
Giraffes in the Giraffe House at the National Zoological Park, late 1930s.
Smithsonian Institution Archives, Record Unit 95, Box 47, Folder: 17; https://siarchives.si.edu/collections/siris_sic_6333
NickysNews3
Front page of Nicky’s News, Vol. 4, No. 1, 1937. Image provided by Kara Arundel.

Nicky’s successful campaign gained him more interviews (including with National Geographic magazine) across the city and fueled his ambition to lobby for more zoo improvements. His next focus was replacing the zoo’s restaurant with a larger, better one, again throwing in the tuberculosis argument, among many others! A new one was built three years later.

Postscript

The two pairs of giraffes ultimately had a dozen calves. Nicky the giraffe lived at the zoo until his death in December 1945.

Nick continued to be heavily involved with the National Zoo throughout his life. In 1955 he chaperoned two baby gorillas from the Congo to the National Zoo. (This event is the focus of Kara Arundel’s fantastic book, Raising America’s Zoo, which is available on her website and as an ebook on Amazon.) Nick was also an inaugural board member of the Friends of the National Zoo and a former president.

It is up in the air as to whether giraffes will make a return to the SNZ, but perhaps we need to revitalize Nicky’s News to generate support! In the meantime, you can head 50 miles north to the Maryland Zoo in Baltimore to view these amazing creatures.

Sources

Arundel, Kara. Raising America’s Zoo: How Two Wild Gorillas Helped Transform the National Zoo. Herndon, VA: Mascot Books, 2017.

Mann, Lucile. Diary: Far East Trip, January 12, 1937–September 27, 1937. Smithsonian Institution Archives, Accession No. SIA RU007293 (https://www.si.edu/object/fbr_item_MODSI41)

Obituary of Arthur “Nick” Arundel, Washington Post, February 8, 2011 (http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2011/02/08/AR2011020806127.html)

Sherr, Lynn. Tall Blondes: A Book About Giraffes. Kansas City, MO: Andrews McMeel Publishing, 1997.

Smithsonian Institution. Annual Report of the Board of Regents, 1958. Washington, DC: Government Printing Office, 1959.