posted by robert
In the summer of 1955 my father was on vacation from work when all of a sudden he declared we are going to the zoo today. We had never been to the zoo before. This proclamation was a huge surprise and a little out of character for my father. After getting dressed, my sister and I piled into the back seat of our Rambler station wagon and off we went. Driving past Lake Merced, the shooting range and over to the great Highway. I had driven this way several times before going to Play Land at the beach past Fleishhacker pool but making the turn onto Sloat Blvd was a whole new route. He parked as close as he could get, about a block away in a parking slot designated for the zoo visitors. Back in 1955 there was no charge to enter the Zoo. Dad, mom, my sister and I walked in through two cement pillars built with uneven stacked brown rocks and a big sign hung on each pillar identifying this to be the Fleishhacker zoo. As I remember it we walked down a wide asphalt walkway slope surrounded by brush and trees as we got to the bottom of the hill there was a large playground to our left surronded by grass. On the far side of the playground there was an old train engine. I immediately started running towards it and began exploring every facet of the locomotive. My sister was doing her best to keep up with me to no avail. After a while my father said “enough climbing on the train we are heading into the zoo” so off we went to see the animals. My father was taking us to see a new arrival at the zoo .Penny the one year old Asian elephant. (She was so named for the children who donated their change to the zoo to acquire her.) We went right for the Pachyderm area. There she was about 100’ away on the other side of a moat. The throngs of people were there to see Penny. They were about 3 deep outside the enclosure. My father first lifted my sister then me onto his shoulders to see. Penny was smaller than I had imagined but very active shaking her head back and forth her ears flopping around. Parading inside the enclosure it seemed like she knew everyone was there to see her. When we'd had our fill of Penny my father said I want to show you something else. We walked to the chimpanzee area. There was a large group of people gathered around one cage. Inside the cage there was a chimpanzee. He would run to his water tray take in a mouthful of water and jump on the bars then spit the water at the people standing outside his cage. The people would then scatter trying to avoid the spray. This was one of the funniest things I ever saw. I had to join the ranks of people in the crowd.
After Penny and the spitting chimp the remainder of the day was spent trying to talk my father into going back to the spitting chimp cage. Even the Lions and Monkey Island couldn’t hold my interest. We never went to the zoo again. I got older and my interests changed. Since then I have taken my sons and all of my grandchildren even joining the zoological society. But my trip to the zoo with my parents, Penny the elephant and the spitting chimpanzee will always be a fond memory.
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