Narrating the correlation of elephants as related to their import, groupings, breeding and transfers,
along with other elephant related topics.

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Highland Park Zoo - Part I

The Pittsburgh Zoo has a long history of housing and exhibiting Asian elephants prior to their currently successful African elephant breeding program. Unfortunately, very little of this history is recorded in the North American Regional Studbook for the Asian Elephant. Referencing archived news records of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette and others, more insight can be found regarding the Highland Park Zoo's early elephant history.

The grand opening of the Highland Park Zoo in 1895 featured only a small collection of animals, including two elephants from Mrs. Magee and Mrs. Gusky. Gusky is the name, by most consensuses, of the zoo's first elephant. An article dated two years prior names the elephant Gusky as one of the little elephants at the Scheuley Park with keeper Andy Neelan, where the first menagerie for Pittsburgh was collected prior to a $100,000 gift from the late Christopher L. Magee for a proper zoological gardens. No further information can be found regarding the other elephant that seemed to reside with Gusky for this time period. By 1919, news articles identify Gusky as the lone elephant for Highland Park, also discussing a celebration of it's 30th anniversary. No confirmation has been found regarding the gender or species of Gusky, but the aforementioned article mentions walks that it was taken on around the zoo grounds by keeper Ernest Tretow. Confusing wording is also present in this article regarding a time frame for Gusky's time at the zoo:
It was just 2 years ago since Gusky entered the zoo. Practically all that time, except for nine years in Schneley Park, Gusky has stood there swinging his trunk. But at 30 Gusky is still quite young; he might be there three times that long if he doesn't get tired of the place and die from ennui.
With this article, it is unclear if the 30th anniversary celebrated was the arrival or birthday of Gusky. The last news mention of Gusky is given three years later as it enjoyed eating the straw hats of visitors.

By the late 1920s, Gusky was gone from the Highland Park Zoo's collection and replaced by a female Asian elephant Gloria. After several years as the zoo's only owned elephant, a second pachyderm named Roberta was acquired in May 1928. At two to three years of age, Gloria's new playmate was "found" by head keeper Ernest Tretow. Interesting is the notation that the zoo already had two other elephants housed there over the past winter temporarily. Ruth was sold to others and Lindy was passed over. More information about these loaned animals and the Pittsburgh elephant facility can be found in a January 1928 news article. Ruth and Lindy were both on loan from a New York animal dealer. There was a possibility the zoo would purchase 1.5 ton Ruth. The male Lindy was not taken into consideration.

Several months prior to the purchase of Roberta, plans were being made to upgrade the elephant facility in several aspects: installation of a large box stall to eliminate the necessity of tethering and installation of an outside summer cage.

No further information is available regarding any of these three elephants that shared area with Gloria. A large male Asian elephant named Danny was boarded at the zoo for a short time in 1938 until he was executed a year later. Elephant historian Buckles Woodcock describes the situation:

"In response to Bill Schreiber, they did indeed have a male elephant on the Wallace Show. This is "Danny" a former Corporation tusker that was on the show in 1937-38 when they were still using the Barnett title. He tried to tear up the show in 1938, as those males have been known to do and was hustled off to the Pittsburgh Zoo. The man at left wearing the boots is an old timer named Tommy "Daddy" Burns."

Courtesy of Buckles Web Log 08/03/2005

The North American Regional Studbook for the Asian Elephant lists the death of Danny ~1941, but a news article gives the exact date of execution as July 7, 1939. Plans were first made to send the male Asian elephant back to the circus industry by way of the Davenport family. Performing in North Carolina, they offered to take the tusker but a failed loading operation negated the plan. After causing much trouble for the keepers over a time frame and eating the zoo out of its budget, the decision was made to put the animal down.

Gloria was again alone at the Highland Park Zoo. A 1940 article gives more insight into her life and accommodations. Due to an error in which a $700,000 improvement plan built a ( too small ) pool for the zoo's hippo, Gloria and hippo Mary shared a pool at separate times to avoid fights. An elephant census published in Hobbies Magazine, March 1942, confirms Gloria was the sole elephant resident at Pittsburgh.

Courtesy of Toledo Blade 07/10/1940

News articles from 1947 document the decline of Gloria's health and subsequent death. First plagued by indigestion, keepers turned the animal regularly to prevent hypostatic pneumonia. Unfortunately, both caused her death in late November. Without a place to bury the animal, the remains were delivered to a rendering plant. Following the death of Highland Park's long-term trunked resident, plans were made to purchase two young replacements by taking advantage of the import boom following the end of World War II. [ To be continued... ]

Note: None of the animals discussed in this article are listed in the North American Regional Studbook for the Asian Elephant save Danny, whose death date is in need of correction. Records at have been updated following the above research.

>> "Pittsburgh Zoo" at ShowMe Elephants

There will be three parts to the Asian elephant history of Pittsburgh's Highland Park Zoo: Beginning to 1947, Children's Zoo elephants, and 1947 to 1980.

For Further Information:
>> "The Elephant Remembered," Alexandria Gazette, 04/12/1893
>> "Elephant in Highland Park Celebrates 30th Anniversary as Member of Zoo Family," The Gazette Times, 06/02/1919
>> "Elephant at Pittsburgh Zoo Eats Straw Hats," Lebanon Daily News, 09/26/1922
>> "Meet Roberta," Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, 05/16/1928
>> "Gloria Granted Special Pen at Zoo by Council," Pittsburgh Press, 12/16/1927
>> "Good for Gloria," Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, 01/25/1928
>> "Danny Due to Get Home with Circus," Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, 07/04/1939
>> "Executioner Kills Danny the Elephant", Pittsburgh Press, 07/08/1939
>> [Pool], Toledo Blade, 07/10/1940
>> "Three ton ache," Leader-Post, 11/13/1947
>> "Elephant's End," Sarsota Herald Tribune, 11/17/1947
>> "Barnett Bros. Circus 1937/ "Danny", Buckles Web Log, 08/03/2005
>> "A century and a half of Pittsburg and her people, Volume 2"

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I eagerly anticipate associating with new individuals with an interest or history in elephants, elephant history and elephant record keeping. If you have further information regarding the animals or locations questioned in the article, please leave a comment or message me in an effort to complete their records for elephant historians.