Central Park Zoo

The American Zoological and Botanical Society was organized in 1860, but their plans were thwarted by the Civil War. In 1864, the state legislature authorized the park commission to establish a zoo. Although Olmstead and Vaux drafted a plan to place the zoo in Manhattan Square (the current Museum of Natural History), a very popular de facto zoo had been establised just east of the mall with an odd collection of donated animals, tended by a disabled Civil War veteran. In 1865 the commissioners placed the collection in the Arsenal, with a deer park being created in 1868 on the site of the current Metropolitan Museum of Art. In 1870 the commissioners built five new buildings in the Arsenal yard for "The Menagerie" and began purchasing animals. P.T. Barnham developed a relationship with the Menagerie, wintering his animals at the zoo and occasionally borrowing animals for his traveling shows.

The Managerie was overwhelmingly popular, attracting large crowds and extensive press coverage. The first chimpanzee exhibited in the United States was brought from Africa by the American consul to Liberia in the mid 1880s. The cramped, haphazard and smelly collection also had detractors, ultimately leading to the 1895 charter of the New York Zoological Society and the creation of the Bronx Zoo. However, the popularity of the Central Park Zoo negated any calls for its closing.

1/12/2008 01:40 PM