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              It was a blustery weekend in Muskrat Flats. The wind was conducting a symphony as the poplars bordering the vineyard...

Saturday, April 5, 2008

Jiggs Part One - If you go looking for Night Crawlers in Forest Park, You may end up with a Monkey on Your Back.

I was walking through the Springfield Science Museum with my daughter a few years ago. As we toured the New African Hall exhibit, we encountered an old friend of mine. We turned the corner, and there he stood. He was slightly hunched over, a slight smile on his face, dark hair with a some auburn and grayish streaks. He stared back at me, but there was not a glimmer of recognition in his dark glassy eyes. My daughter squeezed my hand a little harder, perhaps she was frightened. I simply looked back at him and said,

"Hello, Jiggs."

He just stared back at me, as he had always done, as he will do forever. My daughter looked up at me, wanting to know why I was talking to a stuffed chimpanzee. What can I say, I'm funny that way.

Jiggs has been a constant in my life. Ever since I can remember, I have been visiting Jiggs at the Museum. His presence always kind of creeped me out, even to this day. However, within the confines of that creepiness is a certain comfort zone, which takes me back to a place in my life, where there were no cares or worries. Unknown to anyone, It was a time in my life where I was missing half of what was being said to me. When I did "hear" what people were saying, I was developing a vocabulary which made sense only to me. It would be about four years later that it was "discovered" that I had a dramatic hearing loss and was getting by with lip reading coupled with my voracious appetite for reading. During that time frame, I relied on my older brother, Peter to fill me in on what I was missing. It was Peter who filled me in on the grisly end Jiggs had to face before he came to be a permanent resident of the Springfield Science Museum.

The Science Museum was a fascinating destination. My mom would take us there to kill time. I was still too young to attend school, so we would pick up my brother when he was dismissed from his classes at a very dark and frightening appearing building called "The Convent." I wasn't sure what was happening inside that building, but I knew as a preschooler, that I didn't like the looks of those women in their black cloaks, with their weird orthopedic shoes and those funny black veils.

After leaving the convent we would then head down Central Street, a quick right onto Maple St. Once we crossed Main St., I could see the Quadrangle. I knew the route by heart based upon the trees that I saw whiz by, as I lay on the back seat. Sometimes we went to the other museums but our ultimate destination was always the Science Museum. We would walk up the large granite steps to the front doors. As we walked inside, to the right and left were exhibits of various animals depicted in the their natural habitat. There were moose and buffalo, penguins, a whale, bears, but what I always wanted to see first was at the top of the marble steps leading to the upstairs portion of the museum. There in a glass case was Jiggs. It was outside this case that my brother and I would scrutinize the chimpanzee. We scoured every inch of his fur looking for evidence, looking for that one clue indicating that the legend was true. This legend being that Jiggs the Chimpanzee, a former resident of the Forest Park Zoo, had been shot one night after he went on a rampage and escaped from his enclosure.

And now, here he was, on display for us to see what a real chimpanzee looks like. A three dimensional depiction much better than the picture you may see in the World Book Encyclopedia. The legend was really interesting to me because, the man my brother told me had shot Jiggs, was someone I knew, a friend of our father's named "Baldy" Lee.

As I got older, I would continue to visit the Science Museum. I always related the tale of Jiggs' demise to whomever I was with. It wasn't until I told the story to my daughter, that she came up with the hard questions for which,I did not have answers. She looked at me with skepticism causing me to doubt the origins of what really happened to Jiggs. There was only one way to find out.

"Mr. Lee?"


"This is Paul Brown, Garry's son ... I was wondering If I could meet you somewhere to talk about Jiggs." There was a pause on the other end of the line.

"The Monkey, huh?"

"Yes, the monkey."

"Sure, I'll meet you..."

The next morning, I strolled into the Blue Moon Coffee Roasters on Sumner Ave., in the Forest
Park section of the city - my home turf. There, I was waiting to meet Jiggs' purported executioner. Baldwin B. Lee walked into the coffee house. There he was, a handsome older man with a shock of white hair. He had exuded an aura of confidence, a man who had grown comfortable with public speaking and networking with strangers, both skills and personality traits you would expect of someone who held the job as Superintendent of the Springfield Parks and Recreation Department. I didn't know it upon first meeting him, but he had something I wanted, and it was not a rehash of a tale he had probably told over a thousand cocktails.

Springfield's Forest Park was created in the 1880s when O.H. Greenleaf donated 65 Acres to the City of Springfield with the intention of creating Forest Park, a public recreation space. Civil War arms manufacturer and later producer of clamp on ice and roller skates, E.H. Barney followed suit by donating 178 acres of land to the same cause. There in the Pecousic Valley which extended down to the Connecticut River, Barney built a Victorian style mansion he named Pecousic Villa. Barney developed the Park by creating lilly ponds and Skating Ponds. He also planted exotic trees within the Park as well as in the neighborhood abutting the park on Magnolia Terrace. As Forest Park was developed, trolley stops were constructed as well as athletic fields with a baseball grandstand and a couple of buildings which were called the menagerie which housed the animals in the Forest Park Zoo.

When Mr. Barney died, his remaining land was donated to the city, to complete the geographical footprint of Forest Park. The Park abutted the Town of Longmeadow, overlooked the City of Springfield and extended down to the banks of the Connecticut River. In later years, 65 Acres of the Park disappeared to make way for Interstate 91 as it snaked its way through Springfield, forever extending the chasm created between the beautiful City of Homes and its luxurious river when train tracks were first laid near its banks, in the 19 century.

This idyllic destination, Forest Park, was enjoyed year after year by thousands of city residents as well as tourists. It was a popular picnic spot, a favorite location for a Sunday afternoon promenade with the family. There were rose gardens and ducks ponds which doubled as Skating ponds in the winter. It was densely forested with secluded hamlets where lovers could steal away. And of course Best of all, it was free.

When Forest Park was established, it was decreed that it would be a public place to be enjoyed by city residents with no fee. This did not bode well for the Zoo, which was desperately under budgeted.

By the time Parks Commissioner Romeo J. Cyr called upon his old friend Baldwin B. Lee, a man whom he used to coach youth hockey with, to head the Parks and Recreation Dept., the Zoo was in decline. Animals were housed in cramped quarters, the Zoo remained under-funded. Working within the city budget, it was becoming increasingly burdensome to maintain such a menagerie.

In 1964, Lee spearheaded the formation of the Greater Springfield Zoological Society and Trailside Museum Association, a volunteer organization to "promote the development and maintenance of the zoo."

Here is a picture of the Monkey House.

This is where the black bears lived.

By 1967, the Association had grown to 100 members. Rollie Jacobs, a former sportscaster for WWLP Channel 22, was the Executive Director of the Zoological Association when the idea was presented to expand the Zoo. The expansion and renovation was originally thought to cost 1 million dollars. They had consulted with other well known Zoos world wide.

"By then there was a trend moving toward housing animals in a more natural habitat. That is what the Zoological Society was trying to accomplish. They had a plan to develop the Ravine to Camp Seco. Walter Stone was contracted to submit an informal design ... he did the Franklin Park Zoo." Lee told. Lee even traveled to Mexico to interview potential Zoo directors.

Lee continued, "It would have actually cost 3 million dollars to renovate and build."

In November 1967, the Zoo received two new inhabitants via the Zoological Association. Angelo Teixeira Head of the Zoological Society noted the overcrowded conditions in the Chimpanzee display at the National Zoo. He arranged for two chimpanzees Jiggs, 19 and his 14 year old mate Nancy to be brought in to Forest Park from the National Zoo in Washington, DC. They were placed in the Monkey House which had its bars reinforced in preparation of their arrival. The cages in the Monkey house had an interior viewing area as well as an out door exercise area. Shortly after the arrival of the primates, it became apparent that Nancy was pregnant.

April 17, 1967, Nancy gave birth. She became very protective of the offspring and wouldn't let anyone come near them, including Jiggs. Over the course of the next five days, Jiggs became agitated and was contained in the outside exercise portion of the cage. There was also an issue of Nancy losing interest in the offspring, a situation which had occurred with her in the past.

Another factor was that chimps have a tendency to become cantankerous after they hit ten years of age not making them very good candidates for a display in a Zoo. A decision was made to transfer Jiggs and Nancy back to the National Zoo and to hand the baby chimp over to the Franklin Park Zoo, in Boston, where they were better equipped to raise the chimp to adulthood. On April 21, as preparations were being made for the transfer, Jiggs began to rage.

He ripped the one inch iron bars out of the cage between his enclosure and that of the lion and lioness Harry and Tillie. Jiggs was shot with a tranquilizer gun in preparation for his journey. It was then, that he began his rampage. He tore at the iron bars in his outdoor enclosure, once again dislodging one of them. He squeezed through the opening in the cage and disappeared into Forest Park. Forest Park is abutted on all sides, in Springfield, by residential neighborhoods.

Lee described Jiggs. "He was homely, strong and amazingly fast. He was about 5 feet tall and weighed 165 pounds." Lee recounted. "He was built like a line backer."

Lee continued, "The tranquilizers didn't take affect and he went into a rage. He got outside. Fortunately, it was night time and the Park was closed. "

Jiggs dashed to the Trafton Road Neighborhood where he created some mayhem with neighborhood residents. One woman, Elizabeth Marsh Burke, opened her back door to see what she described as a "rather small man with a frightening beard," on her back porch.

The chase was on. Lee, who had a residence in the park proper, near Camp Seco, was alerted as well as the Springfield Police. Jiggs reentered the park and tackled a Springfield resident, who was out on the baseball fields looking for night crawlers.

By then, there were ten police officers and cruisers looking for Jiggs. "Ed Malley, a photographer for the Springfield Daily News was coming up the access road Near Cyr Arena and he caught Jiggs in his headlights. Armed with a rifle, Lee opened fire, followed by the Springfield Police. It was the police that killed him." Lee sighed. "We had no choice, he would have hurt someone." A sentiment which was echoed by Dr. Theodore Reed from the National Zoo. "Shooting Jiggs was keeping with Zoo practices. Public safety comes first."

Lee said, "It was a freak thing. I never imagined a chimp could accomplish such a feat." The whole ordeal lasted about two hours. Nobody came out with criticism and said you could have saved him. I was really shaken up. I think It was then I really started drinking."

Whether or not the fiasco with Jiggs and Nancy had to do anything with it, the plans for renovation of the Zoo presented by the Zoological Society, were defeated. "It really came down to us not being to able charge admission. I'm amazed that the city lawyer decided there would be no fee. Right after the defeat, we started shipping animals out."

"I don't understand it, There is a small fee for the City owned Franconia Golf Course, and now they charge cars admission to the Park even though you can still walk in for free."

Lee seemed to be taken aback as he reflected on the events. He recalled the incident with Snowball, the Polar Bear, who would endlessly pace in her cage, all day. "Snowball was blinded as we tranquilized her one day. A young woman, on drugs, got too close to the cage and was mauled."

Soon all of the animals were gone. The Ravine had been emptied of the antelopes, bison and mountain goats. The peacocks, the Jaguars, even the rats who used to hang around in the rabbit enclosures had to vacate the premises. Morganetta, the elephant who was bound to a cement filled barrel with a three foot chain was moved out as well, hopefully she fared better than Jiggs.

The Monkey House as it looks today, a workshop for the Parks and Rec Dept.

"The Zoo veterinarian had the idea to have Jiggs sent to the taxidermist and he ended up in the Science Museum."

Today there is a Zoo at Forest Park. The Zoological society is still growing strong. But it s a smaller version of what could have been, and certainly a better habitat than the living quarters their predecessors had to endure and the harsh conditions the old zoo provided, despite the best intentions of a few good people.

I can't help but wonder, what were Jiggs' last few hours like? Was every minute a frenzied, adrenaline fueled panic? I hope he relished in the freedom as he galloped through the densely wooded Park. I mean actually running and covering distance. Perhaps he tested his atrophied muscles by shimmying up a tree or two. Hopefully he noticed the crisp spring air, enjoying the fact that he wasn't smelling lion urine and scat from the others with whom he shared his cramped living space. Perhaps he actually had the time to just sit and be, to listen to the peepers who were waking up after a long winter, singing their sweet mating songs to each other. Maybe he found a snack of some tender tree buds. Maybe he knew he was being chased and just didn't give a shit. He found his freedom and there was only one way out. He wasn't going back into that cage, not that night, not ever.

My daughter and I stared at Jiggs for a few more moments. I began to tear up, realizing that my life had come so very far from the days where I only knew the love and comfort my childhood had to offer and wondering why I was incapable, at the time, of providing that same comfort for my child. In her eyes, I was providing that comfort and security, but I knew better. I knew I had more to offer to her.

This is why I have to keep on, every day, and only for that day ...

Running Hard Out of Muskrat Flats.

Next time ... The conversation I wish I had with Mr. Lee.


Peter said...

great yarn, Paul...it certainly brings back memories...i bet most visitors to the museum have no idea what the story is behind that stuffed chimp in the African exhibit...too bad Jiggs has been stuck anonymously into that exhibit instead of occupying his place of honor at the entrance to the museum

spundoctor said...

I remember Jiggs well. Back in 1973 we use to play a little game of slap hand through the bars. It saddens me to think he met such a untimely and harsh death. The only consolation is that he was free of his cage. I was going to go to to forest park when I visit from the west coast (transplanted in 81) But it seems kind of pointless now. I may go by the science museum and say bye.
Thank you for your post.