not noah’s ark

Back in 1902 nobody worried whether or not something was politically correct or thought about animal rights as this excerpt from the New York Times shows


With roaring lions, snarling tigers, trumpeting elephants, docile antelopes, and chattering monkeys on board, besides a goodly assortment of nearly everything else that roams the fields, inhabits the air, swims the waters, or haunts the jungles, the Atlantic Transport liner Minneapolis, hired for the trip by Barnum Bailey circus, got in from Dunkirk, France, yesterday.

The trip was pleasant and freak, beast and fowl, with the single exception of a huge elephant, were in good condition when the ship reached the pier.


There had been death on board. Jesse, the champion peanut eater of the 54 monkeys, pined and would not eat. His body was cast overboard with great ceremony with “Zip the What Is It” saying the simian words for Rest in Peace.


Mandarin, the biggest of the 23 elephants was in a bad humour every day of the voyage but as he was angry for several days before he left France his misbehaviour could not be attributed to the voyage. He has been in the habit of “getting ugly” as his handler calls it, every few weeks. If he did not keep his temper under control he would probably be killed as Mr Bailey would not think of allowing an “ugly” animal to be led through the streets of New York.

image from On The Streets of New York

The other animals on board including 12 tigers, 5 lions, 6 hyenas, 4 leopards, 4 bears, 4 panthers, 1 hippopotamus, 2 giraffes, 4 kangaroos, 1 horned horse, 1 gnu, 3 deer, 1 tapir, 1 waterbok, 1 warthog, 1 orix, 4 antelope, 1 moufflon, 7 camels, 4 zebras, 1 real buffalo, 162 horses, 27 ponies, and 4 goats, besides birds and snakes, were on their good behaviour during the passage and Superintendent Hyatt is going to present to each a nice gold medal as a reward for their splendid deportment.


Of the freaks, “Zip the 70 year old What Is It” was the most popular of all on the way to America. Zip is reported to have never spoken a word of any known tongue and does not know whether New York is in Hackensack or New Rochelle. And yet Zip still said that he was very glad to get home. He also said that he would be two years old in December and was thinking of getting married but declined to give the name of his intended.


Wille Doss, the Human Telescope who can stretch himself nearly 18 inches, was standing beside one of the giraffes and created a great source of amusement when he stretched his neck 2 inches higher than the giraffe’s two peaky looking little ears. The giraffe was so mortified at being beaten in such a contest that he refused to eat any supper.

Published in: on May 4, 2010 at 8:28 am  Comments (45)  
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45 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. It would have been interesting to see the one horned horse…

    • Did you click the link beneath the horned cow? Maybe the ‘recipe’ could be adjusted….

  2. I note not a single coyote in Barnum & Bailey’s menagerie. Let the record show, ma’am, that we constitute our own circuses, solo…

  3. stories about freak shows always remind me of the office… my character? the bearded lady. (feckin’ hormones…)

    • I work with the half-man/half-woman

  4. Zip appears to have a very interesting head indeed. I wonder if he was ever hit with an axe.

    • Zip had microcephaly, if you click the link beneath his photo you can read more about it

      • I think I recognise him from that old film, ‘Freaks’.

      • Yes, he was in that film Synchy

  5. Have never outgrown my love of elephants.
    Have also never outgrown my fear of circuses.
    (Wouldn’t have wanted to be a stowaway on that particular cruise ship…)

    • So you fear more than the clowns?

  6. I would love to see video on Willie.

    • Sadly, I don’t think any exists

  7. I gaze wistfully at that sidewalk photo of the very, very husky lady. Alas, it would be a full-time job for me to achieve that.

    • It’s a great photo isn’t it? would you really want to be as muscled as that though?

      • I was going to say, is that a young Sledpress in that New York picture? Those arms could certainly rearrange a piriformis something fierce.

      • Just for a day and a night, to see how it felt before permanently deciding.

      • Oh, and for a young Sled:

  8. First time I’ve seen an American Giraffe. Zip is of course the inspiration for the Zippy the Pinhead comic strip. Zippy thinks, “Life is a blur of Republicans and meat.” Which circles back to horned cow.

    Quarter Ponder

    • Ha ha… I LOVE that saying!

  9. Zippy has never spoken a word and yet says so much – loved this

  10. It’s been a long human history of subjugation: Whites subjugating other colors, men subjugating women, and EVERYBODY subjugating animals.

  11. The circus I go to doesn’t have freaks anymore. I think they’ve taken them out for PC reasons. I haven’t seen a freak show in forever. Not that I mind. They do still have the elephants though.

  12. Zip had a very interestingly shaped head.

    A shitty little circus came to the little town here two weeks ago and pissed everyone off. They brought a bear and chained him to a little post in the middle of a field of cement rubble where he stayed, in full sun for three days. His only respite was the hour a day that he preformed. I was surprised that it was still legal but it is.

    • Oh that’s awful Scott. They seem to treat animals differently in Vietnam too. I saw a trio of very sad elephants chained up in Saigon, one of them appeared to be suffering from ocd, he was moving one foot backwards and forwards incessantly. Another animal in a cage had sores all over its body. I can just imagine the uproar if sick animals were exhibited in Sydney 😦

  13. Zip was pretty fly.

    • For a quiet guy.

  14. Please please please will you dress as Koo Koo the Bird Girl next Friday.

    • Sorry Nick, I don’t have that particular costume in my arsenal

  15. And one of Barnum’s great exhibits was the egress…

    • Ha! Yes, you’re right about that!

  16. I had heard of Zip before and his last woprds “we sure fooled them”

    But I have never seen a giraffe in a fat suit before!

  17. Love the fat giraffe picture.

    And I love carnivals. Circuses not so much and I’m sure I would have been appalled at the way the critters were treated (being a critter lover from way back). But I would love to have been around when the circuses and carnivals came through on trains, set up overnight and it would have been like another world to go to one.

    • Have you seen the HBO series Carnivale Nicole?

      • I have and I loved it. Have you read Water for Elephants?

      • Yes I have 🙂

      • I’m just about to start watching Carnivale – was lent it on dvd. Glad to hear it’s good.

  18. The circus, Barnum & Bailey’s too, was rooted here in Sarasota, FL. For the most part, I hate it because of the poor animals. We do have one circus here that is so freaking cool–Circus Sarasota. With the most amazing (and weirdest) talent from all over the world, they put their show on in February of each year. The few horses/dogs/cats in the show are comedy and well-treated. Perhaps they could aspire to a giraffe with elephantitis next year. That’s one hell of a photo doc you have there.

  19. WOW! Your timing is frightening as we spent the day at Roger Williams animal park in Rhode Island today . . . and saw very nice giraffes. My daughter just had a great laugh at the chubby giraffe picture! We did like your wallaby and kangaroo . . . great post as always!

  20. Wow, that fat giraffe is kind of sexy, just saying

  21. I hope Zip really did say “wow, we fooled em for a long time” on his deathbed.

    • Yeah, nice thought isn’t it?

  22. Some days I feel like a docile antelope, others like a chattering monkey. There’s rarely a middle ground.

    You might enjoy Kevin Baker’s novel called Dreamland.

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