Jim Fowler who has played such an important role in bringing a wild life habitat to Chehaw State Park in Albany, Georgia
Our old friend Nick Lewis who was so adept in dodging some of Albany’s finest when we would tempt them with our wild antics and they would chase us from Tift Park Zoo in Albany, Georgia
It was not until I had lived in other towns that I realized my home town had a zoo almost as good as those in the big cities. We can look back and thank the city fathers for having the foresight and for spending the money on an entertaining place for us to go after school or on the weekends. This was in the 1940’s and 50’s.
In later years Wild Kingdom’s Jim Fowler had a big hand in developing the zoo to the excellent wild animal habitat it is today. It has since moved out to the Chehaw Wild Animal Park and I hope the animals find it more pleasant there.
I said Fowler had a big hand because Fowler is a big man. He and his brothers were raised near Albany and his brother Bob was a much loved coach to us at Albany Junior High School and later at Albany High School. Bob was almost seven feet tall and weighed nearly 300 pounds. Bob’s hand was so big that the thought of taking a lick on your thin shanks from that large ham of a hand kept many of us in check and most of us needed to be kept in check.
Tift Park was situated between 5th Avenue on the south and 7th Avenue on the north with the east being bordered by Jefferson Street and the west side mostly made up of the Palmyra Road. Monroe Street ran south to north through the center of the park.
Between Monroe and Jefferson Streets the wild animals were caged. Not as much was known or thought of back then about the comfort of the animals so they were often housed in cramped and dirty, unhealthy quarters.
There were big cats, an elephant, a donkey, gators and turtles, monkeys on an island, monkeys in cages, a chimpanzee, baboons, snakes, otters, black swans, white swans and a number of large birds of prey.
As teenagers we cared little or nothing about the comfort of the animals. All we knew was we were bored and when we were bored we were trouble. We just thought we were trouble. Mostly we were in trouble. The most boring night of the week was Sunday night in the winter. We seemed to stay in more trouble on Sunday evenings in the winter than any other time.
Having said that we were bored you know I am going to tell you how we desperately fought the boredom and of course it has to do with the Tift Park Zoo. We always used the Dairy Bar on Slappey as a hangout. Since I always practiced angelic restraint 24/7 I’m sure it was Nicky Lewis and Terrell Cooper who hatched this hair-brained scheme to combat our doldrums.
We all climbed into one car. We drove over to the zoo but we did not park too close to the animals. We usually parked across Madison Street to the west in a residential area and walked from there to the zoo. Usually there were five or six of us and usually it was pitch black near the animals.
When we reached the cages we began to speak harshly to the animals. Naturally they began to speak harshly back to us. In no time the donkey would be braying to the extent it sounded like we were trying to rustle a bunch of broke-back mules. The elephant (her name was Laska) could speak more harshly than anybody except the two or three lions who really put on a show for the nearby neighbors.
At that point the night watchman would come scuttling down through the cages and start trying to yell at us above the din caused by the crazed beasts. We couldn’t hear him but we would wisely begin to trot off before the police arrived.
We knew the police were going to arrive because the watchman would call them and as soon as we saw the lights near the cages we would break into a full run. Since Monroe nearly bisected the park from south to north we would run across Monroe and into a large grassy area behind the teen center.
As we ran across that area and up a gently sloping hill to cross the Palmyra Road and then Madison Street, the police would have their patrol car spotlights on us. The lights would follow us all the way up the slope and across Madison but by the time the police drove up there to find us we would be gone.
We must have pulled this stupid prank four or five times before we got caught. I don’t think Terrell or Nicky or I got caught. They were too fast and I was a master of disguise. I was so skinny and ugly I could stand by a scrub oak tree and look like a dead limb.
On about the fourth or fifth Sunday night in a row we took some goofy kid with us who had no sense of direction. Instead of running back toward the parked car on the other side of Madison Street he ran in the opposite direction toward the river. The police caught him trying to find his way back to the car.
He later told us the cops had been great sports. They told him Sunday nights were slow for them too and they had been having as much fun chasing us as we were having trying to outrun them. They asked him to tell us they wanted us to stop because the night watchman at the zoo was an elderly one-armed man and they were afraid all the commotion we were creating might cause him to have a heart attack.
They said they were also afraid he might cause one of us to have a heart attack too if he became overly nervous and shot us in the chest with that double-barreled twelve gauge sawed-off shotgun he kept in his little shack.
We never went back … at night.
The Gator Pool at Tift Park Zoo in Albany, Georgia. Apparently this was taken during a drought.
The monkey island, Tift Park Zoo, Albany, Georgia. There were many more monkeys there at the time this photograph was taken. The others were all camera shy.
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Laska the lonely elephant. She was the only elephant at the old Tift Park Zoo in Albany, Georgia for many years.