Tell Us Your Zoo Story

Mike the polar bear in 1966. Photo shared by Lee Horta.

My mother used to take me to see a polar bear by the name of Big Mike that was very entertaining in the 60s. Every time we went to the zoo, I insisted we go because he reminded me of my lost uncle Mike that went by the nickname "Big Mike." My mother recently came down with an illness, and she gave me lots of pictures and one that I simply had to share, May 1966 - "Big Mike" the polar bear.

Lee Horta

A successful proposal at ZooLights Presented by ComEd and Charter One

It was December 15, and Kevin and I had plans to go out to dinner and then see a Christmas Carol at the Goodman Theatre, like we do every year.  We had been talking about going to the Zoo Lights for a few weeks but never 
found the time to do it, so he insisted on going before dinner.

I wasn’t too excited because I knew  it was supposed to rain but after a bit of convincing, I agreed to go. We were walking around the zoo looking at all the different lights, and then he led me up a path and started to slow down.

He stopped and let the people behind us pass. Kevin then got down on one knee and asked me to marry him! At the same time, one of our friends was hiding around the corner taking pictures of the whole thing!

It turns out that Kevin and our friend met up at the zoo the day before to scope out a special spot to propose!

Whitney Palmer

My children went to school just around the corner, and they loved to visit the animals when classes got out. Now that they have children of their own, we all come to visit the zoo together.

Gerry Entman

We love the zoo because it is the best backyard anyone could ever have. We recently camped out "under the skyscrapers" and had a blast.

Lisa Parker Gates

Having a zoo with the quality and proximity to the city is a fantastic thing for Chicago. Add it being open and free every day of the year makes it really something unique. I am happy to support a place that does so much good for so many people (and animals)! While we may not get to the zoo all that often, it will always have special meaning to my wife and I. We got engaged at Lincoln Park Zoo during Zoo Lights in 2007.

Many thanks for all you do for so many.

Jeff Williams

My girlfriend and I were leaving, walking by the outdoor tiger habitat. We hadn't seen him that day, inside or out, so when we saw him pacing by the window in the corner, we went over to watch him. We were the only people there. He was rubbing his face against the glass while she and I made subtle gestures to try and attract his attention.

After about 12 passes by us, he reared up in front of me and pounded his paws against the glass for a few seconds, roughly where my hands were. I was stunned and thrilled. I know he's a wild animal and I have no illusions about proper boundaries. Still, this gesture looked unmistakably like play... Part of me wanted to hug him.

Daniel Lenehan

When I was a young lad of 5-8 years old (1942-1945), my father (Cyrill Koch) worked at the Lincoln Park Conservatory right next to the zoo. In those days, my father worked ½ a day on Saturday and would take me to work with him. I most likely was a rambunctious little boy and my dad wanted me 'out-from-under-foot' so he introduced me to the zookeeper. The zookeeper took me under his arm and showed me ALL around the zoo, mostly behind the scenes. Actually it was his responsibility to feed the animals and he allowed me to go along with him on his feeding route. What I learned from him was that the zoo raised horses, in those days, and slaughtered them for the meat to feed the animals.

One time, as I was walking around and helping the zookeeper, we came into the 'Lion House' (a large barn type structure) where they kept all the large felines i.e. Lions, Tigers, Leopards etc. The Lion House was constructed so that the public could walk down the center section and the large cats were behind "thin" wires. The wires, as I remember, were painted black so that they visually seemed to disappear. In other words; it seemed that the visitors were actually walking amongst the large cats.

One day when I went through the lion house with the zookeeper, it was after visiting hours and no one else was there. The zookeeper left me standing in the middle of the Lion House and went behind a closed door in order to bring out the meat to feed the lions etc. So there I was, a little boy of 5 or 6 years old, all by myself. When the lions saw the zookeeper come through the door with the load of meat in a wheelbarrow they ALL began to roar LOUDLY, which echoed throughout the building with a deafening noise and scarred me beyond words!

All I could think of was that, I too, was going to be a meal for one of those animals. I began to cry and my knees were shaking when the keeper realized what was happening and came to my rescue. He comforted me and calmed me down and explained that the animals could not really harm me. I really liked that guy! When I looked down I realized that I had 'wet my pants’ but the zookeeper said it's OK and helped me out of the building. I thought--"Some day I want to travel to Africa and see those beautiful beasts in their own environment!"

Well now the rest of the story--however. 60 years later I asked my wife, "Would you ever like to go and see some real lions?" SO--After much consultation with a travel agent-we were on our way to Kenya and YES we saw the real lions-in the wild. What a beautiful scene when I stood "By myself" out on the plains of Kenya to witness these wonderful animals in their natural habitat with tears in my eyes with flooding memories of days gone by. It was a beautiful moment in my life!

Thanks to my experience at Lincoln Park Zoo, I could fulfill a dream after all those years, which started with my "wet pants affair" and finished by standing in a local watering hole and watching lions drinking and just getting my “pants wet” all in the middle of Africa. Old memories just came flooding back to me. WOW!

William A. Koch, Ph.D.

My grandfather visited the zoo when he lived in Chicago from the 1940s to the 80s. My father has visited the zoo for 78 years, I have visited the zoo for 53 years, my son has visited the zoo for 35 years, and my grandson has visited for 10 years. This year, July 22, we will have a family reunion. Thank you for so many years of wonderful memories.

Noemi Perez

We love being members for many reasons, two of them being our grandchildren. We moved from Glenview to Grayslake last year, so our drive to the zoo is longer, but it is our favorite place to go. We most often pick up a child or two on the way.

The most fun is family picnic and Zoo Lights. Last year my grandson had his birthday party at the picnic with six friends. It was his idea and the parents of the kids who came thought it was a fabulous choice over the normal parties. They had a blast, and so did we.We have come to Zoo Lights for the past 10 years, and it is still emotional for me to see the lights. Last year was the first time our 2-year-old granddaughter came with us. She just stared at the lights and smiled. It was wonderful to see her face.

As we walked around, we overheard a conversation that was questioning how such a wonderful zoo could be free. I couldn’t resist telling them that we, as members, help make this possible. They were from Europe and thanked us for being members so they could enjoy the zoo just as we do.

The size of the zoo is also a huge factor for us. It is nice not to be exhausted before we have seen all we want to see, and that makes it easier to bring small children. We have not yet seen the new walk but will be there this fall for sure.

Madge and Jim Pierce

Lincoln Park Zoo is one of my top 2 places ever (Montrose Harbor being the other). I was born and raised in Chicago and made numerous visits during those growing up years with my Mom. We lived on the Northwest side and would pack a lunch, take a bus and visit the zoo. As I recall there were picnic tables near the old Children’s Zoo, and that’s where we would eat our lunch. As I got older and had children of my own we would continue the tradition until we moved out of state. Believe it or not, Lincoln Park Zoo was among the things I missed the most and of course returned on each visit back to Chicago.

Thankfully, after a 21-year absence we moved back to Chicago, and one of the first things we did was visit the zoo and joined as members. We now enjoy taking our grandchildren to the zoo and participate in the Zoo run. To me the LPZ is a haven where I can go and recall happy times as a child, enjoy activities with my children and grandchildren, or just go by myself and let the child within enjoy (especially the lions!) Lincoln Park Zoo always has been and always will be a part of me.

Irene Hinz

In around 1950, as a young boy, I was intoduced to LPZ by Marlin Perkins, in his regular weekend TV show, Zoo Parade. And what a show it was! Snakes, spiders, apes, monkeys, small members of the cat family. I became a fan. Today at age 70, I’m still a fan, regularly taking my grandchildren, ages 5 and 3. And I’m a donor, too. This priceless treasure should be, and is, enjoyed by all people, not just those who are able to pay a users’ fee. Let’s always share our zoo--it’s the right thing to do!

Bob Meyers

I have been a member for many years now and have enjoyed several behind-the-scenes visits. On one of these visits we had a chance to be in the house where the elephants used to live. It was shortly after the birth of the last baby that we had here at Lincoln Park. My sister-in-law and brother were with me. We were standing just in front of the elephant enclosure, my sister-in-law had a shoulder bag, her back was to the enclosure. I saw the baby stick out his trunk and attempt to rummage through her purse. I’m sure this would not have happened on a busy day. The privilege of being in the house when most others were not allowed us to witness the little thief in action.

On this same visit I was able to get very near the giraffe enclosure. We got to offer hay to the giraffe. It was a thrill to see that long tongue reach out for our treats.

On another visit, the opening of the Kovler Lion House, we had an up-close look at the back of the cages. The keeper path put us right next to the cage doors, which were covered in burlap to help the cats from being frightened by our presence.

All of these experiences were possible because of my zoo membership.

Pat M.

As ridiculous as it may sound, being within walking distance of Lincoln Park Zoo was one of the prerequisites on my house-hunting list when I moved back to Chicago a couple years ago. My favorite Saturday activity is to walk to the zoo, grab a snack and visit with the animals - even if there’s 3 feet of snow on the ground.

Having such a wonderful institution in the middle of Lincoln Park is one of the things that makes Chicago so great. The fact that it’s free, and thus truly open to the public at any time, is tremendous. Because of this, I felt compelled to be a member and donor - how could I not support an institution that’s accessible to all, helps educate people about conservation and animal welfare, and is a fantastic place to spend an afternoon? The Lincoln Park Zoo is a very special place, and if members help keep it that way, then I’m very happy to be a member.

Geeta Kharkar Stack

I proposed to my wife in front of the Kovler Sea Lion Pool during ZooLights. We come back every year with our children—three of them now—to see where it all began.

Paul Hletko

My grandfather used to bring me to the zoo every summer. It’s one of my most cherished memories, one that I’m trying to pass on to my two small children.

Steve Dudek

I often remember a summer afternoon on a swan boat—I paddled, my four-year-old looked for fish and my fourteen-year-old pushed to go faster, all while my wife and two-year-old waved from shore.

Dennis Furniss

“My parents used to bring me to the zoo when I was a child, and my husband and I carry on the tradition by visiting with our five granddaughters. This past summer we had all of them on the carousel, and they were so excited that they didn’t want to stop—they just kept riding and riding and riding.”

Casey Paw

When my son was much younger (he’s now 43), Mike the Polar Bear was at the top of his list as the most beloved animal at the zoo. We visited Mike at least once a week, if not more often. One day we arrived for our visit to find a large crowd of observers and TV cameras from local channels—it turned out that Mike was having his tooth pulled by a dentist. My son was awed by this scene and was filmed by at least one of the crews. Neither of us have forgotten this event, and we have fond memories of Mike.

Barbara Kaufman

My memories started in the 50s—when I lived in the city as a nursing student at Wesley Memorial Hospital. My husband and I walked around the zoo at dusk (pre-fence) while “courting.” This was 1954. In the early 60s, my mother would take my daughters (age 3 and 4) for picnics at the Conservatory. Now I take my grandchildren and am a zoo member.

Jeannine Brattstrom

I was born and raised in Chicago and enjoyed Lincoln Park Zoo as a child and then as a mother. I was fortunate to have been able to spend 10 years as a volunteer in Guest Services before my husband, Barry, and I retired to Arizona. The more we travel, the more we realize what a jewel you have in the middle of a city, and we enjoy maintaining our commitment to the zoo and will continue to contribute as long as we are able. Our thanks to Kimberly Madrid for being our connection with the zoo. She has been so helpful when we had questions or needed some long-distance assistance.

Linda Ullman

I am 66 years old, but many, many years ago Lincoln Park Zoo had pony rides. I can remember crying because I was petrified of the ponies and also crying because my parents wouldn’t allow me to “hug” the elephant.

Judith Burton-Davis

I run along the lake and by the zoo nearly every day. One of my favorite things to do is to end my run by walking through the zoo. There is no more tranquil and peaceful pleasure then cooling down with the big cats!

Paul Donnell

My favorite memory is when I took my 3-year-old granddaughter to ZooLights. We had a great evening and were going to have popcorn. In the course of the evening, I must have lost my money. We were sitting on a bench, going through my bottomless purse. I explained to my granddaughter that somehow all my money was gone. She was disappointed but understood. A lady next to me told my granddaughter not to worry and handed me money to buy her a popcorn and a drink. I so wanted to return the money to her and send her a note from my granddaughter and myself.

Stella Black

I went to high school in the 30s at Francis W. Parker and often walked over to watch Bushman. Now I bring my grandkids to see the sights.

Horace Jordan

I have shared this story with some of your staff. In 2006 I adopted a lion for my 8-year-old nephew—his thank you was, “This is the best gift a kid could every get!!” Your staff made it even more special by letting us take a private tour behind the scenes when he came to visit me during the summer. He loved it so much, he is going to stay with me for a week this summer to attend one of your camps. P.S. I regularly check on the lion to make sure he is being taken care of!

Cathy Lazaroff

The first time I came to Lincoln Park Zoo was back when I was a small kid. I liked the zoo so much that I bring my relatives that visit from India and Pakistan to the zoo whenever they come to visit me.

Soleman Hashmi

I was born and raised in Chicago and lived within walking distance of Lincoln Park Zoo. At that time, even as youngsters, we were allowed to walk to the park and enjoy the zoo

My most vivid memory was of Bushman—the lowland gorilla housed at the zoo. I could stand for hours and watch this magnificent animal. In adulthood, this memory started me on a quest for anything with a gorilla on it. I now have quite a collection of gorilla statues, plates, pictures, etc,. some from Lincoln Park Zoo. My brother took a picture of the bronze plaque that was in front of his cage (since stolen) and made it into wood plaque for me.

In fact, for our 25th wedding anniversary, my husband had a six-thousand-pound concrete gorilla delivered to our home in Michigan and placed in our back yard. Because of our winters, a concrete foundation had to put down to avoid damage to the statue from shifting due to cold temperatures. As my husband said, “It’s our silver anniversary—so I got you a silverback.” Of course his name is Bushman, and his picture has appeared in the Flint Journal newspaper, also giving the reason for his name.

I have attended several seminars through the Smithsonian Institute at the National Zoo in Washington D.C. At a reception I was asked by the Director of the National Zoo how I became interested in zoos. I told him about spending so much of my childhood at Lincoln Park Zoo. I explained that as children we thought that we owned not just Lincoln Park, but the zoo as well. Because Lincoln Park Zoo was free, a family could make a day out of taking their children to the zoo—and children could go the zoo alone and enjoy seeing and learning about the world of animals. He said that he was going to tell the board of the National Zoo about this experience the next time they considered charging a fee for entrance to the National Zoo! It was also wonderful to hear from him how highly Lincoln Park Zoo is thought of—and how it is one of the very few zoos in the country that do not charge an entrance fee.

Now many years later—and in a different state—I still feel that I owe a debt of gratitude to Lincoln Park Zoo for all the time I spent there and the education and fun that it offered me in my childhood and continues to offer the citizens of Chicago. For the same reasons, by brother David Strachan, is a docent with the Lincoln Park Zoo. Oh how I wish I could be as well. Still, we are both giving back to the Lincoln Park Zoo so that those who follow us can have this same wonderful experience.

Margaret (Stratchan) Rudder

I remember, in the late 1960s, my brother, an amateur herpetologist at the time, having trouble with a snake, and Lincoln Park Zoo staff referred him to Dr. Maschgan. He became a “professional” herpetologist, and I’ve been grooming dogs for over 40 years. I support the conservation and educational mission of LPZ.

Robyn Michaels