Nostalgia tinged with sadness: The story of Forest Park Zoo

Lions once roared so loudly they were heard from Everett’s Mukilteo Boulevard.

Visitors to Forest Park were greeted by black bears in a cage.

And an Indian elephant named Rosie was the crowd-pleasing star of the Forest Park Zoo.

“For more than 40 years, the city of Everett housed an expanding collection of exotic animals at its zoo facility in Forest Park. The zoo is gone now, but memories remain,” says the Everett Public Library’s Van Ramsey as he narrates a new library podcast, “Requiem for Rosie.”

The eight-minute online program was written by Cameron Johnson, a librarian in the Everett library’s reference department. It’s part of the library’s award-winning podcast series, Smokestack Soundbites.

With photos from library archives, news articles about the animals and the zoo budget, sound effects, music and a well-researched narrative, “Requiem for Rosie” is a compelling look back. It is Everett nostalgia. But seen through a lens of modern sensibilities, it reveals awful conditions that today would be considered animal cruelty.

“It’s another age. Our expectations are very different today,” said David Dilgard, an Everett Public Library historian who visited the zoo as a child. Dilgard helped research the podcast with Lisa Labovitch, his colleague in the library’s Northwest Room, and local historian Jack O’Donnell.

Sixty years after Rosie’s death in 1955, the podcast includes a mention of today’s Woodland Park Zoo controversy. Two Asian elephants, Bamboo and Chai, were recently moved from Seattle’s zoo to the Oklahoma City Zoo. Seattle’s elephant exhibit had come under criticism. A citizens group unsuccessfully pushed for moving the elephants to an animal sanctuary instead of another zoo.

Created in 1914, Everett’s zoo was a Forest Park attraction until 1976. That’s when the Everett City Council voted to send the last animals — bears — to the Olympic Game Farm in Sequim.

According to the 1989 book “The History of Everett Parks: A Century of Service and Vision,” the zoo had its start when a game warden gave the city three deer, two coyotes and two pelicans in 1914. “During the next few decades, when the zoo was being run by Oden Hall, brother Walter and nephew John, the zoo boomed,” said the book, written by Allan May and Dale Preboski.

The podcast explores an era when “well-meaning amateurs ran zoos.”

With hardly any budget, Oden Hall, the city’s parks director in the zoo’s early days, grew food for animals and got scraps from butcher shops to feed the carnivores. “I have no doubt the Halls, the parks administration at the time, did their best,” said Johnson, 61, who came to Everett after the zoo had closed.

Fascinated by the zoo’s history, Johnson hopes the podcast won’t be the end of the story. He is asking that people who have pictures, maps or home movies of the zoo share them with the library.

A 1923 zoo “census,” reported by The Everett Herald, found that the Forest Park Zoo had about 200 animals, including a kangaroo, marmot, four bears, rabbits, a mink, goats, three elk, two bison, three coyotes, a badger, a raccoon and skunks. Later came lions, leopards, monkeys, an eagle, owls and free-roaming peacocks.

The podcast centers on the sad story of Rosie the elephant.

Rosie was donated to the city by Harold Rumbaugh. The prominent Everett merchant operated the Rumbaugh-MacClain Department Store at Wetmore Avenue and California Street. It later became the Bon Marche, and is now Trinity Lutheran College.

Rumbaugh co-owned several circuses, too, including the Horne Brothers Circus. Rosie performed with that circus until arriving at Forest Park, to much fanfare, at age 3. The Herald headline from June 13, 1951, said: “Rosemary Is Here and the Children of Everett Will Be Happy for Many, Many Years to Come.”

“It was not to be,” Ramsey says in the podcast.

Living in a small, dirty cage, Rosie developed an infection known as “foot scald.” She died in October 1955, and is believed to be buried at Forest Park.

“It was a sad day for Everett,” the podcast says. “In the wild, an Indian elephant like Rosie can live up to 60 years. Rosie lived only eight.”

Several bond issues to raise money for a better zoo failed, and by the mid-1970s only the bears were left.

Dilgard, 70, remembers it through a child’s eyes — and nose. The monkey house, a white barn near Floral Hall, “was so stinky my parents would never go in,” he said.

Animal enclosures made of hog-wire fencing ran down a steep hill toward Pigeon Creek. That’s where Dilgard saw elk, buffalo, and Rainier, the Nubian lion. He sometimes heard a lion’s astonishing roar from Mukilteo Boulevard, and once saw the zoo’s herd of little white deer in the moonlight while walking home from an Everett football game.

“Cameron was touched by this kind of nostalgic but also very sad story. It’s not a joke that they were fed road kill,” he said.

“Forest Park was our backyard zoo,” Dilgard said. “You can’t have a zoo in your house. We were trying to have a zoo in our house.”

Julie Muhlstein: 425-339-3460; jmuhlstein@heraldnet.com.

Podcast on the history of Forest Park Zoo

“Requiem for Rosie,” an Everett Public Library podcast, tells the history of the Forest Park Zoo. It operated at Everett’s Forest Park from 1914 to 1976. See the podcast at: http://epls.org/find/podcasts/smokestack-soundbites/requiem-rosie

If you have zoo items — home movies, maps, fliers or other documents — to share with library researchers, call 425-257-7640 or email: libref@everettwa.gov

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