Before pandas became the celebrities at the National Zoo, President Calvin Coolidge's pet hippopotamus drew the large crowds. Meet William J. Hippopotamus, one of the most famous animals in D.C. history.
Many of us, especially former Boy Scouts like myself, probably associate that statement with campfire safety. Indeed, Smokey the Bear has been around for as long as most of us can remember, reminding us to follow safe fire practices in the backcountry. However, Smokey’s message – and even the bear himself – didn’t have much to do with campfires at first. His story actually dates to World War II and has a definite Washington flavor to it.
On March 2, 1889, President Grover Cleveland signed legislation establishing a zoological park along Rock Creek in Northwest Washington “for the advancement of science and the instruction and recreation of the people.” But, of course, the backstory began years before.
Prior to the creation of the Zoo park, the Smithsonian kept a large collection of animals in pens and cages on the National Mall. Washingtonians flocked to see the motley collection which included a jaguar, grizzly bear, lynx and buffalo.
Buffalo grazing on the National Mall! Can you imagine?
I came across this photo while doing some research about the National Zoo. It's a picture of jazz quintet playing a concert for a polar bear in the 1920s. Errr... what? I'd really like to know what precipitated this. Did these dudes just wake up one morning and say, "Hey, let's go down to the zoo and play a set for the bears." "Good idea, I'll see if Gertrude is free to dance for them."? Well, in any case, the bear seems to be enjoying it. Or maybe he's just waiting for his chance to take a swipe at them through the bars.