Friday, September 5, 2014

St. Louis Zoo Chimpanzee Show

This postcard is probably the first postcard that I ever saved. I received it before I started my first postcard collection and wasn't concerned with keeping it in nice condition. It has two big nail holes because I used it to decorate the wall of a neighborhood scrap lumber "fort" that I played in one summer. The card was sent to me by my Aunt Genevieve and my cousin Patty in 1955.

My Aunt Genevieve was my mother's sister. They also had an Aunt Genevieve, the Aunt Gen referred to in the postcard message. My mother's family was originally from St. Louis, and most of their relatives still lived there. My Aunt Genevieve took her children to visit St. Louis the summer before they turned five, and were still young enough for free train travel. Patty was my oldest cousin.

The year (1958) that my youngest cousin was taken to St. Louis, I accompanied them. One of the things we did there was visit the zoo and watch the Chimpanzee Show (also known as the Monkey Show). By that time, I had started my first postcard collection, so I bought a bunch of postcards at the zoo, including the next one of the chimps in the show.

I have a couple of other postcards of the chimpanzees in the show that I bought for my collection many years later. The one of the chimps performing on the piano was mailed in 1943. The one of the chimps in the car is from the early 1950s.

The St. Louis Zoo Chimpanzee show was a popular attraction for many years. The chimpanzees were dressed in cute costumes and performed a variety of stunts, including riding ponies and bicycles. The show was phased out in 1982, after zoological attitudes shifted toward displaying animals in more naturalistic habitats. Now the emphasis is on conservation, education, and research.

The first video below is rather long, but is entertaining. It is an Animal Kingdom TV show from 1963. The second video is an "educational" documentary movie from 1951.

For More Vintage Images


  1. That's an interesting story about your early days of postcard collection. The human-like pose of the chimps in the car makes me laugh, but I also wonder why we all thought it was such a cute idea to dress animals in clothes.

  2. It worries me about the trainer having to carry a stick to encourage the chimps to do their tricks. If those were children performing their coach wouldn't be holding a stick - at least I would hope not - though I HAVE seen (& heard!) coaches yell questionable things at their young players on occasion which is hard to take. I like the postcards, but I'm not sure about performing monkeys? We're much more aware, now, of the different forms of animal cruelty.

    1. I thought the stick was just used to guide them.

  3. What a collection. To think these were your first post cards!! and now they're perfect for a SS prompt. Aren't you glad you saved them?
    Ladies of the Grove

  4. Boy, you started collecting early! What a fun group of postcards -- but I'm glad we treat animals a bit better now than before...I love seeing what postcards you have that match SS themes -- amazing!

  5. Love these! Grew up in Illinois-and parents took us to that great zoo every summer.

  6. All your postcards are wonderful but the best ones are those with the snippets of news of life-as-it-was as in your first illustration.

  7. I also grew up in St. Louis, loved the zoo, even before more humane ideas of animal treatment came is great for children to be able to see animals from all over the world in person...much different than cartoons or movies, or even the newer images via YouTube. Your postcards are certainly great as triggers for your memories!

  8. Nice condition or not, thank goodness you held on to it.

  9. Great postcards, but poor chimps that had to perform.

  10. A very topical collection, as ever - your postcards must occupy a room to themselves!

  11. Didn't know there would be so many postcards on topic! funny

  12. Nice to see how you began collecting postcards. A fun selction.
    You sure brought back some childhood memories when I heard "the mutual of Omaha"...
    I always watched those shows.
    Those performances though generally came under scrutiny and ethics demanded that those be stopped
    due to ill treatment of the animals. But on the other hand, now animals just sit in their pen/enclosure/whatever space they have
    and look dazed too often, lacking interest in their surrounding.
    Captivity is not ideal, but if this is what we need to avoid their total eradication off the planet,
    then it will have to do, until a better solution comes along.

  13. I just loved that first postcard particularly what was written on the back. I'm trying to remember if I was attached to dolls when I was little. I do remember I had a set of toy donkeys - three - I guess in case I lost one. They were dragged around everywhere I went so that they ended up with no feet they were so worn away. I tried to watch the videos but for some reason couldn't bear to do so. Haven't times changed? And yet I have been to animal shows at Sea World on the Gold Coast and found them very moving - dolphins performing tricks etc. I have mixed feelings about it all.

  14. Okay, those two at the piano are classic. A Broadway hit has to be in the making.


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