“Wasn’t there a crowd at Grants’ Park yesterday?”, began the article in the Monday morning Atlanta newspaper.
It should come as no surprise that the first Sunday in April would attract a nice crowd to Grant Park, but no one alive has seen a crowd quite like this one. This was the zoo’s first special event—a grand opening that occurred 130 years ago, on April 7th, 1889. There was no circling the lot looking for a parking space because there were no cars. The visitors were “all dressed in their best”, not in today’s uniform of shorts, flip-flops, and baseball caps. And the zoo they had come to see—well, it wasn’t much of a zoo, at least not yet.
“The menagerie,” according to the article, “was arranged in a row around the sides of a large shelter, built as a temporary habitat for the animals of the zoo, and was visited and revisited by thousands of people”.
A great deal of amusement was to be gotten out of the cage of monkeys who were fed with apples, candy, and peanuts until they couldn’t hold another bit. These comical little fellows seemed to know that a great deal was expected from them on this, their first day at Grants’ park, and jumped and frisked round as they had never done since their captivity. A good many people also gathered around the cages of the lion and lioness, and some were venturesome and poked sticks at them when the keeper’s head was turned, while some were afraid and would not go nearer than ten feet. Altogether the zoo feature of the park was a huge success and attracted thousands of people who would not otherwise have gone out to the park at all.
Most people arrived on something called “the dummy line”. This was a single-track streetcar route with a couple of open passenger cars and a tiny steam engine called a “dummy”—so named because it had the appearance of one of the coaches and was thought to be less frightening to horses.
The crowd was noted as being, “white and black, rich and poor, young and old, men, women and children, all bent on having a good time”. People began arriving shortly after 10:00 o’clock
It was estimated that fully 12,000 people visited the park yesterday, and there is good reason to believe that the estimate is about correct. The crowd which had been constantly touring all day long commenced to leave about 5 O’clock, and from that time on until late at night the rush to get seats was something tremendous. Fully 300 people stood waiting for each train to arrive, and when it did come, they rammed and jammed and crashed, all trying to get on two cars that were not built to hold more than 50 passengers each, but somehow the majority managed to get on and the rest had to satisfy themselves as best they could until the next train, when some of them were more fortunate. And it is to the credit of the citizens of Atlanta and the park authorities that it can be said of the crowd that is was the most orderly and quiet crowd that was ever congregated in one place before. Not a drunk, not a disorderly character, nothing to mar the thorough enjoyment of the beautiful spring day that heralded the first appearance of the Gress Zoo at Grant Park.
And with the recent opening of Zoo Atlanta’s African Savanna on August 8th, 2019 I hope those opening day crowds were a credit to the citizens of Atlanta. I hope we had an orderly and quiet crowd with no drunk or disorderly characters. It would have been nice to see the headline in the next morning’s Atlanta Journal-Constitution read, “Wasn’t there a crowd at Grants’ Park yesterday?”.