A Day At Lincoln Park Zoo

by Alison O’Connor

When I was a very little kid, my mom, dad and I would drive up from Andersonville to the Lincoln Park Zoo, walking through the parking lot and iron gates, me walking in between the two of them, swinging on each of their arms as I skipped. Most of the time my visits to the zoo at this time were on very sunny days. Sometimes the sky would be gray, which I actually preferred, but the sunlight made the zoo feel much warmer, all the more glistening and attractive. The sounds of other cars either parking in the lot or leaving the zoo could be heard all around, the cries and delighted shrieks of other small children could be heard throughout as well. The occasional snort and roar of an animal, or animals, inside as well, could be detected through the warm air. The air, as I always remember it on those visits, was warm, very hot or humid at times, but mainly warm.  

Since the outdoor lion’s cage was one of the first sights to be seen upon entrance of the zoo, we would head to the gates, observing with awe the sleeping or lounging lions on their space of cliff, their far-away glares and bleary gazes from their resting spots. This was part of a larger house that was the Lion House, were the different species of lions and lionesses resided, the ones that did not live outside, but in glass cases. The most fascinating was the giant male lion with the gigantic mane, lying right on the grass, looking back out the families pouring in through the gates. From the place where the human families could view him, from that great distance, were those metal machines one could look through like a telescope to see the creatures more closely. I was too young to care to approach these machines, me being content to simply look on at the lion as he laid back, before I would venture towards the Lion House with my parents.

Right next to this was the monkey house, but before that, we would travel right nearby to the sea lions’ pool, to watch for the clumsily swimming creature pop up out of the depths of the water to make his or her appearance. Swarms of people would form around the sea lions’ pool to observe their gamboling about in the maze of water that connected their outdoor habitat to the one indoors, where visitors could travel to see the sea lions alongside a large glass window which was the indoor part of their home, that they were swimming in when not outdoors to entertain the just-arrived zoo patrons. The crowd and I would smile with contentedness and amazement as the sea lions would dip into the water, emerge crashing out, then dipping back under again.

Then, of course, was the Monkey House. With its pungent odor, the wide interior was home to various gibbons, monkeys, lemurs, langurs and tamarins as they would perch, eat, swing and stare at the people passing through.There were little markers right next to each class case that housed each respective animal that detailed a few quick things about their status, factoids and habits, but as a small child, those words on the plaques meant nothing to me, instead peering through the glass at the swinging and the eating and perching of the primates. They would sometimes screech, I think, which I didn’t mind, as I was safe behind the glass with the other human visitors. Like with the Lion House, the Monkey House had an outdoor component, which was the giant cage with its different trees and loops where a different set of primates would swing about. These were more fun to watch since these primates were outside, where the smell wasn’t as strong, and would travel more artfully than the indoor ones.

Outside again, there were popcorn vendors strolling around the grounds of the zoo, wheeling around those red old fashioned-looking machines, which permeated the air with the smell of salt and butter. I don’t recall ever munching on popcorn very often as I went to the zoo, though I might sometimes have asked for a bag of the buttery stuff to paw through as I’d walk farther along. I also, in these cases, would have crinkled the red and white striped paper bag within my small hands, snack-coated fists as I finished it off.

The Children’s Area was at that time a small part of the zoo, with pie-shaped small cages with armadillos, parakeets and other small creatures to observe and interact with. There were also zoo employees who would handle guinea pigs and bunny rabbits and other small, furry animals like them for young children to pet and play with. I was particularly fond of the guinea pigs and their chubby, spotted furry bodies, so petting them was particularly satisfying. After I was done in this area, which would be in a little while, then we would continue on though the zoo.

Along the wooden fences of the outdoors were flamingos, pink and red and standing tall, vibrant though stoic where they were. They were always a sight to behold, though I always preferred the artful swans, a ways off, gliding through the zoo’s pond or waddling with webbed feet across the grass or sand, whatever the shore to them was. On another side of the zoo, along that stretch of wooden gate, were antelopes, then zebras. I was more fascinated, as a child, by the antelopes, with their sleek brown bodies and horns and they way they would trot. They wouldn’t make much noise, but their footsteps were audible, as were they ways in which they would rustle through their terrain.

Walking on, hand in hand with mom and dad, we’d head over to the bat cave, a building of the zoo that was darker, lower and had little carved out spaces in the cave along the inside where the different bats would be hanging and flapping. In another such area that was like a cave, were the creepy and numerous bugs like spiders, for one, I’d have hated to get on my skin. I was more hesitant in this area, though it was fun to walk about the contained spiders and ants and scorpions and walk about the plastic cave trappings, daring to press a hand against then glass where these bugs crawled.The spiders were the most frightful, but they were not so intimidating here. Other families and their small children would also

On another part of the zoo, past these cavern spaces, were the giraffes, long and tall, moving their giant bodies slow through the leafy trees they would eat from. I loved to look at these, entranced by their step and lumbering ways. I’d walk up to the fence to observe the ways in which they moved about, traveling from their indoor habitat to the outdoor area they meandered from when bored with indoors. But more enticing than those magnificent animals were the big ones I really wanted to see, the marvelous giants I adored, the elephants. On some trips, the elephants would be unpleasant to walk by, the elephants might be furious some days, one day they even had thrown their poop all around the big building that housed them, but usually the elephants were better mannered than that. I loved to look up at them, brilliant and big and gray with their long trunks taking swigs of food or drink. Also, they were fun to read about in the storybooks I enjoyed, where they were drawn as clumsy but loveable creatures who got scared easily and loved to eat, relatable things that were entertaining both on the page and in person. They were the most alluring to watch, and I don’t think they were particularly noisy. But we didn’t linger by the elephants for too long, we’d move on to the other stretches of gated areas and houses for other animals.

The polar bears, like the elephants, were a big favorite of mine, for one. These lived outdoors as well, like some of the lions, but wouldn’t show their faces too often, coming out every so often to splash about in the pool of water below, but this was, again, not often. Sometimes small crowds would form, to see if the polar bears would come out, but oftentimes these crowds would be disappointed.Also outside, near the polar bears, more reliable and though less anticipated, but nonetheless exciting, were the hawks which flew about and moved to and fro about their perches, the long trees in their wide cage. They were swift, quick and fun to watch dark about, for a while, before my parents and I would travel further through the zoo.

After my mom, dad and I had seen our lion’s share of the zoo, when I was getting drowsy and a bit tired of walking around, and having observed and marveled at enough animals for the day, we would head back. We would retrace our steps back through the fenced off areas, houses, cages and areas we had already trekked through back towards the entrance of the zoo, past the gift shop, the sea lions, the Lion and Monkey Houses and the outside with the male lion laying there. I would cling to both mom and dad’s hands, letting my body go a bit limp as I held onto the both of them, and they to me. They would usually go from warm to hot through the duration of the trip to the zoo, or a gust of wind would pick up and we would feel the cool breeze as we walked back through the parking lot to the big blue van, as we called it. I would be buckled in my black car seat in the second row of the car, and my mom and dad would get into the steering wheel and passenger’s side of the car, respectively, and off we would drive back to Andersonville, satisfied and glad to have spent the day with the other families and crowds, the lions, sea lions, the primates and polar bears, the giraffes and antelopes and swans and hawks and flamingoes and guinea pigs, and the like. I would be even more excited, that day, to visit those wonderful animals once more in the nighttime in my picture books, and smile back at their faces once more.

Back to Orphan Gorilla Arrives at Lincoln Park Zoo