Posts Tagged ‘ Urban Exploration ’

A Monkey in the Colliery, The Bear From Vaudeville & Politics of An Eagle: The Rise and Fall of the Kirby Park Zoo

What do we really know about the Kirby Park Zoo? 

 The Kirby Park Zoo, once located in Kirby Park somewhere along the river, completely vanished into history during the World War II era.  Still, the zoo is one of Wilkes-Barre’s legends.  And rightly so, it is captivating to imagine a simpler time when communities nationwide not only had amusement parks right in their own back yards, but municipal zoos were also popular local attractions.  And the Kirby Park Zoo was popular!  It had somewhere between 2,000 to 3,000 visitors during the weekends in the summer months, according to newspaper coverage from the days when the zoo was in operation.
Third Structure (6)

“Zoo” Grafitti

I don’t quite understand why, but there is a tendency for locals to “spin” these regional venues in such a way that they become shrouded in controversy and mystery over time.  It must be a function of the human mind to weave our childhood fantasies into our memories about events and locations. 

When I was doing research about the Kirby Park Zoo, on more than one occasion, people told me that their deceased relatives told them stories about the elephants of the Kirby Park Zoo.  Which is just bizarre, there is no way that the city of Wilkes-Barre housed elephants right next to the Susquehanna River!   I wrote these instances off as just a miscommunication created as a result of being a generation or two removed from actual historical events.

Abandoned Nay Aug Park Zoo 1 HD

Abandoned Giraffe Sculpture at Nay Aug Park Zoo


But I recently became aware of the fact that this phenomenon also happens within the generation of people with first-hand experience, while photographing the remains of the now defunct Nay Aug Park Zoo in Scranton.  A couple stopped by the remaining zoo cages with their adult children, and proceeded to tell them about their “memories” of the giraffes that lived right there–in the elephant house!  Apparently, when you DO have elephants in your local zoo, people remember giraffes instead!    

An Abandoned Zoo Christmas:  the remains of the Elephant House, Nay Aug Park Zoo, Scranton Pennsylvania

Nay Aug Park Elephant House At Christmas

The mystery surrounding the Kirby Park Zoo is magnified by the fact that the location itself was cut off from Kirby Park more than 70 years ago when the levee was constructed to protect the area from flooding.    While the park on one side of the levee remained a neatly manicured public area, the other side became overgrown and even served as an illegal dumping ground for unwanted debris for several decades.   During the 1990s, preservationists started clearing the long-forgotten area between the levee and the Susquehanna River, uncovering a handful of lost ruins. That’s when the urban legends about the long forgotten Kirby Park Zoo began to grow as more people began to frequent the area while walking or fishing along the Olmsted Trail and would come across these structures. 

Third Structure (4) Side
Kirby Park Zoo “Ruins”

Through research, I’ve learned that the Kirby Park Zoo was mentioned in the original Olmsted Brother’s plans for Kirby Park, but as far as I can tell (please, someone prove me wrong!), the world renowned firm did not design plans for the Kirby Park Zoo per say, although the Olmsted’s did (obviously) design the Olmsted Trail where the zoo most likely would have been located.
Olmsted Sign
We know the zoo was definitely in place by 1932, because Wilkes-Barre architect Clark Wright Evans (architect of the Westmoreland Club) designed an improved  “zoological building” for Kirby Park in that same year. His plans were advertised for bid in the November, 9 1932, edition of the Philadelphia Real Estate Record and Builders Guide. The index for those plans says that the building was “destroyed by flooding in 1936”, but local newspaper articles about the zoo make it impossible to believe that it was ever built in the first place!  (Hmmm….Typical “Luzerne County Style” politics at work even back then? –-Of course we lost our un-built zoo building in the flood, can we get some federal compensation for it?!) 

Based on contemporary newspaper descriptions of the zoo, it’s hard to conclude that any of the “ruins” in today’s Kirby Park Natural Area were ever used to house zoo animals, which was a popular belief perpetrated by local news coverage.  (You can read all about my research concerning the remaining structures here.)  Because of all of the mystery, some people have suggested to me that maybe the zoo never existed at all!   On the contrary, our local newspaper coverage shows that not only did the zoo exist; the community loved these animals so much that they were personified and their actions were often part of local news coverage.  The zoo also became embroiled in controversy as community members became more aware of the potential for unintended animal cruelty because of the limitations experienced when cultivating a small community zoo, much in the same manner as other comparable zoos nationwide, like Nay Aug Park.

While the Kirby Park Zoo did not have a happy ending, which is most likely the main reason its history has been “lost” and its actual location forgotten, I still think that it is an important part of our local history, indicating a lot about the character of our community.  The story speaks of values and politics, and tells us about what we were like as a culture during that snapshot in time through our relationship with animals.  And for that reason alone, the rise and fall of the Kirby Park Zoo is a tale that needs to be told!

News Coverage: Kirby Park Zoo Animals From Start to Finish

(As if sorting out the information about this vanished landmark isn’t difficult enough, a 1994 article in the Times Leader says that the zoo opened in 1932, “with great fanfare” (“Monkeys Made Kirby Park Swinging Place”, July 13, 1994).  BUT, as you can see, news accounts about the zoo predate the “opening date”.  AND the architect mentioned above was just advertising his zoo plans for bid in November of 1932. )

April 10, 1926

“Bear Given to City—Gift Will Mark Start of Zoo in Kirby Park Maurer Announces”~~Wilkes-Barre Record

“An eight month old black bear was presented to the city yesterday.  The bear was turned over to Councilman Maurer, commissioner of parks, who had it sent to Kirby Park, where according to Councilman Maurer it is the intention to establish a zoo in keeping with the wishes of F. M. Kirby, donor of the park. 

“The bear romped around in the windows of Decker-MacLean store for several weeks prior to the fire.  But at the time of the conflagration, it was in a garage below South Main Street.” (I don’t know what that means…..but it sounds awfully suspicious!)

“According to Councilman Maurer the bear is as tame as a kitten and was the playmate of children while in the store.” (Yikes!)

“Yesterday afternoon the bear was taken to Kirby Park in a street department truck and placed in a temporary home in the rear of the residence of Thomas Phillips, supervisor of parks. (Who was this bear?  Winnie-the Pooh?!  Why are they playing with this bear and taking the bear home with them?)  It is the plan to erect a wire fence in the wooded section of Kirby Park south of the residence overlooking the river and which was erected by Thomas Podmore (Caretaker Cottage).  A dug-out is to be built for the bear and the environment will be made as natural for him as possible.”

Kirby Park old post card of cottageCaretaker Cottage then

Caretaker cottage TODAY 1Caretaker Cottage Ruins Today

July 29, 1930

“Monkey Percher Back in Zoo, Thanks to Cat”~~Wilkes-Barre Record

“It’s not a case of “and the cat came back”, not this time.  It’s the monkey, for the gay young female of Kirby Park Zoo was returned to her habitat yesterday after a week’s perching in and about various trees in Nesbitt and Kirby Parks.  However, it was a cat that was responsible for her return.” 

“Miss Simian, or whatever her name is, after tiring of her tree perching and wandering about aimlessly in the park, decided that being in the Anthracite region she should explore a colliery.”

The article goes on to describe how the monkey was cornered by the cat owned by the watchman at the Glen Alden Coal Company and returned to her cage at the Kirby Park Zoo.

October 18, 1930

Wilkes-Barre Record

It is mentioned that an opossum that was captured by a PP&L employee and presented to Councilman John Noble to place in the Kirby Park Zoo.  (Also interesting to note: a second one was brought to him on October 21!)

March 19, 1936

“Bears Moan As They Cling To The Top of Their Park Cages” (During the flood of 1936)~~Wilkes-Barre Record

Kirby Park Zoo Bears 1936 Flood

“Human life comes first, but the plight of the three black bears left in their high wire cage in Kirby Park when the river rose for a second time within a week, yesterday afternoon touched hearts of officials and others who had the right to be on the western end of Market Street Bridge.”

“As the waters rose, the bears climbed onto the top of their curved roof home.  They had been forced from other high spots in their cage during Thursday night and were compelled to seek refuge on the roof.”

“Although efforts are said to have been made to reach the animals, they were not removed.  As the river steadily rose, the three moved around precariously on their small roof and at dusk appeared to have about three or four feet before the water would hit the apex of the curved roof, which is about six feet long.”

“Pitiful moans rent the air during the afternoon as motorboats and row boats took refugees from their homes to the western approach of the new bridge to be transported to central city ambulances.”

“The deep toned cries, and occasional high pitched screech, cast a weird spell over those who were on the western edge of the bridge and although within seeing distance, were separated from the bear den by a stretch of water several hundred feet wide and as deep as 10 feet, according to what could be seen of the light standards in the section of the park.”

“It sends shivers up and down my back every time I hear the poor things cry or moan”, said Chief County Detective Richard Powell.  It’s too bad they were not removed.  They are like humans and they sense and see the danger and they are panicky.” 

“The bears appear to be hanging for dear life by their claws.  Every once in a while two of the animals would rub their necks and noses together as if one was attempting to console the other.  One, said to be the oldest, and said to be suffering from rheumatism spent most of his time on one side of the curves roof away from the other two.”

“Dr. Emory Lutes, city veterinarian, was asked last night about the plight of the bears.  He said the animals were on the roof of their home and that if the water reached the apex of the structure, most of the city of Wilkes-Barre would be under water.”  

 March 28, 1936

“Flood Damage Vast in Park” ~~Wilkes-Barre Record

“Pictures of Kirby Park after the flood were obtained by council yesterday and reveal an enormous damage.” 

March 29, 1936

“Zoo at Kirby Park Regains Occupants”~~Sunday Independent

 “Tranquility once again prevails at Kirby Park zoo.  Turmoil, provoked by high water of the Susquehanna, routed all animals, the rescue work being carried out by city employees under direction of Park Supervisor Tom Phillips.  Last night the “refugees” were back home. Only one casualty, the male buffalo, was listed. Poisoned food hastened the end of the quadruped, according to Councilman John Nobel. A female buffalo, all fox, rabbits, groundhog, honey bears, monkeys and the eagle were quartered in the 109th armory during the flood.  Three bears, cynosure of all juveniles visiting Kirby Park, withstood ravages of the disaster. The water came up so rapidly they could not be rescued and were forced to perch atop a stone house inside a cage. The animals were foodless for five days and did virtually no sleeping during the flood period. Over four feet of water swept through the bears’ habitat.  Alas and alack – Pete, the pet gose [sic], joined his colleagues yesterday. Pete laughed at “Old Man River” when it began to swell. The winged pet watched the water flow over the west shore and continued to smile. On the third day Pete was hungry. He emulated Johnny Weismuller and swam all the way to Edwardsville, where he was picked up by two youths. The boys, fearful of prosecution, returned Pete yesterday to the park and they were told arrests would not follow.  So all again is peaceful with the speechless population of Kirby Park.” 

May 12, 1936

“Shoes Needed For Kirby Park”~~Wilkes-Barre Record

“Barefooted children will be barred from Kirby Park because of the presence of small pieces of glass and nails.”

“With the announcement by Councilman Houser yesterday that Alex the Bear , of Harvey’s Lake and Noxen fame, had been lent to the city zoo it was reported that some deer were forthcoming from the state.”   

May 12, 1936

“Alex Takes More Than Fall Out of Wrestling Mate, So He’s in Cooler”~~Wilkes-Barre Record

“Alex, the bear is behind bars—at Kirby Park Zoo—all because of a bad attack of stage fright. Emery Newell of Noxen, enterprising butcher, won Alex in a contest in January, wooed him with tidbits and tenderness and trained him to wrestle with some of his Noxen neighbors.”

The article goes on to explain how Emery took Alex to “some kind of carnival” in Phoenixville with his neighbor and Alex’s wrestling partner, Sam Dymond, also of Noxen.  Alex became too aggressive during the “performance” and injured Sam.  During the return trip Emery decides to drop Alex off at the Kirby Park Zoo to “cool off” while he hangs out with the other bears for the rest of the summer. 

The article continues to describe the more past dangerous exploits experienced by the entire Newell Family as well as another neighbor because Emery insists upon keeping Alex around as a vaudeville money-maker.  Emery tells the Kirby Park Zoo foreman William Law that he will return to pick up Alex for his next vaudeville tour.

 August 7, 1936

“Kirby Park Eagle Freed—Bird Liberated Near Wyalusing Where Others of Its Kind Are Seen”~~Wilkes-Barre Record

 “Wilkes-Barre’s eagle over whose head a lusty debate once raged has been liberated.” 

“It was finally decided that perhaps Dr. H. M. Beck, local dentist and sportsman, has been right all along, and the eagle did not have enough room in its gilded cage.  Dr. Beck and others have held that it was verging on criminal to coop up a bird like an eagle when it should be soaring over mountaintops and ledges.”

“So the decision was reached this week, following a renewed protest by the dentist to liberate the bird.   Councilman Houser, who inherited the eagle together with a lot of goats, buffaloes, bears, etc., in Kirby Park as commissioner, was not adverse to letting the eagle go as much as he said he would like to have the youngsters see it in the park.”

 

November 17, 1936

“Park Eagle Pete is Dead and Stuffed , Nobel Says—Former Park Commissioner Says He is Prepared to Show Liberation of Bird Was Mistake”~~Wilkes-Barre Record

“Is old Pete, the caged eagle in the Kirby Park Zoo for five years dead or alive?  Councilman John Nobel, former park commissioner and strong advocate of keeping the eagle in the zoo for the growing generation to see, says the American liberty token has been dead since five days after he was freed on Wyalusing Mountain, last June.”

Now, as if you don’t already think this story is weird, it’s about to get a lot weirder! 

“Dead by the hand of a relative of Mr. Nobel, a coincidence not discovered until last week when the councilman visited near Towanda and was informed an eagle had been shot.  He was told the bird was mounted and on display in the window of a Towanda main street merchant.  Recognizing it at once, Nobel said yesterday he will bring the bird to this city and display him in a Public Square window for all to see.”

“Let him bring it, say the advocates of the bird’s liberation.  They held that the bird’s cage was so located in the zoo that it was not possible to watch it, and the boys threw stones and poked sticks at it and teased it and annoyed it continually.  The Humane Society, Dr H S Beck and others pleaded for its freedom.  But Nobel, as park commissioner was adamant.” 

“Then election came along last year and Mr. Nobel was replaced by William B. Houser as park commissioner.  Houser promised that the bird would be freed and so it was in June.”

“Later, stories from St. Stephen’s Boys Camp at Vosburg related how the eagle had been seen on ‘them thar’ mountains.  The story even got out that Pete had mated and started to prorogate the species.  Whether this is true or not has not been thoroughly proven.  If Mr. Nobel is right, than the other story cannot be right.”

“However, Mr. Nobel’s threat to bring the eagle back for the citizens to see as a really dead one brought forth hope that he would do so by the Humane Society officers last night.  Nobel says the eagle’s beak is marked from the bars.  The others say it was not.  It’s marked in other ways though and that will be the proof, they say.  William Law, park foreman, who fed the bird for five years is considered the mainspring in the debate, for if he cannot identify the bird, no one can.”

 March 28, 1937

Sunday Independent

Page A-13

“There are seven monkeys, one baboon, two parrots, three macaws from South America, two raccoons, three foxes, about two dozen pigeons, three horned owls, four sheep, five bear, two wild goats from South America, one North American goat, one buffalo and two geese.”

In the same article, Ernest Vivian, the zookeeper, noted that the Kirby Park zoo could not accommodate additional animals:

“’If we had a larger and more substantial set of buildings than we have now, we could handle more of the gifts people are continually offering us but right now it’s impossible to take care of them.’ What were some of the animals offered as gifts? ‘Well, for example, pheasants and peacocks. We had to turn them down. We hadn’t any room and nothing could be done right now.’

‘The snakes and alligators the zoo had were given up. The snakes dug out of their pit one day and there wasn’t any way of keeping them safe unless we had a concrete base and a glass cage. But we have a lot of other animals here and the children and their parents will find that in a few weeks, when we open up, the collection will be as fine if not better than ever.”’

The article went on to note that:

“When summer is in full swing, between 2,000 and 3,000 people visit on Sunday and about the same number come in during the six week days.

Wilkes-Barre has a fine zoo for the amount of money expended on it. However, if the straitened financial conditions of the city ever are arranged so that a permanent structure can be built, the improvement would improve the zoo many fold.”

 April 14, 1940

Sunday Independent

Page A-4  

“Announcement that the Kirby Park zoo probably will be reduced to a monkey house – and nothing more – shows the change of the years. It’s not so long ago that most ambitious plans were in the air for the Kirby Park zoo. The park department still has some pretty pictures of the plans that were made. It was hoped to have a splendid building, big runways and everything to permit the animals to live as nearly as they do in natural surroundings. There were hopes of expansion so that a great variety of animals would be on display, for the amusement and education of the entire valley. That is a far cry from latest plans to have a monkey house – and nothing more. And it’s all a matter of money. In the old days the trust fund provided by Fred M. Kirby for the upkeep of the park brought in from $25,000 to $28,000 every year . . . Then came the depression. Now the amount the fund gives the city – after a couple of years of nothing at all – is about half what it used to be . . . Blame the depression.”

How NOT To Take Notes!

**I didn’t write down the date for this, but given the chain of events, it seems to go here…

 “Alex and Bear Pal, Sold for $25, May Be Turned Loose in Mountain—Houser Says City Will Be Rid of Costly Zoo Animals”

“Purchaser of Alex and his pal in the big cage that is to be turned into a monkey house, Dr Emory Lutes presented the check to the Park Department head yesterday.” 

The article goes on to say that Dr. Lutes along with the president of the Humane Society would announce the final decision about the bears at a meeting, but in all probability, they would be released back into the wild. 

“Councilman Houser was well pleased with the deal, particularly at the prospect of getting rid of Alex.  “He was a mighty bad boy when we had him in Kirby Park and last year killed another bear in the cage”, Houser explained. “The flood caused us so much trouble and expense and brought so many rats that we all decided to eliminate all the animals at the zoo except monkeys.  We plan to build a good house for the eight to 10 monkeys remaining and will use the bear cage this summer so the youngsters who visit the park can enjoy them.”

“Three other bears were in the cage at Kirby Park in recent years but all died or were killed.   The city’s decision to eliminate the zoo meets with the approval of the Humane Society.  Dr. Lutes recalled that at least 10 deer and several buffalo have died in their cages in recent years and the goats and a fox drowned.  Since rats infested the cages, the Human Association officials said the decision to tear down the wooden structures is wise.”

Deer Cage at Kirby Park Zoo

 May 5, 1940

“Filth at Kirby Park Zoo Forced Humane Society to Act”~~Sunday Independent

“The Kirby Park Zoo, for which the city of Wilkes-Barre spent thousands of dollars to establish and many more thousands to maintain, has turned out to be a filth-infested, highly unsanitary “haven” for wild birds and animals. Because health conditions are deplorable, reaching the point where the majority of the animal populace has either died or been killed off, the zoo now must be abandoned.”

“Survey of the situation yesterday revealed the fact that there are but two bears, one silver fox and a horned owl, outside of a flock of monkeys, remaining in the penned areas. The Luzerne County Humane Society has interested itself in the situation, as a step in clearing up matters, paid $25 to take over everything but the monkeys. The city will maintain cages for these.”

“In addition to filth brought by high river water, and given only western exposure and wooden houses when eastern exposure and concrete shelters are needed, it is reported thousands of rats have infested the pens at Kirby Park to aggravate a bad situation. These rats made life miserable for other animals by stealing food and, it is believed, spread disease among the inmates.”

In addition to the drowning of a silver fox and two goats in the recent flood, three bears recently “murdered” each other and killed a cub, the two buffalo and a calf have passed away, while none of the ten deer survived. It is believed the zoo was improperly located from the start, situated in soggy ground, and another matter that enters into the picture is the fact that feeding and care of the animals in recent years was but a sideline of caretakers at the West Side Park.”

The coverage concluded by describing how the Humane Society planned to release the two bears into the woods of Noxen Mountain.”

May 12, 1940

Sunday Independent

“To all intents and purposes the Kirby Park Zoo – the Wilkes-Barre City Zoo – has gone and the fact that it had to go, plus the manner of its passing, is not exactly a boost for the town.”

“The zoo was situated in a park, the upkeep of which along with that of the animals was provided for by the philanthropy of Fred M. Kirby.”

“Naturally, the income from the bonds Mr. Kirby provided has shrunk, but hardly is it likely that it has shrunk as much as the park of which the city once was so proud.”

“Conceived as a place of beauty for the city, the main expanse of the park has been taken over to a great extent by the dike leaving, with the zoo gone, several baseball fields on the flat stretch next to the armory and, nearby, the tennis courts.”

“Worst of all, however, was the action of the Humane Society in “buying” the animals. This, they said, they felt was necessary in order to live up to the creed of their organization. They did not consider the animals were being treated in a humane manner at the zoo.”

“Life will go on in Wyoming Valley, of course, as it did before. Many other little niceties also could go and some people seem intent on removing them too, getting the general population down to the elementary necessities of eating, drinking, sleeping and working. (Interesting statement!)

But the zoo was enjoyed by many – including the children. It added just a bit to their pleasure and helped make the park and the city of which we boast more complete. It also is to be noted that many other cities, unaided by the gift of a philanthropist, consider it worthwhile to spend their own money on such things. Furthermore, they do a good job of it.

So it is not exactly something to be proud of when it is proved that Wilkes-Barre lacks even the ability to keep a zoo – after the money is provided.”

 August 29, 1942

“Kirby Park Monkeys Feed on Dehydrated Bananas”~~Wilkes-Barre Record

The article references the war and a submarine menace interfering with ocean travel to the extent that even banana boats can’t get through on schedule.

“This shortage of the fruit so much liked by monkeys and apes has been a serious matter for keepers of zoos, and while Wilkes-Barre does not boast a zoo, it nevertheless has 13 monkeys at Kirby Park which it houses and feeds.” 

 

February 10, 1946

“Once Proud Kirby Park Zoo is Just About Finished—Monkeys’ Departure Recalls Days of Many Animals, Big Crowds and Plans for Enlargement and Improvement”~~Sunday Independent

“The city’s monkeys, those at the Kirby Park Zoo and not those in City Hall—are soon with us, but soon to depart.  When they go, gone will be the last remnant of what was once a rather colorful and highly interesting assortment of animal life which added considerable to the pleasure of thousands who made their trips to the park to see them. But even that which we did enjoy at the peak of Wilkes-Barre’s zoological effort did not come up to the hopes. “

“If they dig deep enough in the archives of the park department office in City Hall, they probably will find plans for even more still better things.  While those plans could not be called over-ambitious or too pretentious, they did show a studied effort to have a display of animals in a manner as close as possible to the natural habitat of the beasts and birds which were here then and the others they hoped to get. “

“Those were the days when we had not only monkeys, but a few bears, a buffalo, some varied goats, deer, sheep, raccoons, parrots and perhaps some more.  It was not a bad display for a small town and was enjoyed by a rather large section of the population.” 

“And the peculiar part of it is that all of this was kept up and added throughout the darkest days of the depression.  The Kirby Park Zoo began to fade just when prosperity started to return. Several reasons are given.  One of these has to do with costs since right up to date it has been costing about $80 a year, plus much of the time of a man to keep the monkeys. “

“Also, the amount of the money received from the generous endowment of the late F. M. Kirby, began to shrink. Another thing was the rapid decline of interest—at least in City Hall.  Whether the interest of the public did the same has not been announced, although as the once active display shrank to near nothingness, it was but natural that fewer people would stop and look.”

“Just what kind of new era will be needed to recreate the old enthusiasm is not known.  But, no doubt, it will come back again and the city will start all over again.  It would help to be sure, if the monkeys and things could only vote.”     

You can be a History Detective too!

I cannot figure out where the zoo would have been specifically located.  So I need your help…..These are the clues that history provides (that I know of so far!)

 

Zoo Location Clues:


1.  “given only western exposure and wooden houses when eastern exposure and concrete shelters are needed”

2.  Notes: “Zoological garden. 1 Bear, 2 owls, 2 pheasants, 1 coon. Have it in the northwest corner.” – Kirby Park Zoo Plans, REPORT OF VISIT BY H. J. Koehler, September 16, 1926  (and granted “plans” doesn’t mean it happened that way!)

3.  A 1931 article  (Thank You Tom Mooney) about a howitzer (cannon?) being given to the city, saying that it was to be placed “on a platform to the rear of the present site of the Kirby Park Zoo”.  Anyone remember cannon in the Kirby Park Zoo?!  Ask your elderly relatives!     

Howitzer

Bear Cage Location Clues

1. “It is the plan to erect a wire fence in the wooded section of Kirby Park south of the residence overlooking the river and which was erected by Thomas Podmore. (Caretaker Cottage) (From article above)

2.  “those who were on the western edge of the bridge and although within seeing distance, were separated from the bear den by a stretch of water.” (From article above)

3.  We have a picture!

 

If you think you know where the zoo was, or if you find any zoo information while doing other research, please contact me! I’d love to hear from you….

 

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GUERRILLA HISTORY Table of Contents

 Cheri Sundra © 2012
All Rights Reserved

DEATH AND TAXES: Even the Dead Can’t Avoid Taxes and Abandonments

It’s been said that Urban Exploration Photography is ultimately about photographing failure.  Specifically, what we are capturing when we point our lens at a building in a state of abandonment and ruin is the inability of both individual owners and whole communities to maintain enough prosperity to support business, industry or redevelopment.  So what can be said when engaging in urban exploration exposes that you can’t even escape potential abandonment (and taxes) in death?

Because of that question, I consider this to be the strangest and most disturbing place that I’ve photographed to date.

This dilapidated mausoleum/chapel has notices taped to the front window that contain words such as “Tax Claim Bureau” and “Judicial Sale”, plus a figure in excess of $4,000.  The papers were all signed and dated during the summer of 2005, when they were evidentialy placed where they have remained since that date.   There are people interred on both sides of this deteriorating building as well as inside.  The roof obviously is in need of repair.  Two portions of the rear stained glass windows appear to be missing.  All of the flowers placed with the memorials are artificial, indicating that people are not allowed inside the structure on a regular basis, AND they were made aware of the fact that they would be denied access at some point.   There is also an obviously abandoned and overgrown cemetery office building located on the opposite side of the property.

Someone does periodically maintain the grounds by cutting the grass where people are buried.  Other than that fact, there is no indication whatsoever that any activity takes place on the property.  It seems dead as the proverbial door-nail.  It’s hard to even try to guess what, if anything, is in the works for the “residents” of “Questionable Fate” Memorial Park.  I find that idea haunting and I have more to say about this location at the end of the post.

Memorial Park Office

Looking for some input from the outside world while I was editing these pictures and thinking about what to write, I posted an image from this series on Facebook.  Almost immediately, the picture generated the expected “Where’s this at?” from someone unaware that urban explorers just don’t ask that particular question, at least not in a public forum!

In my response, I explained that I was not going to disclose the location.  Which is a first for me; much to the annoyance of some other photographers of the same subject matter, I usually post my pictures on social media sites like Flickr with all of the pertinent tags and background information included.  I just learned early on that people were more likely to take the time to look at, and comment on, my pictures when they know what they are looking at and have some background information to add context and depth to their interpretation of the image.  If those components are missing, I usually question the effectiveness and purpose of this genre of photography.  But this Memorial Park mystery has me even questioning that point of view, at least in some cases.

I still believe that each of us engaged in this activity is really bound by ethics to disclose location information to other legitimate photographers/historians/documentarians.   At its core, urban exploration photography serves to visually challenge America’s current state of amnesia about its past economic failure. Ruins don’t happen overnight—they require DECADES of neglect!

Hotel Sterling: The UnDead Days--Part 1 An Introduction
Hotel Sterling, Luzerne County, Pennsylvania

I am aware that full disclosure is considered controversial by some people who explore on a regular basis, since many believe that all locations should remain top secret information.

After a few years of doing this, I definitely reject that point of view. There seems to be a growing consensus, at least among mature, professional explorers, that we are acting as the archivists of America’s age of post-war industrial decline.

The Loom Room, Scranton Lace {EXPLORED}:  UE Magazine
Abandoned Scranton Lace Factory

America is  a nation in transition.  For generations we have been running away from a much required correction to our economy, way of life and expectations.  Our cities and small towns are struggling to provide basic services to residents.  We are living in dire economic times befitting the fall of an empire.  Almost every community across the county is littered with more long-term abandonments than they can even begin to hope to restore and that is serving as our wake up call, reminding us that we can no longer pretend that we are able to continue to grow our economy exponentially.

While people like to believe that our current economic state is a recent and unexpected occurrence caused by one president or another, the truth is that America’s decline actually began decades ago. Some economists believe that it really started with the end of World War II.

Fast forward to today, after the big “preservation” push during the 90s, and the start of the new millennium, following the time when communities looked to “Savior Building” redevelopment/preservation projects to jump-start their struggling economy.  Those projects, more often than not, resulted in unmet goals and half completed endeavors. Now, those same proponents of preservation are singing a vastly different tune.  Quotes from a Preservation Pennsylvania representative in 2011, paint a grim picture for abandonments of historical significance in my state, when asked about the finding help to save the long-abandoned Hotel Sterling:

It's a Zombie Ballroom now at the Hotel Sterling

 Zombie Ballroom at the Hotel Sterling

The state is filled with historic structures facing demolition. These are difficult times economically. Private funders don’t have money. The government doesn’t have any money, and typically that’s where money comes for historic preservation,” – “Preservation Pennsylvania is monitoring Hotel Sterling”, Times Leader, April 3, 2011

 I know many explorers operate under the assumption that if they keep these locations a secret, they can remain our personal playgrounds forever.  As a collective group, we may give lip service to preservation, but that is not the case, as observed in an interview by journalist Len Albright:

 “I’ve interviewed people who have been to the same building 20 or 30 times, they just love it so much,” he says. “But when I asked them if they’d like to organize a cleanup or a preservation effort, they’d be indifferent. They might think that’s fine for someone else to do … after awhile, though, they’d be off to hunt for the next abandoned building.”

That pretty much sums it up, for the most part, we are “ruin porn whores” first and foremost, myself included.  But thinking that an abandonment can remain abandoned indefinitely is unrealistic.  The only reason an abandonment would exist in the first place would be as a direct result of a failed economy.  In order for these communities to move forward, they are going to have to eradicate these structures from their landscape.  To leave them sit there, just signals the slow death of their entire social structure.

Huber Breaker Ruins:  The Art of Industrial DecayLong Abandoned Huber Breaker, Ashley Pennsylvania

It’s obvious that in order for economic recovery to start, these buildings are going to have to come down, especially if they have reached that tipping point where just building a new structure is far more economical than restoring what is there now.  And that’s why I share location information, I recognized that the structures have historical value, and they are doomed (which is why they are beautiful), and I want as many photographers to photograph them as possible before they are gone.  It is part of the history of the building, and the community, and deserves to be documented as much as any other event that occurred on the site.

Which brings me back to the questions raised by my haunting discovery of this memorial park, “why not share the location”?  It just doesn’t fall into the same category, and because I’m sure that people with loved ones buried there would not appreciate droves of urban explorers flocking there to gawk.  Plus there are weirdos out there who vandalize both crypts and corpses, so we certainly don’t want to tell them where a mausoleum of questionable status is located!

I was also asked, more than once,  via private message, “if the location isn’t worthy of sharing, why even bother posting the picture in the first place?”

I posted the picture because it touched me at a core level, as it obviously did for the other people who took the time to “like” my Facebook post, to comment, or to contact me privately.  Many people were wondering about who is maintaining the property and why. My best guess would be that people with loved ones buried at the location may be going there to cut grass, or the county where it is located has taken on the responsibility.

The tax notices are from 2005.  That was seven years ago.  Maybe someone has taken it over since then & just lacks the funds to do any repairs yet (although I would think they would at least remove the notices from the windows!)  I kind of hope that the families of the people buried there would pull their resources to take over the park for themselves, which would seem to be the least upsetting option.

 The funniest message was from the wife a man, well versed in history, who was puzzled as to WHY a cemetery would owe back taxes. I shared a copy of the notice posted on the door with them, because I believe it contains a clue.  The Tax Claim Notice lists the former owner as “Blank” Memorial Garden INC, and I’m thinking that the fact that it belonged to a corporation and not a religious institution may play a role in the present circumstances of the location! It may now be incorporated, but I guess there is no money to be made in death unless it’s tax free!  😉

This is why I believe that posting these images is important; it adds another layer to our national discussion about the fall of our empire, even without disclosing the location.  What does it really say about society when corporations and taxation interfere with the ability to maintain the final resting place of our dead?

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Cheri Sundra © 2012
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The House Of Fans

Wrong Turn

If you spend any time in Northeastern Pennsylvania, one thing that becomes evident is that everything and everyone here has ties to the anthracite coal mining industry.  The entire landscape has been permanently scarred by mining, and the reminders don’t look as if they will ever go away.  One such relic is the The Dorrance Colliery Fan Complex. 

Forgotten URBEX Chair at the Wilkes-Barre City Cemetery

Located on North River Street, right down the road from the long abandoned Hotel Sterling, directly behind the Wilkes-Barre City Cemetery and nestled along the Susquahanna River, remains the last portion of  the Dorrance Colliery.  For those of you outside of the NEPA region, a colliery is a coal mine and the buildings associated with it. 

 The Lehigh Valley Coal Company operated this particular colliery from 1880 until 1959 and this fan complex was there for all of it.  Fans were required for safety reasons, such preventing gas explosions.  (Ahhh, the good old days of mining coal with open flame lamps!) 

While this veritable death-trap of a fan house still remains, the actual coal breaker and the other buildings were demolished in the 1980s to make room for a personal care home. 

 

 

Are they 100% sure that tetanus can’t become airborne?  😉 

***2016 Update: Some of these structures were recently demolished

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(Video) Ghost Town: Post-Apocalyptic Chic “Concrete City”–another Unemployed Zombie Building Infiltration Specialist Production

To see my video featuring a fun romp thru a ghost town in Pennsylvania visit: (Video) Ghost Town: Post-Apocalyptic Chic “Concrete City”–another Unemployed Zombie Building Infiltration Specialist Production Abandoned in 1924, Concrete City is said to be the first example of modern-day cookie-cutter or tract housing.  This residential development, built in 1911, consisted of 20 buildings, each one housing two families.  Both halves of every structure contained a living room, kitchen and dining room downstairs, with four bedrooms on the second floor.  Outhouses were constructed behind the dwellings.  The homes were arranged around a central plaza that contained a pavilion, baseball field, tennis court and wading pool.  Concrete sidewalks illuminated by electric lights and landscaped yards completed this cutting-edge community, which was abandoned in 1924 because the owners did not want to install an expensive sewer system as required by the township.

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As The Vultures Picked Her Bones—A Hotel Sterling Video

 

I’ve attempted to make a video about the Hotel Sterling that (tries) to capture my sense of chaos about the place…It was made with just a cell phone camcorder & a movie making program that came with a laptop.  Far be it from me to allow the lack of proper equipment or skill to get in my way when it comes to creative expression!  😉

For a video tour of the abandoned Hotel Sterling, check out:

 “As The Vultures Picked Her Bones”

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Huber Breaker Ruins: The Art of Industrial Decay

***Every photo also serves as a link to more of each photographer’s work

Photographer Scott Frederick, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Existing in a state of ruin and completely stripped of all functionality, the Huber Breaker looms over the bleak landscape of Ashley, Pennsylvania, a monument of the industrial revolution reduced to a useless scar, blighting the landscape.  A detritus of a bygone way of life, it has the power to tell us things about the past, while existing very much in the present.   

Photographer Jamie Clarke (aka RiddimRyder), Ontario, Canada

The Huber Breaker, a facility created for literally breaking chunks of coal into smaller bits, is a decaying piece of infrastructure from an industry that built an entire region.  Today the deafening noises and the human element of its function have been replaced by silence and total desolation as the abandoned breaker sits brooding on the landscape, now a decaying tomb in the post-industrial world.  Amazingly, it almost resembles something from a sci-fi movie set, in defiance of the fact that the machinery became outdated decades ago.

Photographer Dawn Robinson—Baltimore, Maryland

Photographer Stacy Shannon—Alexandria, Virginia

Photographer Enrico Fiore

History tells us that the breaker’s windows were designed for maximum use of sunlight, yet today the structure remains characteristically dark and somber, creating a compelling atmosphere for the photographers stopping by to ponder the passage of time and to bear witness to the slow destruction of this forsaken structure left behind by a long defunct enterprise.   

Photographer Enrico Fiore

Photographer Stacy Shannon—Alexandria, Virginia

Photographer LUIGI ROMANO (aka Egoista_73) with model Nicholas Bishop Michael of Model Mayhem #1634905

Machines often have a steampunk quality that can fuel the artistic imagination while the setting is comprised of titanic spaces that lend themselves to appearing like majestic ruins full of twisted metal and distant vanishing points. 

Photographer Jenn O’Malia—Groton, Connecticut

Photographer Dawn Robinson—Baltimore, Maryland

Blight itself can inspire all kinds of emotions in people because it is a display of failure that gives voice to the darker aspects of our communities. It can be shocking to directly confront the kind of neglect that sets in when the bottom falls out of a region’s economy. You are forced to realize that an industry once thrived at that location, generating wealth and opportunity for a privileged few, and all that remains for the community today is a massive hulk of neglect and decay, asking why the real estate that it stands on isn’t even valuable enough to warrant redevelopment.

Photographer LUIGI ROMANO (aka Egoista_73) with model Nicholas Bishop Michael of Model Mayhem #1634905

Photographer Cheri Sundra

 The obligatory history:

The Huber Breaker opened in 1939 to meet the bustling needs of the Anthracite coal industry and was able to process 7,000 tons of coal daily.  The company dyed the coal a blue color as a branding gimmick and it was advertised as “Blue Coal”. When demand for the mining industry declined, the facility closed in 1976.   Since that time, it has been left abandoned and open to vandals and scrappers. 

Photographer Geo Romolo, Toronto, Ontario

“This coal breaker, along with many others, is very special to me. They capture “Americana” at its best. The American Heartland could not be represented without these industrial backbones of our past. They represent to me the men and women that labored here. Our cities were and still are built on coal and steel. One image cannot even begin to capture the hard labor our forefathers put into pioneering the industrialization of America as we know it.”~~ Geo Romolo  

Photographer Jim Cook, Tunkhannock, Pennsylvania

“As a child growing up in the Wyoming Valley, the heart of the northeastern coal region,  I always wondered while passing by  that gargantuan structure on the highway what it would have been like to work there, or even be inside such a massive place. It wasn’t until I was older that I had an opportunity to step inside and take a look for myself. At that point in time the breaker had seen better days; the floors were starting to cave and the windows were mostly broken. However,  I really enjoyed exploring the breaker for various reasons, the most significant being the fact that it was such an integral part of the community where I grew up and its demise left the area and its occupants depressed. It is rich in history and that is why I enjoy photographing and documenting these forgotten places.”~~Jenn O’Malia

Photographer Jenn O’Malia—Groton, Connecticut

Photographer Stacy Shannon—Alexandria, Virginia

Photographer Dawn Robinson—Baltimore, Maryland

Photographer Cheri Sundra

Photographer Katherine Rogers (aka Dilated Pupil) , Tattoo Artist, Reading, Pennsylvania

“The Huber Coal Breaker was the first stop on our adventure this week and what a beauty it was!  ….This location is a bit unsafe because of the broken stairs and hanging debris, but we made our way up through the maze of death as I like to call it! The more time we spent in the Huber the more there was to shoot.”  ~~Scott Frederick Photography Blog

A Christo-esque Breaker Moment: I can’t help but wonder if this was a leftover background embellishment from a photo shoot, just a prank or was someone trying to make an artistic statement?~~Cheri Sundra

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I was recently interviewed for an article about the Kirby Park Zoo Ruins:

Times Leader

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Cheri Sundra © 2012
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Spontaneous Acts of Art: Concrete City Ruins

*(All photos are my own unless another photographer is credited.  If the photo is from another person, you can click on the photo itself to see more of their work.  All photos were shot at Concrete City) 

Old Skool: All Great Truths Begin as Great Blasphemies

 

Photographer: Dawn Robinson–Baltimore, Maryland

I love to explore the ruins of Concrete City, an honest to goodness ghost town  in Northeastern Pennsylvania that has morphed from a long forgotten hopeless abandonment,   into a frequently changing urban art gallery.   There is something amazing about a place that is left to disappear into history that creates a second life for itself.  At Concrete City you can feel a faint heartbeat and bear witness to the stirring of a soul thru the expression of the street art that people feel compelled to create on its decaying & crumbling walls. 

All We Know is Falling </3 Caution Cliff Ahead

By “street art”  I don’t mean misspelled racial slurs, poorly drawn genitalia, or swastikas (although you will run into plenty of that), I mean art that was clearly done by someone with talent or at least a statement with a deep thought behind it.  The purpose of this kind of art is to question the existing environment with its own language.  It is art that is unsanctioned and not sponsored by community or government initiatives.  “Street art” is art in its truest form—art for art’s sake brought to life in a public space.   

Concrete City is also a location popular with Paint Ball enthusiasts which helps to add a certain photographic ambiance to an otherwise dreary location. Photographer Katherine Rogers—Tattoo Artist, Reading Pennsylvania

Photographer Katherine Rogers—Tattoo Artist, Reading Pennsylvania

Old Skool: Imperfections Create Character

 I don’t just mean old skool graffiti in which traditional artists have primarily used free-hand aerosol paints to produce their work.  Today’s resurgence in street art encompasses many other techniques such as stencil art, sticker art, and installations.   And in a phenomenon that I find most interesting, this art renaissance that is spontaneously occurring at Concrete City has attracted the attention of photographers who are actually bringing models there to shoot on location!  At Concrete City!  😉 

Photographer: LUIGI ROMANO (aka Egoista_73)  from Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania

“I like to do photo shoots in this area because it’s the right amount of strange. It’s colorful, creepy and crazy, and there’s nothing better than having that combination with a mix of modern people.” —Corrine Klug

Photographer: Corrine Klug—Dallas, Pennsylvania

“I like doing out of the box fashion shoots, Concrete City is an amazing place, and pretty PRIVATE for the most part, it’s a place where you can clear your mind and just enjoy the art of it all.”– Sande Kaczkurkin

Photographer: Sande Kaczkurkin  “Pennsylvania Sande”—Springville, Pennsylvania with model Sarah Cugini of Model Mayhem–MM Number 2100887

With a little luck, maybe this creative energy can find a way to infuse itself into some other areas of Luzerne County if community leaders would allow it.  These are artists who clearly want to share their talents, why not give them some space somewhere to create community generated art?  Wilkes-Barre is a small community without a lot of money; it needs all of the free inspiration that it can get! 

Is it vandalism or Van-Dali’-ism?!

The history of graffiti/street art includes Ancient Greece and the Roman Empire.  Graffiti was found in the ruins of Pompeii, on the walls of ancient Jerusalem, and in ancient Egypt.   It has always been used by mankind to express underlying social and political messages. One of the most famous and inspiring graffiti campaigns predating the modern street art movement began during World War II with the tag “Kilroy was here”.   Kilroy was a little long-nosed character with a bald head that began popping up in unexpected places across the theaters of war visited by American troops.  American soldiers engaged in competitions to inscribe the tag in obscure locations to help keep the battle-weary soldiers inspired.  Soldiers became so engaged by the graffiti art competition, that the mysterious Kilroy character had Japanese Intelligence Officers and Hitler himself worried about the “message” being propagated by the little ubiquitous guy. 

 

Photographer: Stacy Shannon—Alexandria, Virginia

Today, graffiti has become a rapidly developing art form that is gaining legitimacy.  The art world of curators, dealers and collectors are helping graffiti artists expand their audience on a worldwide scale, just as Luzerne County is gearing up to start its own War on Graffiti in the name of keeping our streets free from gang influence.  Our community leaders and law enforcement officers are telling residents to protect our children and our streets from gangs by reporting all graffiti to the police departmentIncidentally, there also happens to be a stream of funding available at this time for communities who can prove that they are plagued by the infiltration of gang-related activity. 

Sadly art is historically a casualty in any community where leaders try to create solutions to avoid an impending economic apocalypse.  I’d hate to see local Banksy wannabes get silenced during a campaign against little local gangsta wannabes just as graffiti art is sweeping the nation as a means to revitalize declining and blighted communities.  Cities like Los Angeles and Chicago are publically recognizing the talent of their graffiti artists by providing the means for them to do legal graffiti, which helps to foster developing street artists while lessoning the amount of graffiti that appears in their cities as vandalism.  One criticism often heard in Luzerne County is that we knock down our historic structures and do nothing with the newly created space, or worse yet, put up a parking lot— UNUSED parking lots

Our leaders need to foster more progressive thinking in terms of turning our dying community around and breathing new life into our often empty streets.  With price tags for the historic preservation and the economic development of our blighted structures reaching into the millions, as our community sits and waits for something to happen to reinvigorate the center city area of Wilkes-Barre, local graffiti artists have been creating a message (for free!) that is calling out to other creative individuals.   Local street artists are drawing visitors and compelling them to document a broken and deserted town sitting in the middle of nowhere in Luzerne County.  What can we do to get these people to travel less than ten miles down the road to breathe a little life and tourism into Wilkes-Barre using the same inexpensive method? Can the same medium be used to draw local residents in neighboring communities into the center of Wilkes-Barre again?  Maybe, if given the opportunity, at least temporarily until the millions needed for community redevelopment and historical preservation can magically arrive……Just as the Kilroy Graffiti Campaign gave hope to American soldiers fighting a war, perhaps a Community Graffiti Campaign is what the city of Wilkes-Barre needs to give citizens a renewed sense of optimism as they prepare to fight their own war–a war against economic blight.

Giraffiti in The Concrete City Jungle Room

 

Beyond Concrete City, people in the area are currently talking about the red cat stencil tag artist.  Who is this mysterious street artist and what is their message?  Can anyone out there offer any insight?

 

Gruesome Intermodal Kitty

Frank Clark Jeweler Cat

   

South Street Bridge Stencil Art Cats

Another South Street Bridge Playful Kitty

And this keeps showing up in the most unusual places also….who is he?

Graffiti IS happening in Luzerne County and very little of it appears to be gang related…..

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Visit Vimeo to watch my Concrete City mini-movie!

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Cheri Sundra © 2012
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It’s the End of the World as We Know It: The Moonlite Drive-In

(aka The Drive-In of the Damned)

Moonlite Drive-In Sign July 2011
Moonlite Drive-In Sign January 2012

I’ve seen more shooting stars at the drive-in than anywhere else on earth.  Man has always looked to the sky. For eons, the moon has been our ever present companion, and the heavenly landmark that tells us we are Earthbound, in the same way that the Golden Gate Bridge announces we are in San Francisco.  There is something awe inspiring about sitting outside, with the stars on the screen competing with the eternal stars in the sky. Drive-in movies combine a primal experience with some of the creature comforts of a more modern life. 

Moonlite Drive-In Ticket Booth Summer 2011
Moonlite Drive-In Ticket Booth Winter 2012
Ticket Booth Interior–Think the Windex will help?

You may remember going to these outdoor theaters as a child dressed in pajamas, as you played on the swings and slides that were usually found near the big screen.  Or you may recall other memories that include the backseat of the car and steamy windows.  For many teenagers, the drive-in was a rite of passage that included illicit bottles of beer and as many friends as you could pack into one vehicle.    But your age didn’t matter when it was time to visit the concession stand.

Concession Stand Interior

Drive-in movie food is unlike any food you will ever find in some generic multiplex cinema.  Drive-in food is packed with personality and a lot of mobility—at least according to the concession stand advertisements traditionally shown during intermission.  This food danced, it sang, performed circus acts and was always tasty, satisfying, and refreshing.    It constantly reminded you that it was 5 minutes until the start of the show…..now 4…..just 3…..only 2 minutes left—better get those tasty fries now!  Make sure you compliment your order with a refreshing soda!  You’ll feel satisfied! That is until you attempt to drive away with that metal speaker still hooked over your car window…..

Moonlite Concession Stand Summer 2011
Smoke ’em if you got ’em! Because you’re not getting any here…..

The very first drive-in theater was created in 1932 by Richard Hollingshead when he nailed a screen to some trees in his backyard in Camden, New Jersey.  He set a Kodak projector on the hood of his car and placed a radio behind the movie screen.  He applied for, and received, a patent for his invention in 1933.  That same year, Hollingshead opened the very first drive-in, on June 6th in Camden, with an investment of $30,000.  Admission was 25 cents per car PLUS an additional 25 cents per person.  Within 25 years, more than 4,000 drive-ins opened nationwide, with Pennsylvania playing an impressive role in drive-in movie history.

Abandoned Moonlite Drive-In Screen Summer 2011
Drink Coca Cola at the Moonlite

In 1934, Pennsylvania’s first drive-in, and America’s second, was opened in Orefield by a man named Wilson Shankweiler.  The Shankweiler Drive-In  is still operating today; making it the nation’s oldest continually operating drive-in theater.

January 2011
Abandoned Vehicle at the Moonlite (The Biohazard Bus @ The Drive-In of the Damned)

In addition to claiming the longest running drive-in, Pennsylvania can also boast about the fact that it had one of the two smallest drive-ins nationwide.  The Harmony Drive-In, of Harmony Pennsylvania, could hold no more than 50 cars, just like the other “smallest” contender, the Highway Drive-In located in Bamberg, South Carolina.

During the golden age of Pennsylvania’s Drive-In Era, the late 1950’s & early 1960’s, it is reported that the state peaked with 180 in operation.  Since that time, the number of drive-ins still operating in the state today has declined by more than 80%.  The Moonlite Drive-In is one of those casualties.

WARNING
Follow the Red Arrow

 

 The Abandoned Projection Room

Piece of Film
Projector

 

The Moonlite Drive-In ruins are located at 1190 Shoemaker Ave in West Wyoming, Pennsylvania—or as the locals call it, “the back road” in Swoyersville / Edwardsville. The location could accommodate about 400 cars. Some accounts say that it closed in the late 70s, but I found an ad from 1983 when the price of a carload was $5—which is a $4 increase from their price in 1965!  People telling stories about visiting the Moonlite usually mention that the man at the ticket booth would tell them to “KEEP SMILING” as they drove away to watch the show.

Going to the Moonlite Drive-In today feels like visiting the planet earth a few decades after an apocalypse.  The landscape is wildly overgrown, even in front of the big screen.  The Snack Bar stands in a half-burned down state of decay.  The sounds of the movies, racing car engines, and giddy movie-goers have been replaced by screeching birds circling overhead while the tall grass rustles in the breeze.  The setting is a desolate reminder of a world that used to be, and a time when we had access to the stars, for $5 a carload. 

Moonlite CLOSED

KEEP SMILING!!!!!

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The Kirby Park Zoo–An Unrealized Vision

The Clark Wright Evans plans for a “zoological building for Kirby Park—Courtesy of The Hoyt Library, Kingston, Pennsylvania

In 2009, archaeologists discovered strange animal burials in the Egyptian capital of Hierakonpolis that suggests the existence of a large animal menagerie around 3500 B.C. that included baboons, wildcats and two elephants.  These animals were buried in the city’s elite cemetery, where rulers and their family members were also interred, along with evidence indicating that these powerful rulers kept the animals in captivity, almost like a zoo. These animals were given special treatment in death, buried in human fashion and even sometimes accompanied by a human figurine.

This was an important archaeological discovery because for the longest time the first zoo that we knew about was started around 1150 B.C. by a Chinese emperor that contained many kinds of deer, birds and fish.  This 1,500 acre zoo was called the “Garden of Intelligence” and was kind of like our modern zoos with one huge exception; it was kept for the amusement of the Emperor and his Court and was not open to the public.

A bronze statue of a mother lion with her cub at the Philadelphia Zoo

It is widely believed that the first public zoo was established by Queen Hatshepsut in 1500 B.C., in ancient Egypt, by collecting animals from all over Africa.  Throughout history, zoos have been built to show a leader’s wealth & power.  The oldest zoo still in existence today is located in Vienna on the grounds of the Schönbrunn Palace and was initially founded as an imperial menagerie in 1752.   The first public zoological garden in the world, the Jardin des Plantes in Paris, was opened in 1793.

Like most things that man builds, zoos are a reflection of our values—-throughout history, our relationship with animals can give us insight about where we were as a society.

Philadelphia Zoo closed their Elephant House in 2009 due to the need for renovation & budget constraints.

 During the Age of Enlightenment, when Darwin was like a science rock star, zoos represented science as a mission.  This is when some of the earliest official zoos began, like the London Zoo in 1828 and America’s first zoo, the Philadelphia Zoo, in 1874.   This was also the Romantic Age, when beauty had the utmost value and zoos were also becoming a place for socializing.  The architectural style was ornate & dramatic while “Houses” were in vogue—Cat House, Bird House, etc.  But, sadly for the inhabitants, appearance was more important than function, and animals were seen as beautiful objects, rather than living beings, so the cages were inadequate and as a result, life expectancy was short.

The next incarnation of the zoo reflected the fact that the world was in the midst of several wars, and as a result, the study of nature seemed much less important than it did during the height of Darwin’s celebrity, but the Age of Romanticism still existed and zoos were treated as living art galleries where exhibits were turned into mini-paintings or real-life sculptures with visually designed “proper” landscapes.  This style’s popularity was short-live at first, because everyone seemed to be adopting the modernist movement in zoo design, including the architects who designed the now defunct Nay Aug Park Zoo in Scranton, Pennsylvania.

Nay Aug Park Zoo Elephant House

Nay Aug Park Zoo

Modernism was all about function and reflected man’s advances in medicine.  At that time, zoos were designed for quick sterilization and exhibits were created so they could easily be hosed down on a regular basis.  This usually meant concrete structures with clean lines, and a simplified modern style that was influenced by the Modernist Art movement, creating zoo exhibits that looked more like the setting for a sculpture rather than an animal habitat.  This movement in zoo design did actually help to extend the life expectancy for zoo animals, but did little to address their mental well-being.

Nay Aug Park Zoo Habitat

Since that time, we have evolved to develop a strong sense of animal rights and environmental awareness so our modern zoo exhibits reflect not only a sense of beauty, recalling once again the Age of Romanticism, but also strive to achieve a higher standard of physical and mental health accommodations for the inhabitants.   Exhibits are now designed to recreate the animal’s natural habitat while also attempting to incorporate the visitor into the surroundings as if they are immersed in the landscape.

The Houston Zoo

Luzerne County attempted to become a contender in the world of community zoos with mixed results during the 1930s thru the early 1940s.  On one hand, the Kirby Park Zoo was able to boast about accommodating somewhere between 2,000 to 3,000 visitors during the weekend in the summer months (Wow!  If only we could find something that could do that now, huh?! ) according to local newspaper reports and on the other hand, it was dogged by claims of animal cruelty and flooding. 

I became intrigued with the notion that a zoo used to exist in Kirby Park when the grandmother of a friend told us about it when we were young.  I was so fascinated by the structures that still stand in Kirby Park today that have been identified by the local papers as “zoo ruins” that I attempted to research what the structures were used for with surprising results!  (Follow the link to learn more!)  Since my last post, The Hoyt Library has generously made the plans for the Clark Wright Evans “zoological building” available for viewing by the public (They remind me of The Nay Aug Park Zoo in Scranton):

The Clark Wright Evans Zoological Building Design for the Kirby Park Zoo

Cheri,  I am a reference librarian at the Hoyt. We were not able to contact you on your MSN email account but found this page and wanted to let you know the Kirby Zoo blueprints are here on the second floor of the library! Stop in at the desk and we can help you further your research efforts! ~~ Kathleen Bednarek

 The following information about the Kirby Park Zoo was provided via email by Larry Newman, past president of the Wyoming Valley Historical Society (now the Luzerne County Historical Society).

 While the zoo may not have been part of the original plans for the park, it was definitely in place by 1932, because we know that Wilkes-Barre architect Clark Wright Evans (architect of the Westmoreland Club and what is now King’s College’s Luksik Hall) designed a “zoological building” for Kirby Park in that year. The plans were advertised for bid in the 11/9/1932 edition of the Philadelphia Real Estate Record and Builders Guide, and at least some of Evans’ drawings for the zoological building, dated Sept. 1932, are included in the inventory of Evans’ remaining architectural plans, which are housed at the Hoyt Library in Kingston. The index to those plans notes that the building was “destroyed by flooding in 1936” – but the articles quoted below make me wonder whether it was ever built in the first place. As a matter of fact, based on contemporary newspaper descriptions of the zoo (copied below), it’s hard to conclude that any of the “ruins” in today’s Kirby Park Natural Area were ever part of the zoo.~~ Larry Newman 

Mr. Newman cited the following information from newspaper articles showing that the zoo did not close because of the 1936 flood:

An article on Page A-3 of the March 29, 1936 Sunday Independent, titled “Zoo at Kirby Park Regains Occupants,” read:

“Tranquility once again prevails at Kirby Park zoo. Turmoil, provoked by high water of the Susquehanna, routed all animals, the rescue work being carried out by city employees under direction of Park Supervisor Tom Phillips. Last night the “refugees” were back home. Only one casualty, the male buffalo, was listed. Poisoned food hastened the end of the quadruped, according to Councilman John Nobelt.  A female buffalo, all fox, rabbits, groundhog, honey bears, monkeys and the eagle were quartered in the 109th armory during the flood.

Three bears, cynosure of all juveniles visiting Kirby Park, withstood ravages of the disaster. The water came up so rapidly they could not be rescued and were forced to perch atop a stone house inside a cage. The animals were foodless for five days and did virtually no sleeping during the flood period. Over four feet of water swept through the bears’ habitat.

Kirby Park Zoo Bears during the 1936 Flood, “Lest We Forget: Wyoming Valley Flood of 1936”–Luzerne County Historical Society Collection

Alas and alack – Pete, the pet gose [sic], joined his colleagues yesterday. Pete laughed at “Old Man River” when it began to swell. The winged pet watched the water flow over the west shore and continued to smile. On the third day Pete was hungry. He emulated Johnny Weismuller and swam all the way to Edwardsville, where he was picked up by two youths. The boys, fearful of prosecution, returned Pete yesterday to the park and they were told arrests would not follow. So all again is peaceful with the speechless population of Kirby Park.”

One year later, an article about the Kirby Park zoo on Page A-13 of the March 28, 1937 Sunday Independent listed the Kirby Park zoo’s inhabitants:

“There are seven monkeys, one baboon, two parrots, three macaws from South America, two raccoons, three foxes, about two dozen pigeons, three horned owls, four sheep, five bear, two wild goats from South America, one North American goat, one buffalo and two geese.”

In the same 1937 article, Ernest Vivian, the zookeeper, noted that the Kirby Park zoo could not accommodate additional animals:

“’If we had a larger and more substantial set of buildings than we have now, we could handle more of the gifts people are continually offering us but right now it’s impossible to take care of them.’ What were some of the animals offered as gifts? ‘Well, for example, pheasants and peacocks. We had to turn them down. We hadn’t any room and nothing could be done right now.

An Unrealized Vision for The Kirby Park Zoo

Full View

Also from the same article, ‘The snakes and alligators the zoo had were given up. The snakes dug out of their pit one day and there wasn’t any way of keeping them safe unless we had a concrete base and a glass cage. But we have a lot of other animals here and the children and their parents will find that in a few weeks, when we open up, the collection will be as fine if not better than ever.”’ 

 “When summer is in full swing, between 2,000 and 3,000 people visit on Sunday and about the same number come in during the six week days.

Wilkes-Barre has a fine zoo for the amount of money expended on it. However, if the straitened financial conditions of the city ever are arranged so that a permanent structure can be built, the improvement would improve the zoo many fold.”

Building Details

 However, improvements never came. An article on Page A-4 of the April 14, 1940 Sunday Independent stated:

“Announcement that the Kirby Park zoo probably will be reduced to a monkey house – and nothing more – shows the change of the years. It’s not so long ago that most ambitious plans were in the air for the Kirby Park zoo. The park department still has some pretty pictures of the plans that were made. It was hoped to have a splendid building, big runways and everything to permit the animals to live as nearly as they do in natural surroundings. There were hopes of expansion so that a great variety of animals would be on display, for the amusement and education of the entire valley. That is a far cry from latest plans to have a monkey house – and nothing more. And it’s all a matter of money. In the old days the trust fund provided by Fred M. Kirby for the upkeep of the park brought in from $25,000 to $28,000 every year . . . Then came the depression. Now the amount the fund gives the city – after a couple of years of nothing at all – is about half what it used to be . . . Blame the depression.”

Less than one month later, however, a grim story on Page A-11 of the May 5, 1940 Sunday Independent, titled “Filth at Kirby Park Zoo Forced Humane Society to Act,” painted a different picture and pointed the blame at people (as opposed to money):

“The Kirby Park Zoo, for which the city of Wilkes-Barre spent thousands of dollars to establish (sounds a little Sterling-esque, huh?!)  and many more thousands to maintain, has turned out to be a filth-infested, highly unsanitary “haven” for wild birds and animals (also fits the current description of the Hotel Sterling, am I right?!) . Because health conditions are deplorable, reaching the point where the majority of the animal populace has either died or been killed off, the zoo now must be abandoned.

Survey of the situation yesterday revealed the fact that there are but two bears, one silver fox and a horned owl, outside of a flock of monkeys, remaining in the penned areas. The Luzerne County Humane Society has interested itself in the situation, as a step in clearing up matters, paid $25 to take over everything but the monkeys. The city will maintain cages for these. . . .

In addition to filth brought by high river water, and given only western exposure and wooden houses when eastern exposure and concrete shelters are needed, it is reported thousands of rats have infested the pens at Kirby Park to aggravate a bad situation. These rats made life miserable for other animals by stealing food and, it is believed, spread disease among the inmates.

In addition to the drowning of a silver fox and two goats in the recent flood, three bears recently “murdered” each other and killed a cub, the two buffalo and a calf have passed away, while none of the ten deer survived. It is believed the zoo was improperly located from the start, situated in soggy ground, and another matter that enters into the picture is the fact that feeding and care of the animals in recent years was but a sideline of caretakers at the West Side park.”

“HELP YOURSELF MY DEAR DEER–Such was the invitation extended Kirby Park’s spotted fawn by 3-year-old Florence Victoria Krick, daughter of Attorney and Mrs. Charles P. Krick of West River Street. And as the photo plainly shows, a second invitation was not needed.”—Luzerne County Historical Society archives

The May 5, 1940 story concluded by describing how the Humane Society planned to release the two bears into the woods of Noxen Mountain.

Less than one month later, a column on Page A-9 of the May 12, 1940 Sunday Independent mourned the Kirby Park Zoo’s demise:

“To all intents and purposes the Kirby Park Zoo – the Wilkes-Barre City Zoo – has gone and the fact that it had to go, plus the manner of its passing, is not exactly a boost for the town.

The zoo was situated in a park, the upkeep of which along with that of the animals, was provided for by the philanthropy of Fred M. Kirby.

Naturally, the income from the bonds Mr. Kirby provided has shrunk, but hardly is it likely that it has shrunk as much as the park of which the city once was so proud.

Conceived as a place of beauty for the city, the main expanse of the park has been taken over to a great extent by the dike leaving, with the zoo gone, several baseball fields on the flat stretch next to the armory and, nearby, the tennis courts.

Worst of all, however, was the action of the Humane Society in “buying” the animals. This, they said, they felt was necessary in order to live up to the creed of their organization. They did not consider the animals were being treated in a humane manner at the zoo.

Life will go on in Wyoming Valley, of course, as it did before. Many other little niceties also could go and some people seem intent on removing them too, getting the general population down to the elementary necessities of eating, drinking, sleeping and working.

But the zoo was enjoyed by many – including the children. It added just a bit to their pleasure and helped make the park and the city of which we boast more complete. It also is to be noted that many other cities, unaided by the gift of a philanthropist, consider it worthwhile to spend their own money on such things. Furthermore, they do a good job of it.

So it is not exactly something to be proud of when it is proved that Wilkes-Barre lacks even the ability to keep a zoo – after the money is provided.”

Thanks again to Larry Newman for sharing the above information and to the Hoyt Library for making the Zoo Plans available to the public (There are several pages not pictured here).   The part that I STILL find puzzling is the fact that I cannot locate any pictures from the zoo when it was open.  2,000 to 3,000 people visited on Sundays during the summer and no one thought to take any pictures? I can only find the two posted above of the bears & the deer! If you have any relatives in their 70s, 80s 0r 90s,  ask them if you can take a peek at any old family pictures they have lying around!

 Even today, the Letterman Top 10 on January 20, 2012 listed the monkey as the #1 animal…..imagine how exotic it would have been to have monkeys in Kirby Park during the 1930s!  Where are the pictures?! ….. THAT to me is the real mystery of the Kirby Park Zoo!  🙂 

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KIRBY PARK ZOO RUINS ? !—Ooops! Maybe not……

If you are reading this, it is probably because you saw the title and thought one of two things:

“There was a zoo in Kirby Park?”  Yes, there was! But the Flood of 1936 led to the eventual demise of the Kirby Park Zoo.   You can read about the Kirby Park Zoo here .

Or

“I know where those zoo ruins are in Kirby Park”.  No, you don’t.  You know where ruins are, but they most likely are not zoo ruins, at least not the structures that you think are zoo ruins. 

But I do kind of hope that someone out there has the information needed to prove me wrong.  The idea of zoo ruins is far more romantic than the theory that I’m about to blog about in this post…..

Zoo graffiti from May 2010 which has vanished with the flood of September 2011

“It is sadder to find the past again and find it inadequate to the present than it is to have it elude you and remain forever a harmonious conception of memory.”— F. Scott Fitzgerald

I am not a historian and I am bringing this up to prove a point.  Despite the fact that I am NOT a historian, there is information out there that could lead someone to believe that I am legitimately a historian if they were to run across a Letter to the Editor that I wrote which ran on August 5, 2010, with the misleading title “Historian seeks info, stories about old Kirby Park zoo.”  Yes, I am a member of the Luzerne County Historical Society, but that does not make me a historian unless belonging to the Philadelphia Museum of Art also makes me an artist!

This is how historical misinformation can spread.  Unintentional misunderstandings, misquotes or a misprint in a publication can be used as a reference over and over again by other writers and researchers until it becomes part of the “facts”.  

We’ve all been told with certainty at some point that Betsy Ross made the first flag, it was even printed right there in our grade school text books!  Yet many historians (the real ones!) dispute that “fact” and Betsy’s house is not part of the U.S. National Park Service–which is a huge indication that the story is not true. 

During my short time as a faux-historian, I’ve come to the realization that historical research is hard, time-consuming and not exactly always….well….EXACT.  It’s more like trying to fit together a puzzle with missing pieces, filling in the blanks using a combination of critical thinking and speculation to try to create a complete picture. 

The very first article that I ever read about the zoo was pulled out of the Kirby Park file at the Luzerne County Historical Society.  This article ran on May 13, 2001, in the Times Leader, and was titled “Kirby Park: About 4 score years ago, a green place bloomed along the river.”  In the article, it states, when referring to the famous Olmsted Brothers landscape architectural firm who were commissioned to design Kirby Park, that “they did the entire original design for Kirby Park, including a zoo, a band shell and a wading pool.”  The statement was attributed to a quote by a man named Larry Neuman, president of the Wyoming Valley Historical Society (now the Luzerne County Historical Society). 

Unfortunately, Larry Neuman was never the president of that organization,  but Larry NEWMAN was!  Still, I did spend time searching for Larry Neuman.  I’ve also spent a decent amount of time searching for information about the Kirby Park Zoo plans and repeatedly came up with nothing.  Again, I’m not a historian, and I would hardly say that my search was completely thorough, but I tried every avenue that I could think of—the courthouse, city hall, different local historical organizations, the library—and couldn’t find any plans for the Kirby Park Zoo or any indications that the structures left standing were zoo buildings.

When I did finally contact Larry Newman, he shared a whole bunch of information that he had about the zoo, but said that he did not know if the zoo was part of the original plans for the park (he mentioned plans designed by someone else—I’ll get to those plans later).

Further in this article from May 2001, it states “John Mayday, president of the River Front Parks Association, said a walk down the Olmsted Trail—which follows the old drive through the natural area—will take you past the wading pool, as well as the foundations for the old gardener’s cottage, the band shell, a riverside observation deck and a couple of old zoo buildings.”

I had the opportunity to have a very entertaining conversation with Mr. Mayday earlier this year, and he told me all about the cottage, wading pool, band shell and observation deck, but was unsure about the remaining structures.  He also gave me a booklet produced by the Riverfront Parks Committee about the Kirby Park natural area that mentions nothing about zoo buildings either.

So I am unsure about how or where this idea about the few ruins left in Kirby Park being part of the zoo actually came from–and I cannot find any proof that a zoo designed by the Olmsted Brothers was part of the original park plans, but my guess would  be that the writer of  that article misunderstood or misheard that information.  Or maybe he pulled it from another source himself, but that particular article contains the earliest mention that I can find about “zoo plans/ruins” in a local newspaper.  And then every article that I have been able to find after that point, contains that same information, probably using that same article as a reference, just as I did when I wrote an article about the zoo myself. 

I eventually just gave up on finding any more information about these structures, until one day I decided to look through the resources at the Luzerne County Historical Society again to learn more about the children’s playground that was designed as part of the original plans for the park, but was lost when the levee was constructed that cut that area off from the rest of Kirby Park. 

As I looked for playground information, instead of zoo information, through the double binder titled Kirby Park Wilkes-Barre Olmsted Frederick Law Plans 1921 and the Kirby Day Book (June 4, 1924 ,“To Fred M Kirby from his son Allan P Kirby”) at the Luzerne County Historical Society, in addition to other information provided by Riverfront Parks booklets,  the mystery surrounding the remaining structures seemed to be solved, at least in my mind anyway. 

References to the Children’s Playground

“The Children’s Playground –Looking Toward Wilkes-Barre”—Picture from Kirby Day 1924, Luzerne County Historical Society Collection

“Nor have the kiddies been overlooked.  The little concrete block cottage almost on the west bank of the river, at a point below the Market Street Bridge, is to be used as a rest room for mothers and children.  The large section of the lawn surrounding the house will be utilized as a playground for the youngsters.  Between the rest house and the grove south of it there will be swings, sand courts, a bathing pool and many other interesting features for the amusement of the youngsters.” —-Kirby Day Book

“Cottage at Children’s Playground—Looking West”–Picture from Kirby Day 1924, Luzerne County Historical Society Collection

“The grounds around the bungalow near the river, formerly belonging to Thomas Podmore, were laid out as a playground for children.  The intention was to use the large front room of the house and the front porch and as much more of the house as may seem desirable in the future as a rest room for women and children.  If only the front room of the house is required for that purpose the balance of the house is available as an apartment for the caretaker, with entrance at the rear.  The cost of all improvements in and around the bungalow and children’s playground was $10,477.56.”–Kirby Day Book 

“The pool was part of the original Olmsted design and was used by children for wading.”— Riverfront Parks of Wilkes-Barre, Riparian Trail Guide, Kirby Park Natural Area, Yours to Discover & Enjoy   **Note:  In some articles the pool is called a “Reflecting Pool”

The Wading Pool & Sand Pits—Looking South from the Cottage—Kirby Day 1924, Luzerne County Historical Society Collection

“A children’s playground immediately south of the Market Street Bridge in such a location that if the new bridge is erected the arches will afford shelter and also access to the present playground and park north of the bridge.  This playground would be in its permanent location and should be equipped with apparatus which is readily removable during the winter when the area is not in use and at other times when it may be threatened by floods. The present bungalow on the knoll near the river could be used for a caretaker’s home until such a time as this area may need to be graded to increase the channel cross-section…..”  —Plan Book, Kirby Park, Page 569

Wading Pool Ruins October 2011

Cottage Ruins October 2011

“As you walk along the Olmsted Trail, you will see remnants of structures from the original park area, including an animal cage from the zoo, remnants of the Caretaker’s Cottage, and the Reflecting Pool.”– Riverfront Parks Olmsted Trail “Remnants of a Time Past” (project for the Leadership Wilkes-Barre Class of 2000) **NOTE: I wish I could figure out where they got this information at!  I also wonder how or if this influenced the 2001 Times Leader article referring to zoo ruins.

Unidentified Structure

Located Near Station 6

I have no basis for making this statement, other than lack of information, BUT if there is a zoo remnant still left in Kirby Park, this is most likely it.  I didn’t come across anything in the plans for the park that indicates what this structure may have been, and it is the one ruin that no one that I spoke with offered any insight about. 

Given the lack of pictures available of the zoo while it was open, all that I can offer on this subject is the following information in the hopes that someone can either help to prove or disprove that this structure could possibly be the remains of the bear habitat—the only zoo structure that I was actually able to locate a picture of so far. 

(And I do apologize because I have to go back to the Luzerne County Historical Society to look up the title of the booklet that contains the following pictures from the 1936 flood.  My notes are incomplete–all that I have is that editors & publishers of the book are Edward J. Donohoe and Hugh J. Brislin.)

Kirby Park Zoo Bears during the 1936 flood, Luzerne County Historical Society Collection–“Lest We Forget:  Wyoming Valley Flood of 1936”

This is a closer crop of the background behind the bears.  Keep in mind that the levee had not been built yet.

In the picture above, if you walk from the unidentified ruins to the top of the current levee system and snap a picture, which is of the Kingston Armory (built in the early 1920s), this is what you get if you crop that building.  Is it possible that it is the same view?  I’m not really sure myself….But apparently this is what the real historians would do to try to figure out this kind of stuff!  😉

Zoo Area During 1936 Flood—Luzerne County Historical Society Collection

References to the Band Shell

This is a picture of a slide with the caption: “The most recently completed of Mr. Fred M. Kirby’s magnificent gifts to Wyoming Valley. The bandstand is fifty-five feet wide by twenty-seven feet long and accommodates one hundred musicians. It was designed by a New York firm of architects which specializes in such structures. See Page 63 (Note: I don’t know of what) Photo by Ace Hoffman.” —-Luzerne County Historical Society Archives.

“The foundation has already been laid for a band stand to be located in the midst of the beautiful shade trees forming the grove near the bend of the river. “—Kirby Day Book

The next structure on the Olmsted Trail is what I believe to have been the band shell, which was part of the original Olmsted Brothers design.

In conversations with other people who I have run into while walking along the trail here, this is the remaining structure that seems to capture the imagination the most.  Several people have told me that they thought it was the remains of the bear habitat or the monkey house because of the little tunnel system/walk way that runs underneath the structure.

Underneath band shell October 2011

Other people thought it was the band shell with bathrooms below the stage with layer upon layer of mud deposited underneath from all of the flooding throughout the years.

Another view underneath the band shell remains October 2011

“A Bandstand with concrete foundation and with storeroom beneath was built in the wooded area near the river at a cost of $3,001.19”—Kirby Day Book

Rear View (levee side) band shell ruins

Yellowish paint on band shell remains

What appears to be concrete beams and a center support underneath the band shell. Picture use compliments of Ed Mountjoy.

References to the Pavilion

As you are walking along the path in the natural area of Kirby Park along the Olmsted Trail, you will find this structure on the left hand side.

Pavilion Ruins May 2010

While some people like to speculate that it was part of a structure once used to house monkeys, I now believe it was a Pavilion that was part of the original plans for the park.

Pavilion Ruins May 2010 facing the river

“The Pavilion and Grove Looking South”—Kirby Day Book 1924, Luzerne County Historical Society Collection

The Kirby Park Wilkes-Barre Olmsted Frederick Law Plans 1921 mentions placing a small pavilion in the picnic grove.

The Woodsy Owl Deck “The deck you’re standing on is what’s left of the gazebo from the original Olmstead Brothers’ park.”–Riverfront Parks of Wilkes-Barre, Riparian Trail Guide, Kirby Park Natural Area, Yours to Discover & Enjoy Page 29 

Zoo Structure or Toilet Building?  That’s the question……

“Located about half way down the river bank in the wooded section are small separate concrete toilet buildings for men and for women”—Kirby Day Book 

Located near the pavilion ruins, on the right hand side of the trail, you will find this structure (there is another similar structure a little further down the path, deeper into the wooded area).  This is the one that has been pictured in local newspaper articles the most often and is always identified as a “zoo structure”, usually in the form of a picture looking out of the window.

I believe that these structures may have actually been bathrooms.

Second structure October 2011–Several cracks have formed throughout the structure because a tree fell on it, most likely due to the flooding in September

In notes to Olmsted a toilet building for men and boys in circular grove of trees near children’s playground are mentioned.  Also included are notes to place a small pavilion in picnic grove, toilets to be either included in or near the building. —Kirby Park Plan Book pages 394 and 395

“Located about half way down the river bank, in the wooded section are small separate concrete toilet buildings for men and women.”–Kirby Park Plan Book Page 592

“A comfort station for men and one for women have been erected in the grove.”—Kirby Day Book

Water was supplied to that area of Kirby Park

Water pipe underneath band shell—Picture courtesy of Ed Mountjoy

“The balance of the supply to the park is supplied by a two-inch and smaller pipes extending from the manhole at the junction of the drive to the children’s playground and along the river to the toilet buildings near the bandstand. The total cost of the three toilet buildings, including sewage disposal, was $15, 985.74.—Kirby Day Book  **Note: unsure where the third toilet building may have been.  Maybe that could be the unidentified structure if it isn’t part of a zoo cage?

Another water pipe underneath band shell—Picture courtesy of Ed Mountjoy

In Conclusion 

The Kirby Park Zoo did not officially open until 1932, although there were zoo animals housed in Kirby Park prior to the official opening. The zoo was mentioned in the original plans for the park, but I never did find any actual plans for the zoo designed by the Olmsted Brothers.

REPORT OF VISIT BY H. J. Koehler, September 16, 1926, Notes:  “Zoological garden. 1 Bear, 2 owls, 2 pheasants, 1 coon.  Have it in the northwest corner.”  —Kirby Park Plan Book

This is the only other picture that I have been able to locate of the Kirby Park Zoo:

“HELP YOURSELF MY DEAR DEER–Such was the invitation extended Kirby Park’s spotted fawn by 3-year-old Florence Victoria Krick, daughter of Attorney and Mrs. Charles P. Krick of West River Street. And as the photo plainly shows, a second invitation was not needed.”—Luzerne County Historical Society archives

“The modest beginning of a zoo has been made.  Restrict it to its present area and in its present condition.  There can hardly be an objection to it.  Should an enlargement be considered, this ought to be carefully planned for in advance, and probably in some other location of the park.” — Kirby Park Plan Book, page 616, From Mr. Gilbert S. McClintock, October 6, 1926.

I find it hard to believe that I have been unable to locate any more pictures from the park, especially of the monkey house which would have been considered to be quite an exotic creature to have hanging around Luzerne County, especially during the 1930s!

There is one other piece of the puzzle out there that I am aware of that may help to shed some light on the mystery of the Kirby Park Zoo.  Unfortunately, I have been unable to obtain any access to it.

As a result of my Letter to the Editor, I received the following information in an email from Carl J. Handman of Eyerman,Csala & Handman, located on Public Square :

“The “ZoologicalBuilding” (project #228) was the last project I know of designed by W-B architect, Clark Wright Evans, AIA (1857-1940). My firm’s archives (Evans sold his firm to Robert Eyerman c.1935) contained 13 tracings, including a perspective rendering, dated September 1932. In 2002 I donated all of the Clark Wright Evans drawings in our archives (31 projects from 1898 to 1932) to the Hoyt Library in Kingston. They are stored there in acid free paper in flat files.

You can probably view them there by making an appointment with the new Library Director. She was not there when I made the donation, & if she is not familiar with them, let me know & I can fill her in on the details of my donation.”

I contacted the Hoyt Library via email and received this response:

On Wed, Aug 18, 2010 at 12:37 PM, Hoyt Library <hoytlib@ptd.net> wrote:

Cheri,

The material is in a restricted area of the library. Due to budget cuts we do not have anyone who could be with while you are researching your topic. We have reduced our hours and staff. When funding is resumed we will be happy to accommodate you.

Diane Rebar

Reference Librarian

I did send another email to the Hoyt Library on October 26th of this year requesting access to these materials again, but I have yet to receive any response.  Maybe one of the real historians out there can take up the cause and gain access to this information!  😉  

“Central Section Looking Toward Wilkes-Barre” (with Cottage)—Kirby Day 1924, Luzerne County Historical Society Collection

“River Bank Walk–Looking East”—Kirby Day 1924, Luzerne County Historical Society Collection

“River Bank Walk–Looking South”—Kirby Day 1924, Luzerne County Historical Society Collection

Kirby Park Olmsted Trail October 2011

To learn about the zoo animals, visit:

The Animals Of The “Lost” Kirby Park Zoo

~*~*~

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Cheri Sundra © 2011
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