Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Zoo Atlanta Celebrates 120 Years

It’s been 120 years since the circus came to town – and never left.

Zoo Atlanta celebrated its 120th birthday on March 28, 2009, recalling the date
when one visionary entrepreneur backed the beginnings of one of
Georgia’s most beloved attractions.

In March 1889, a traveling circus – Colonel G.W. Hall’s Railroad Show
Bingley’s Monster European Menagerie, by name – went bankrupt just
south of Atlanta. Disgruntled circus employees deserted the show, leaving
a ragtag collection of caged wildlife behind. The homeless motley crew,
which included a jaguar, a hyena, a black bear, a raccoon and several
lionesses, pumas, camels and snakes, had already drawn scores of
curious Victorian gawkers by the time it was announced that the erstwhile
circus stars would be placed at public auction.

On March 28, 1889, businessman George Valentine Gress purchased the entire
collection, donating the wildlife to the city of Atlanta. One of only 13 zoos in the
U.S. at the time, the Gress Zoological Gardens opened that April, with Grant Park
streetcars straining to accommodate an opening weekend attendance of nearly

Now home to more than 1,300 mammals, birds, reptiles and amphibians
and the locus of numerous international conservation programs, Zoo Atlanta remains
one of the top 10 oldest zoos in continuous operation in America. “Reaching this
milestone is exciting especially as we embark on an amazing 20 year master plan that will
transform and take Zoo Atlanta into the next 120 years,” said Zoo Atlanta President and
CEO Dennis Kelly.

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