Ostrich in the Park: This Month’s Contest

Here’s your chance to win a free subscription to minneapolisparkhistory.com. Do what the Minneapolis park board said it couldn’t afford to do—put an ostrich in a Minneapolis park. Of course the park board refused an offer to put real ostriches in parks, but all you have to do to be this month’s lucky winner is photoshop an ostrich into your favorite park picture and send it to us at minneapolisparkhistory[at]q.com.

An ostrich admiring Minnehaha Falls, canoeing in Lake of the Isles, stealing a golf ball at Gross, or skating at Logan Park. Imagine the possibilities.

The inspiration for this contest was an item in the February 24 issue of the Minneapolis Morning Tribune in 1913. The headline proclaimed:

No Ostriches This Year
Park Board Can’t Buy Birds
Yet Because of Slimness in
Public Pocket Book

“There are to be no ostriches imported this year to add to the attractions of the parks,” the Tribune reported. “Much though Superintendent Wirth would like to see the large birds roaming through the parks, he readily acquiesced when the park board, for reasons of economy, refused the offer of a California ostrich farmer to stock the parks with ostriches at relatively small cost. Mr. Wirth and some of the park commissioners hope, however, that by next year the board’s finances will allow the purchase of at least a limited number of ostriches.”

And John Erwin and Jayne Miller think they’re being squeezed by lack of funds!

If the park board had found the funds to buy ostriches in 1913, the birds would have joined deer, elk and buffalo that roamed the hillside at Minnehaha Park in the park board’s menagerie. The much larger animal collection kept at the Minnehaha Park from the mid-1890s—including bear, mountain lion, sea lions, alligators and exotic birds—were given to Fish Jones for his private zoo at Longfellow Garden in 1907. The park board kept the deer and elk at Minnehaha until 1923.

Wirth’s other notable contribution to the Minneapolis bestiary was the gray squirrel. Wirth imported the gray squirrels from Kansas in 1909 to replace the red squirrels he hired someone to shoot in Loring Park because they were eating songbird eggs. Wirth believed the less aggressive grays would make better neighbors. He noted in 1919 that the gray squirrels had extended their range throughout the city.

I doubt the ostriches would have been quite as adaptable. And I bet they would have made a bigger mess than the geese that many park visitors and neighbors despise.

Do you know what Fish Jones paid for the animals he got from the park board’s Minnehaha Park zoo in 1907? He had to provide free admission to his zoo one day a week—usually Saturday.

David C. Smith


2 comments so far

  1. I grew up by the Longfellow Lakelet and am a fan of Fish Jones. Recently i did a drawing of Mr Jones standing with an ostrich in his ‘yard’ …it was from a photo that Karen Cooper shared with me, i think it was from one of the Longfellow Gardens Guidebooks {published and edited by Mr Jones}. in fact i am creating a coloring book of Longfellow Zoological Gardens and Fish Jones. Maybe i need a writer to help tighten it up. Maybe we should discuss Mr Jones some more. If you are not too busy. Also, I am under the impression that the contiguous landscape aesthetic of the parks at large is due in part to Mr H.W. Jones, Architect and Park Commissioner at just the time Mr Fish Jones moves south to the Falls. It seems that the Arena at LZG is of the same design as the shelter in Beard’s Plaisence, and the bridges and benches of “irregular wood” are the same above and below the falls, at LGZ, and along the creek, as well as at other parks at the time. Maybe it was H Cleveland’s doing,{ but I feel it was HWJ,} I don’t know, but maybe you have seen other references to H.W.Jones, tho that would surprise me as you haven’t mentioned him at all. Maybe Fish Jones did his own landscape design, but i would bet he delegated the task to a worthy colleague, and with the way he acquired the Longfellow Lakelet, out from under the City’s nose, from the Franklin Steele heirs, I would think that H. Cleveland wouldn’t have been amenable to the collaboration required to design Mr Jones’ Folly. I could be mistaken, and would love to learn more. I am volunteering at the Princess Depot as the Victorian Historian on Sundays 1:30- 5 ish, this summer {2013} ~ I’ll be the one with the fluttering fan.

    • David C. Smith on

      Thanks for your comment, Suzy. I am quite familiar with Harry Wild Jones, but have not written about him. He designed several builidngs in Minneapolis parks while a park commissioner from 1893-1905. I don’t know if he was involved in the design of Fish Jones’ property. It is certainly possible, although he was no longer a park commissioner when Fish Jones opened his zoo. H. W. S. Cleveland could not have been involved with Jones’ property. Cleveland moved away from Minneapolis in 1896 and, to my knowledge, never returned before his death in 1900, long before the Longfellow Zoo was created. I plan to write soon about Harry Jones’ design for the refectory at Minnehaha Park, as well as his participation as the representative of the Minneapolis Board of Park Commissioners in the first meeting of what became the American Park and Outdoor Art Association in Louisville in 1897. Harry Jones was also one of the leading proponents of bicycle paths at the park board in the 1890s.

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