Sunday, September 14, 2008

Miss Hattie

I've started trying to compile historical information, anecdotes and photographs of Kamper Park and Zoo in Hattiesburg, Mississippi. The zoo is now the "Hattiesburg Zoo" but for me it will always remain Kamper Park Zoo. I spent hundreds of days at the park and zoo growing up in the 1960's and early 1970's. Today the zoo is much more attractive and humane than the cramped square cages I remember from my youth. The park, however, is not nearly as wonderfully dangerous as it was in the days of tall swings, monkey bars, see-saws and merry-go-rounds.

I've posted a discussion forum about the park at the online site of the local newspaper, the Hattiesburg American. I've begun attracting a few comments from people my age and older who remember the old days fondly. I'm starting to collect some wonderful anecdotes, including one about a monkey who liked to smoke cigarettes that he bummed off passers-by. I'm shocked and sad that I don't remember such an obviously memorable character as that!

I'm trying to especially get information about "Miss Hattie", an elephant who was a beloved local mascot and the pride of the zoo. By perusing the Asian Elephant Studbook I was able to discover that there were actually two elephants who filled this role, one named Cass who was captured in Asia some time prior to 1953 and came under the care of the famous elephant trainer Louis Reed of Ringling Brothers. In 1958 she was transferred to the Hatiesburg Zoo where she stayed until her death in 1973. She was replaced the next year by "Babar", a female who was transferred from the New Orleans zoo and who died January 11, 1987. I seemed to remember that one of these "Miss Hatties" died of a heart attack in a flood and one poster confirmed this by writing:

I can tell you the 1987 elephant died after a flood when her longtime companion, a one-horned goat, was washed away. The elephant laid down, and when they do that, they usually don't get back up. It was a sad time. G.D. Williamson was mayor then, and he got hundreds of elephants in the mail from mayors all over the country.
I think that is a wonderfully poignant story. Read that sentence again: "...the 1987 elephant died after a flood when her longtime companion, a one-horned goat, was washed away." With history like that, no wonder there are so many world-famous Mississippi writers.

I hope to gather more history of the park and zoo. The best way will probably be to wade through rolls of newspaper microfilm when I take trips to visit my mother. It will give me an interesting way to engage my energy during what can otherwise be an extremely slow-paced visit at the home of my youth.

11 comments:

Anonymous said...

I remember Miss Hattie, my sister and brother had our pictures in the paper with her when she cam to the Kapmer Park Zoo. Our grandparents were Willie and Gertha Kamper.

Anonymous said...

I remember Miss Hattie, also. We lived in Hattiesburg for three years in the late 60s/early 1970. I remember Miss Hattie died and was buried in the Hattiesburg landfill. . .after one of the early 70s floods (1973 or 74?) was unearthed. My mother recounted this to me and was quite horrified. Viva Miss Hattie! I asked Webb Wilder about Miss Hattie at a concert in the late 80s, and he laughed. Kemper Park is a really cool memory. Sheri

Anonymous said...

Miss Hattie was the first elephant. Babar was the second. It was Babar who had the pet goat Gladys and died of a broken heart when the pet died.

Anonymous said...

Got to love the internet. I was just telling a friend about Miss Hattie and decided to google. There she is. I was born in 1958 and lived on Mimosa Lane until 1963. I remember when my grandmother told me Miss Hattie had died. Decades later, one of my most enduring memories of Hattiesburg.

Leslie Melvin said...

I was traumatized by Miss Hattie when I was a child. I was 5 or 6 years old; it was early 1960s. My family had a family reunion there one Sunday after church--under a big gazebo, I seem to recall. My grandmother told all the grandkids--maybe 8 in all at the time--that she'd give each of us a dime if we stayed clean all afternoon. Back then, that was some big-time loot! She knew we'd be running around the zoo; getting dirty just wasn't on the agenda. So, we went from cage to cage, feeding the animals, taking care not to get dirt on our "Sunday best." I was feeding Miss Hattie something out of a bag--nuts, I presume--and then I ran out. Miss Hattie just stood there looking at me, waiting for more food, I suppose. I was oblivious. I was just marveling at her--she was a star attraction after all. Miss Hattie, now clearly "upset" there was no more food coming, took her big 'ol trunk and curled it toward her, letting it scrape along the ground, collecting all the dirt, mud, straw and sticks she could and then...phlomp! She curled her trunk back toward me, and in seemingly lightning speed, let go of the muck. Bull's eye! I was covered head to toe with dirt--it was in my hair, on my face and all over my Sunday dress! Stunned, I ran back to the big gazebo, crying uncontrollably. No dime for me, I thought! To this day, I don't like zoos, and I've always blamed Miss Hattie! (Oh, and for anyone who cares, my grandmother paid up anyway!)

Ryan Easley said...

Can you tell me where you found the information that Babar came from New Orleans ? I have not seen this before, though it might be a possibility. Many of that zoo's elephants are Lost to Follow-up.

Bill Herring said...

Ryan, I have just spent a couple of hours trying to find where I got the idea that Babar was transferred from New Orleans. I cannot find any reference to this now (it's been several years since I wrote the original blog post). I apologize for apparently adding to misinformation. I do see in the Asian Elephant Studbook that Hattiesburg is incorrectly listed as Harrisburg in a couple of places, but that does't answer your question.
-Bill

Ryan Easley said...

Thank you for the follow up, Bill. I just wanted to make sure before I started a wild goose chase. Some New Orleans elephants sure are hard to track down - something that tends to be a trend from the southern zoos in the 1950s to 1970s.

R Barron O'Brien said...

I will always remember our trips to the Zoo, when lived on Adeline Street. Our grandparents and parents, would take the three of us there, along with our Nanny, quite often. I remember 'Hattie'when she first arrived at the zoo, as myself, sister and brother, had our picture taken with her, which was published in the Hattiesburg Newspaper. My Grandfather was William (Willie) Q. Kamper and my Grandmother was Gertha O. Barron. On my last visit to the ZOO, with my Aunt Sara and cousins, I was able to see the beginning of the TIGER enclosure and other improvements. I am happy to see that it is thriving today. Barry O'Brien

Allison Bradley Morales said...

I spent the first 5 years of my life on the campus of USM while my dad was getting his teaching degree. (1965-70) My mom took me to the zoo quite often and, as a toddler, I always wanted to go see Hattie. Apparently I spent so much time at her habitat that one of the zookeepers said she could be my "pet." Then we moved to Florida and for 46 years I have thought about her and wondered if she was still alive. Despite the fact that I now realize she is not, I am still so happy to have found this site and to know that other people remember her as fondly as I do! God bless Google! :-)

sandy parker said...

The flood that killed the goat was in 1983.