Wednesday, September 23, 2020

A Desegregated Wichita Falls Scotland Park Walk Without Miss Sugar

Weary of rolling my tires to the same old places over and over again to indulge in an endorphin inducing bout of aerobic stimulation today I drove to a park I had not been to before.

Scotland Park. 

Location on the opposite side of Highway 287 from Lucy Park, I had driven by Scotland Park whilst on that aforementioned highway, making note of a forest of big trees, but not noticing anything else, I knew nothing of this park, or what to expect there.

So, imagine my surprise upon parking to see I had parked by a State of Texas Historical Marker the title of which was Wichita Falls Municipal Zoo.

I did not know this town had once had a zoo, let alone the fact that this was a large zoo. What I assume to be remnants of the zoo remain, such as a stone bridge, a pond with a fountain. And all those big trees.

The info on the Historical Marker was interesting, copied here in its entirety...

Thanks to combined efforts of the Wichita Falls Lions Club and the City of Wichita Falls, the Wichita Falls Municipal Zoo opened to the public in 1928. Largely sustained by the community, it received both regular visitors and those from out of town. Wichita Falls' residents and businesses donated money, supplies and labor to keep the zoo running and expanding. At its height, it supported more than 300 animals. This number included baboons, elk, bison, monkeys, coyotes, zebras, lions, alligators, raccoons, snakes and tigers, as well as a petting zoo for children. Miss Sugar the elephant was its star attraction. The newspaper referred to her as "The largest and most popular Flapper in Wichita Falls."

Throughout its operation, safety concerns and a few minor incidents kept the city council worried about liability. A reflection of the time, the zoo was segregated, allowing African Americans to attend on Friday (unless they accompanied white children in a caretaker role). The Stock Market crash of 1929 hit it hard as wallets tightened and people had less money to spend on entertainment. Despite its continuous fundraising efforts, the zoo closed in 1934. The animals, many of whom were on loan or leased, were either returned to their original owners or auctioned off. The Fort Worth Zoo purchased Miss Sugar. At the time of its closure, feelings regarding the zoo were mixed. Fond memories of visits to the animals were countered by the expense, especially when people struggled to feed their families. Despite its mixed success, the zoo remains a part of Wichita Falls' history. Its rise and fall offers a glimpse of the dynamics of town life and culture in the 1930s.

A elephant named Miss Sugar in a segregated zoo.

In my old home zone's zoos, back in the 1930s, you might have found an elephant named Miss Sugar, but you would not have found a segregated zoo. 

I wonder if Miss Sugar had any offspring, and if there are now descendants of Miss Sugar in the Fort Worth Zoo. 

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