2017-07-26 / Columnists

Along the Old Native American Footpaths

Bring 'Em Back Alive
by Sandi Brewster-Walker

Swans and monkeys attempted to take control of the area from Massapequa to Babylon around 1934 and 1935. A Babylon officer had to place handcuffs on a swan, and a Massapequa zookeeper had to report an escaped monkey gang led by Al Capone to the New York City Police commissioner. These are just two of the incidents that made the local police blotters involving animals out of control!

The Long Island Traveler (Cutchogue) newspaper on Dec. 6, 1934 published a story about patrolman James Russell Grover, of Babylon, and how he must have taken a lesson from Frank Buck, the wild animal hunter, and collector. Frank Buck owned the Jungle Camp in Massapequa!

James Russell Grover (1893-1962), known as Russell or Russ, was probably the same police sergeant that lived in Babylon listed in the 1940 US Federal Census. He was enumerated with his wife Christine, and their two children, Ester and James (Jr.). As a young man in 1920, he had worked as a truck driver at a local lumber yard. Later, he would become the Village of Babylon police chief.

Russell’s son James (Jr.) would be elected to the New York State Assembly (3rd District, 1957-62). He would also be a member of the US House of Representatives (2nd district, 1963-75). But, in 1934, James’ father Russell had to apprehend a wild perpetrator, who escaped from Argyle Lake!

The newspaper told the story, “A large swan which makes its home on Argyle Lake wandered off his reservation and was making a nuisance of himself by chasing and threatening school children.”

The officer made several attempts to capture the swan; however “the ‘critter’ easily avoided the grasping arm of the policeman, each time giving him a loud and exasperating ‘bird’ for his pains. The officer suddenly made a flying tackle and brought the bird down, only to find that his real fun had only just begun.” The swan and the officer struggled for some time until the officer “succeeded in getting a pair of handcuffs on the bird’s legs.”

Patrolman Grover transported the swan back to Argyle Lake. The newspaper reporter believed the swan must have been angry about the officer’s football tactics. The bird waited for the right moment! The handcuffs were being taken off, and the swan “almost kicked Grover for a goal while the latter was shooing the bird into the lake”. Just a few miles away, “Bring ‘Em Back Alive” Frank Buck was operating a Jungle Camp in the local suburbs of Massapequa near Amityville!

“Fresh from the sands of the Sahara, two great ‘Ships of the Desert,’ or Arabian camels, have arrived at Frank Buck’s wild animal headquarters at Massapequa for a short stay before continuing on to Frank Buck’s Jungle land exhibit at the New York World’s Fair, where they will be used for riding. These animals are giants of their species, towering over nine feet in height.” This announcement appeared in the March 22, 1939 issue of Mid Island Mail newspaper.

Frank Buck was housing wild exotic animals at his Jungle Camp much earlier on Sunrise Highway in Massapequa, according to the Brooklyn Daily Eagle issue on May 31, 1935. Buyers came from all over to select wild animals for their zoo!

“ The first actual selection and purchase of animals for the new Prospect Park Zoo (Brooklyn) occurred over the Decoration Day holiday,” when a scouting group was sent to Frank Buck’s Jungle Camp, in Massapequa. Prospect Park Zoo, located on 12 acres near Flatbush Avenue in Brooklyn ( NY) opened in 1890 as a part of a larger revitalization program of city parks, playgrounds and zoos in 1934 by Parks Commissioner Robert Moses, a civil servant in New York City and the suburbs of Long Island. The new Prospect Park Zoo opened on July 3, 1935 was built with Works Project Administration (WPA) labor and funds.

As part of the Prospect Park Zoo animal scouting group, Samuel Klein (1886-1942), the Russian founder of S. Klein discount store at Union Square ( NYC), and his 12- year- old daughter Phyllis traveled to Massapequa, along with Captain R. Cheyne-Stout, zoologist and director of menageries for New York City.

Two other members of the group were Robert Hurton, head keeper of the Central Park Zoo, and Harry Sweeney, director of maintenance of the New York City Park Department.

The newspaper reported, the first stop for the scouting group was “Bring ‘Em Back Alive,” Frank Buck’s Jungle Camp and Zoological Gardens at Massapequa. They arrived at the facility with their list of wild animals to be purchased!

The group was greeted by T.A. Loveland, secretary for the Buck Enterprises, and was shown the available wild animal stock; however none were for sale! “A list of the animals required for the Prospect Park Zoo was left with Mr. Loveland, who expects a fresh shipment of animals from Mr. Buck, who is now in Africa, within a few days.” The scouting group returned to Prospect Park without purchasing any wild animals.

On July 16, 1935, the Brooklyn Daily Eagle mentioned, “Otis Lloyd, 24, an employee, narrowly escaped being crushed to death by a Rock Typhon snake, of Singapore about 18-feet long. Otis was taken to the small Theodore Reed General Hospital at 52 Park Avenue, Amityville.

Theodore Reed (b. 1891-NY) was enumerated in the 1940 US Federal Census with his small staff of four registered nurses, a cook and servant (maid).

The registered nurses were:

Mildred Beck ( b. 1909- PA)

Prudence Glover (b. 1910-PA).

Theresa Mitsch (b. 1908-PA) and Norma Trixell (b. 1917-IL). The other two staff members were: Igora Place (b. 1880-NY) and Dorothy Park (b. 1912-NY), a servant maid. The hospital staff found that the snake had sunk his teeth into Otis, and left a piece of a tooth as a souvenir.

The Reed General Hospital staff also gave medical attention to Stuart Roe, 35 years old. Roe was changing the quarters of the lions when one seized his left arm and badly lacerated it. But the story all of the Massapequa and Amityville locals remember is when the monkeys escaped from their mountain home!

The Aug. 23, 1935 issue of the Brooklyn Daily Eagle reported an accident took place on Seaford Avenue, as the driver Sidney Milo (or Mills) drove towards Merrick Road just after midnight. He swerved to avoid 35 “chattering” monkeys, but struck and killed one monkey crashing his car into a tree. After getting to a telephone, he called Frank Buck’s Jungle Camp, who dispatched a squad of animal keepers to the scene. It was reported seven were captured, and the rest vanished. There were still others left that had escaped from Monkey Mountain. A monkey named Al Capone had led the pack across the moat on a plank left by a workman. The official report was five dead and 47 captured. The Frank Buck Camp posted a $50 reward for Al Capone, the monkey leader, and just season passes for the other monkeys.

Other escapees were spotted by John Seccio, an Amityville ice dealer, along a road south of Sunrise Highway. After reporting it to the Camp, Seccio returned to where he saw the animals with a basket of apples. The monkeys must have been hungry, they got in Seccio’s truck and were taken back to Monkey Mountain!

The Aug. 31, 1935 issue of the Brooklyn Daily Eagle reported that “some monkeys were roaming free on the sidewalks of New York.” T.A. Loveland had sent a telegram to Police Commissioner Lewis Valentine, of New York City, stating that 150 Rhesus monkeys had escaped a week ago from the Frank Buck Jungle Camp in Massapequa. Most were captured, however six were still at large being led by Al Capone, the alleged ringleader of the Long Island monkey gang.

The following year on Oct. 19, the Brooklyn Daily Eagle reported Frank Buck was trampled by a rodeo horse when he tried to mount the animal. He was also taken to Theodore Reed General Hospital, in Amityville.

The above are just a few of the wild animal incidents between 1934 and 1935, when the famous Frank Buck was “bringing ‘em back alive” to his Jungle Camp in Massapequa! By 1937, some of the animals had settled into their new home.

On July 22, 1937 the East Hampton Star mentioned “Trixie” the elephant from Frank Buck’s zoo at Massapequa, is coming to East Hampton for the Fair… Mrs. James Lee will manage the elephant rides and six to eight children can ride at once.”

The writer is an independent historian, genealogist, freelance writer and business owner. She is the chair of the Board of Trustees and acting executive director of the Indigenous People Museum & Research Institute and served in President Bill Clinton’s Administration as deputy director of the Office of Communications at the United States Department of Agriculture. Readers can reach her at acjnews@rcn.com or direct letters to her at CJ Publishers Inc., 85 Broadway, Amityville NY 11701.

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