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The Bear Pits: 1910

The Bear Pits: 1910

Memphis, Tennessee, circa 1910. "The bear pits." 8x10 inch dry plate glass negative, Detroit Publishing Company. View full size.


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No Escape, oh wait

That lock doesn't look too formidable.

2011 vs 1904

Those were diffrent times y'all. The people came and saw the bears. They were animals. The animals were not being mistreated to their way of thinking.

The people kept behind the poles because they had good common sense. Then the strolled over and got an ice cream. Period.

We think differently now. The people in this photo regularly wrung a chicken's neck to put dinner on the table. Those were different times.

Pssst, kid! C'mere I wanna tell you sompin

My father, born 1921, went to the Como Park in St. Paul, Minnesota every Sunday after church until his mother died in 1931. The park was beautiful and the outing was enjoyable until they visited the zoo portion. Seeing the bears and lions caged, like in this photo, scared him for life -- never went to a zoo again for as long as he lived. Not even the "free ranging" zoo. I think the onlookers here have the same thoughts.

Bear pits: Gone. Zoo: Still there.

This appears to be the same site as the current zoo, in Overton Park. As awful as the cage is, it was a big improvement over the previous accommodations: "The idea for the Memphis Zoo began as early as 1904, when Col. Robert Galloway started lobbying for funds to build a home for a Southern black bear named Natch. The bear, who was the mascot of the Memphis Turtles baseball team, was being kept chained to a tree in Overton Park." (

The zoo has grown into one of the best small zoos in the country. It still sits in Overton Park in midtown Memphis. The zoo is now home to a few hundred animals, including a pair of pandas entrusted to them by the Chinese government. The pandas live in much plusher digs than their distant cousins here.

Nobody is Happy

No one looks happy. The bears are not happy, the spectators are not happy. There is a problem.

Feeding time at the zoo.

Wow! I wonder how many maulings this setup resulted in.

Say ...

This isn't the Gayoso!

Poor bears. Instead of the fancy hotel, they get an iron cage with some rocks and a tree stump. The solemn spectators sense the injustice of it all.

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