Swope Park – a home to exotic animals

Michael Bushnell
Northeast News

“An idea to create the largest zoological garden in the United States. There will be nothing better in the world. Swope Park is an admirable site for this purpose…”

In 1907, a small group of affluent Kansas Citians set out to create one of the premier zoological gardens in the United States.

Barron Fradenburg, a prominent local businessman, made the plea: “Kansas City cannot be a metropolitan area without a quality zoological garden.”

Thomas Swope, a local real estate developer, donated land to Kansas City in 1896 for such a  park.

School children kicked off a major letter writing campaign as architects began to develop site renderings of how and where the first zoo building should be placed.

In 1908, the Parks Board approved a request from the newly formed Kansas City Zoological Society to set aside 60 acres in Swope Park for the Kansas City Zoological Gardens.

The new Swope Park Zoo and Animal House was built and dedicated in December of 1909.

The zoo’s cadre of exotic animals included four lions, three monkeys, a wolf, a coyote, a badger, an eagle, as well as a variety of other avian creatures.

This postcard, published by Hall Bros., shows visitors viewing the outdoor cages of the building.

Formidable sliding doors allowed the animal keepers to limit the outdoor hours and keep the lions and tigers in adjoining indoor cages, where they could also be viewed by the public.

Feeding time was around 10 a.m. and often drew large crowds of people who had taken an early street-car to the park to catch a glimpse of the spectacle.

The private message on the back of the card reads: “Visited the zoo yesterday (Sunday) and heard the lion roar. Let’s go some day when spring comes and the park doesn’t look so dry and barren. There are 1,400 acres so I didn’t see it quite all in one afternoon.”

There is no postmark on the card so it was probably mailed inside a letter.

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