Elephants, mastodons and local excursions – #atozchallenge

E is for Elephants, mastedons and local excursions. Fifth of twenty-six posts in the April 2017 Blogging From A to Z Challenge on the theme “Whispering Chimneys: My Altamont childhood” — where my genealogy journey began. Wish me luck!

Although we lived way out in the country, my parents and grandparents were good about taking me to local events and regional attractions.

I have fond memories of the elephants, mastodons and local excursions that I experienced as a young child. Here are highlights of some memorable outings in the vicinity of our Altamont, N.Y., farm.

Ringling-Barnum Circus (Schenectady). This is probably where I saw my first elephant. But what I vividly remember was the clown who rushed up and fake-kissed my mom to the laughs and applause of the crowd. He appeared from nowhere in a blur of polka dots and gave Mom a dancer’s dip to add a flourish to his antics. My goodness — how exciting!

Replica of the Cohoes mastodon. Photo: City of Cohoes

Museum mastodon (Albany). In 1866 an excavation in Cohoes, N.Y., unearthed an excellent mastodon skeleton. In the 1950s I saw the mastodon on display at the State Education Building in Albany. But what I remember most was the hairy replica displayed with it. My tiny jaw dropped as I gazed up at what looked like a towering elephant with giant tusks — and wearing a fur coat. Amazing!

Gene Autrey’s stage show (Troy).  From 1950-56 the Gene Autrey Show starred the country-singing cowboy and his comic sidekick Pat Buttram. My parents sat me by the T.V. to watch — and in March 1955 my mom drove me in heavy snow to their personal appearance in Troy. The duo sang and told jokes up on the lighted stage — and I was awed, at five, by my first theater experience!

Thatcher Park (Altamont). Even more awe-inspiring were tales of the Native Americans who once bravely traversed nearby Thatcher Park. Some followed a precarious trail through a crevice way up on the cliff face — astronomically higher than the steep hall stairway to my second-floor bedroom! I remember swimming in a pool jam-packed with children in the bucolic park — an early introduction to the natural settings I’ve grown to love.

My first visit to the Catskill Game Farm in Greene County, N.Y., in the early 1950s. Photo: Norman J. Charboneau

Catskill Game Farm (Catskill). Opened in 1933 as a giant petting zoo, this 900-acre Catskill Mountains farm featured sheep, deer and donkeys in the early 1950s. During my first visit at age four, I came face-to-face with a gentle burro eager to eat the tiny food pellets out of my hand! Sadly, this landmark closed for good in 2006 — but my childhood memories of the Game Farm endure.

Up next: F is for Freddie Freihofer: My T.V debut. Please stop back!

© 2017 Molly Charboneau. All rights reserved.

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22 thoughts on “Elephants, mastodons and local excursions – #atozchallenge”

    1. I’m lucky that I was never scared of clowns…maybe from this early experience. And that mastodon is still on display in the New York State Museum in Albany.

  1. Elephants and genealogy…here is my story. As I began the recording of my ancestors, I found a grandmother and greatgrandmother named Mary Jane. I am the only girl in my family and wondered why my mother bypassed naming her only daughter after 2 beloved ancestors. Her reply…the elephant at the zoo was named Mary Jane, and I just couldn’t do that to you!
    Just a tidbit into the mind and heart of my Mom ❤️

    1. Hey Barb, thanks so much for this lovely family story — and for leaving it here on the blog! It means so much to have you visit during this year’s A to Z Challenge, since you helped me out last year 🙂 I hope you will stop back again, because it’s going to be a long month!

  2. Molly–delightful stories!! And the photos and links add so much. You cute thing you!!

    So, sad now that the circus is a thing of the past!! How much fun was that as a child! And this reminded me of when my mother took us [one of my sisters and my brother to the Eastern States Exposition — which is still there!] and then got tickets for her and my brother to go to the show with Roy Rogers and Dale Evans–and Trigger too!

    Write on!

  3. The Catskill Game Farm – that brought back some great memories! Such fun. I’ve always had a special place in my heart for the big cats. I was sad to see this close, it was such a wonderful part of childhood for many.

  4. I just came from another blog where I also read about an elephant. I remember the petting zoo we use to go to, also during the 1950s. It was in Detroit at Belle Isle and is also no longer there.

    Finding Eliza

    1. I wonder if some of these large animal parks saw their peak years during the baby boom, then slowly declined thereafter — perhaps replaced by small, local petting zoos.

  5. I enjoyed this, Molly. Though the experiences were not the same, this post reminded me of similar ones in my childhood. The circus, museums, a concert at the Grand Ol’ Opry, historical sites, state and national parks, and petting zoos — good memories!

    1. Hats off to our families for taking us on these memorable excursions. I wonder if they realized what a lasting impression these experiences would make.

    1. Thanks, Christine. Lucky for me, both my father and maternal grandmother were avid photographers who always had a camera ready during family outings!

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