A portrait of a lioness looking into the lens with Trees in the background

Neighborhood News: Every Day is ‘Free Day’ at Lincoln Park Zoo!

A portrait of a lioness looking into the lens with Trees in the background

“Everything we do is rooted in our mission: to connect people with nature.”

Lincoln Park Zoo

I never realized how lucky I was as a kid. 

When I was little, my mom knew how to keep the three of us entertained. Not far from our apartment was Lincoln Park Zoo, Cannon Drive at Fullerton Parkway. She’d push our stroller along the paved sidewalks while pointing out giraffes, polar bears, and lion cubs. We all laughed as we tried to pronounce ‘rhinocerous,’ and ‘meercat.’

I credit my mom’s family for the generational transition. When my mom was a little girl, her family had done the same for her. The 155-year-old zoo has served generations of families. At 96, Mom still remembers the massive Bushman, (1931–1951), the gorilla who now resides, stuffed by a taxidermist, at another Chicago institution, the Field Museum.

I passed the tradition to my own kid when they were young. So did my brother, to his children. 

I suppose it’s no wonder our family ended up founding an animal rescue years later! 

These are a few of my favorite things… 

To this day, my favorite place to go is their Farm-in-the-Zoo. 

As their website notes, Farm-In-The-Zoo opened in 1964, and today, incorporates domestic farm animals in their Main Barn, Livestock Barn and Dairy Barn has outdoor yards for cows, goats, pigs and ponies.

The Best Things in Life are Free… 

As Choose Chicago notes, The Lincoln Park Zoo is admission-free and open to the public seven days a week (It’s only closed on Christmas Day). It’s one of only three major free zoos left in the country. 

But…that doesn’t mean your food, drink, and souvenirs are free, nor is the vintage carousel inside the park, which is a must for kids! Those support the Zoo in their research and development work throughout the world, as well as keeping the animals cared for 24/7, 365 days a year. It also employs literally hundreds of Chicagoans annually. 

But what is free, and best about the Lincoln Park Zoo is that it is home to nearly 200 unique species from around the world, and to 1,200 animal residents, self-guided tours, and interactive activities with seals, polar bears, and penguins. You can also see “critically endangered eastern black rhinoceroses to thought-to-be-extinct Jamaican iguanas,” according to their website. 

And the Zoo receives new animals Some new arrivals include Kevin, an 11-year-old male Asian small-clawed otter at their Small Mammal-Reptile House.

In the beginning…it was a cemetery! 

According to the Encyclopedia of Chicago History, there was a cemetery at the site, active from the 1840s, which did not cease burials until 1866. When Lincoln Park was named in 1865 to honor the assassinated president, the honor anticipated a more park-like setting than existed at the time. 

Lincoln Park Zoo was founded in 1868, according to Wikipedia sources, when the Lincoln Park Commissioners were given a gift of two pairs of swans by Central Park’s Board of Commissioners in New York City. 

Other animals were soon donated to the park, including, a puma, two elk, three wolves, four eagles, and eight peacocks. As the Encyclopedia of Chicago Historynotes, the early decades of the twentieth century saw the development of the Lion House (1912), with its great hall, and the Primate House (1927).  This was a period of formal growth and organization for the zoo, by then a recreational destination and city treasure. 

It was also a media phenomenon in the early days of television. In 1945, Marlin Perkins  became the Zoo’s  director, hosting ‘Zoo Parade,’ and later, ‘Wild Kingdom, ’ bringing the Zoo to a generation of Baby Boomers. He created the Lincoln Park Zoological Society, which supports the Zoo’s mission to this day. As Wikipedia sources note, the facility underwent a dramatic transformation in the 1970s and 1980s, with the additions of many new, naturalistic exhibits. In 1995, the Zoological Society assumed management of the zoo from the Chicago Park District, which remains the owner. The Zoo would undergo major renovations and upgrade exhibits over the next 27 years, and continues today.

A must see is the Pritzker Family Children’s Zoo, which, as the website says, “blends expert animal care, interactive learning elements, and tactile experiences to teach visitors of all ages about the interdependency of living things. This kid-friendly home for North American animals lets visitors get nose to nose with red wolves, black bears, North American river otters, and American beavers. “

Event: Play! At Farm-in-the-Zoo

On Wednesdays through September 27, from10 am–12 pm, children ages 1–5 with a caregiver can “explore the sights, smells, and textures that nature has to offer during this free, open-ended experience. Take in a tall tale during story time, get messy at the process art station, sift and scoop at the sensory bin, or make music.” For more information, email learning@lpzoo.org or call 312-742-2056.

Summer Wine Fest

On Friday, July 28, from6:30pm–10pm, a decidedly more adult event is the Summer Wine Fest, featuring 50 wines from lead winemaking regions. For more information about this and other events, click here

Alison Moran-Powers and Dean’s Team Chicago