Wednesday, April 29, 2009

John Daniel #1 (From Richard Reynolds)

!cid_X_MA1_1240867110@aol, originally uploaded by bucklesw1.

This is the original John Daniel gorilla that animal dealer John Benson acquired from Miss Alyse (or Alyce)Cunningham which he, in turn, sold to RBBB in 1921. Benson was quite candid in stating that he did not tell Miss Cunningham that he intended to sell John Daniel to an American Circus and studiously avoided doing so.

This photo would seem to show John Daniel in either the shipping crate by which he traveled to New York or in the apartment made especially for him in the old Garden. He arrived in New York from England on March 28, 1921, two days after RBBB opened there on March 26th.

Accounts differ as to just how he was exhibited - -in a cage wagon (which this is not) or in the exhibition apartment built for him, apparently in the menagerie. As usual, the menagerie was set up in basement of the old Garden. There are several newspaper accounts which mention the apartment and the crowds seeing him there. This photo looks like the apartment.

With his health noticeably failing, on or about April 15th he was removed from public view and put in a another specially arranged apartment on the second floor of the Garden overlooking 26th Street. In desperation the show cabled Miss Cunningham, persuading her to come to America to try and save the animal. She left immediately on the SS Celtic but did not arrive on time. He died at the Garden on April 17, 1921, thirteen days before the end of the show's run at there. On April 18th his remains were sent to the American Museum of Natural History. Thus ended the brief career of America's first circus gorilla.

Some further info on how Miss Cunningham got him. When John Daniel first arrived in London from Africa in 1918, he was acquired by a big London department store for exhibition and sale in its pet department. The name of the store is not given but it was almost certainly Harrod's which did in fact have a large pet department.

A certain Major Rupert Penny of the Royal Air Force spotted John Daniel at the store in the fall of 1918. He bought the gorilla and took it to his home and, around Christmas, gave it to his aunt Miss Cunningham.

While John Daniel was with Miss Cunningham, arrangements were made to show him at the London zoo during the summer months. In the mornings she would take him to the zoo in a taxi. While there he was shown to the public in a big outdoor cage attached to the lion house. She would fetch him in the evenings and take him back to her home.

Then John Benson came calling and the rest is history.


Anonymous said...

Her name was Edna Cunningham, not Alyse?

Anonymous said...

Hello, I've been following your blog and have to say it is very well done! I am working on a possible documentary about circus gorillas & have in my possession 5 old home movies from the 1920's with footage of "Daniel I", "Congo", "Bamboo" & "Dinah". Some of the footage is taken at Sarasota, FL in 1928 and shows "Congo" being unloaded from a Ringling wagon and then being studied by the famous Dr.Yerkes. I can send you some stills from the film for your blog if interested?