Black-and-white pictures reveal life at Benson's Wild Animal Farm

  • Benson's Wild Animal Farm in New Hampshire was home to a menagerie of exotic species from tigers to elephants
  • The star attraction was a silverback gorilla who ran for president in the New Hampshire primary as a publicity stunt
  • Expansion work during 1932-33 saw the opening of a Wild Animal Circus, which featured numerous animal shows

There aren't many zoos that can lay claim to having a presidential candidate in their midst, but Benson's Wild Animal Farm in New Hampshire was no ordinary zoo.

It was home to a menagerie of exotic species - tigers, elephants and bears - and a giant silverback gorilla called Tony, who ran for President of the United States as a publicity stunt in 1980. He was the star attraction and his size - he was one of the largest gorillas to be held in captivity - earned him the nickname Colossus.    

The stunt wasn't the first foray into politics for the zoo. Founded in 1926 by John Benson, a friend of the 26th US president, Teddy Roosevelt, the park used its location in an early presidential primary state to its advantage, by renting out many of its animals, including elephants and donkeys, for political rallies.

Expansion work during 1932-33 saw the opening of a Wild Animal Circus, which featured performances from animals such as tigers, chimps and elephants, an array of amusement rides and even a 'live carousel' where young children could ride on the backs of real spotted reindeer. 

The park changed hands several times but no one was able to arrest dwindling visitor numbers and the park closed in 1987. Now the public can access the abandoned animal cages as the area has been opened to the public as a park. 

These fascinating black-and-white pictures capture the zoo in its heyday.

An elephant drinks out of a bottle at the Benson's Wild Animal Farm in New Hampshire, which opened in 1926

An elephant drinks out of a bottle at the Benson's Wild Animal Farm in New Hampshire, which opened in 1926

Play time: Two chimpanzees are photographed travelling round on a tricycle, with the primate on the back holding onto its partner

Play time: Two chimpanzees are photographed travelling round on a tricycle, with the primate on the back holding onto its partner

The bear necessities: Two small cubs are handfed by a woman holding two bottles, as onlookers observe nearby

The bear necessities: Two small cubs are handfed by a woman holding two bottles, as onlookers observe nearby

Performances were regularly held at the animal park. Here five dogs perform a trick in unison, commanded by a trainer 

Performances were regularly held at the animal park. Here five dogs perform a trick in unison, commanded by a trainer 

A tiger leaps between two podiums in its cage. Early expansion work during 1932-33 saw the opening of a Wild Animal Circus, which featured performances from animals such as tigers, chimps and elephants

A tiger leaps between two podiums in its cage. Early expansion work during 1932-33 saw the opening of a Wild Animal Circus, which featured performances from animals such as tigers, chimps and elephants

Adults and children peer tentatively into an enclosure with large pythons - just one of the many exotic species that were on display at the farm

Adults and children peer tentatively into an enclosure with large pythons - just one of the many exotic species that were on display at the farm

Many flocked to see the park's large cats in action. Here four lions pose in formation on podiums as part of a show

Many flocked to see the park's large cats in action. Here four lions pose in formation on podiums as part of a show

Americans were able to receive elephant rides around the park, which ran until dwindling numbers forced it to close in 1987

Americans were able to receive elephant rides around the park, which ran until dwindling numbers forced it to close in 1987

An elephant stands with one leg balanced on a barrel and the other raised in the air, as part of a performances

An elephant stands with one leg balanced on a barrel and the other raised in the air, as part of a performances

On the move: Two elephants are led through the animal park, with the rear one holding onto the other's tail 

On the move: Two elephants are led through the animal park, with the rear one holding onto the other's tail 

Lunchtime at the zoo: Two giraffes poke their heads over their enclosures to tuck into a bucket of foliage, which is attached to the wall

Lunchtime at the zoo: Two giraffes poke their heads over their enclosures to tuck into a bucket of foliage, which is attached to the wall

A large skeleton on display at the zoo, which was opened by a friend of Teddy Roosevelt, John Benson

A large skeleton on display at the zoo, which was opened by a friend of Teddy Roosevelt, John Benson

A man rides an elephant, which is surrounded by large crowds at the New Hampshire attraction

A man rides an elephant, which is surrounded by large crowds at the New Hampshire attraction

An inside look: A monkey is pictured in chains at the animal farm. Today the public can walk around the abandoned animal cages, as the area has been opened as a recreational park

An inside look: A monkey is pictured in chains at the animal farm. Today the public can walk around the abandoned animal cages, as the area has been opened as a recreational park

 

 

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