Is it myth or fact? Before there was a Planet of the Apes, there was an island in an Audubon Park lagoon -- "Monkey Island" -- where simians romped free and uncaged. Did monkeys live on "Monkey Island"? If so, when?
Yes and no. There was a Rhesus monkey island in Audubon Park, but it was in the zoo. Dating from the 1930s, "monkey island" was Audubon's first moated, natural barrier exhibit. There were swings and ropes to climb and a man-made cave, all intended to provide a natural setting.
But that early attempt to make life more pleasant for the animals is only a small part in the history of our Audubon Zoological Garden that now has achieved international acclaim.
Attempts to build a full-scale zoo began in 1919 with a flight cage. Generous contributions by private citizens soon gave us a raccoon tree, a deer paddock, a mammal cage, as well as an aquarium and a sea lion pool donated by Sigmund Odenheimer. We got our first elephant in 1924.
However, there was never enough money to feed and care for the animals, their cages, and the zoo grounds. So the zoo officials went to the public asking them to vote for a special property tax to help support the zoo. The referendum failed.
Then came the crash of 1929. But the Works Progress Administration soon came to the rescue with more than $250,00, and many new buildings were erected in the 1930s, one of which was the "monkey island" you asked about. The new zoo opened in 1938, but it too was plagued with money problems and lack of public interest.
Finally, in the 1970s, there was enough private financial support for the zoo and a plan to transform the zoo into an "educational and cultural facility, as well as a recreational center ... with the animals housed in natural settings."
And in 1972, the citizens of New Orleans passed a referendum -- thanks in large part to volunteers and groups like the Friends of the Zoo -- that would generate several millions of dollars for the zoo.
And now, at last, we have a magnificent zoo that is even celebrated in song!
I was told that in one of the cemeteries in New Orleans there is a tomb of someone famous whose entire will is engraved on the sides. Is this true?
Absolutely! The monument to Alexander Milne, who died in 1838, is located in St. Louis II Cemetery. On the granite foundation is engraved his will in which he left much of his fortune to establish asylums in New Orleans for orphan boys and girls and to support asylums already in existence.
Milne was born in Scotland in 1742. He worked as a footman for a duke, but reportedly left for America when he was ordered to powder his red hair.
In 1790, he arrived in New Orleans where he established a hardware business. He also made a great deal of money from his brick-making business because New Orleans was in the process of rebuilding after the great fire of 1788.
Milne used his money to buy large tracts of land along Bayou St. John and on the lakefront, believing that the swampland would one day be valuable. When he died at age 94, he owned 22 miles of property along the lake extending from Jefferson Parish all the way to the Rigolets.
Milneburg, the town founded by the thrifty Scot, had as its main street Edinburgh named after the city in Milne's native land. But in 1923, the name was changed to Hibernia. He named other streets for cities as well such as Hamburg, Paris, Brussels, Havana, New Orleans, Madrid, Vienna and New York.
Milneburg was the first summer resort established on the lakefront. There were seafood restaurants, picnic grounds and pavilions where dances were regularly held. It was also the terminus of the Pontchartrain Railroad, built in 1831, which ran some five miles down Elysian Fields Avenue.
The town of Milneburg kept his name until it eventually became a part of the growing city of New Orleans.