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November 12

1794

John Ball, the man who gave the original forty acres to create John Ball Park in Grand Rapids, was born in New Hampshire. In the course of his long and interesting life, John Ball was a teacher, a lawyer, a realtor, an explorer, and a legislator. He was also the man who gave the original 40 acres to create John Ball Park.

John BallWhen he died in 1884, John Ball left the land to the City of Grand Rapids to be used as a park. By the 1890's, “the Ball 40” had become Grand Rapids’ "Central Park." City Commission records from 1891 provide the first mention of animals at the park. A debate had occurred as to whether money should be allocated to purchase some animals to supplement the orphaned and injured animals currently being housed by the park’s workers. City officials decided to not use city funds, but some of them made personal contributions and several animals were purchased for what eventually became an impressive zoo. In time, John Ball Park became the official name and the City increased its size to 140 acres. A conservatory, a dance parlor, bandstand, carriage trails, swimming pool, formal gardens, and the zoo made it a very popular recreational spot in the city.

In 1925, the city of Grand Rapids honored John Ball by commissioning a statue of him to be placed in the park he helped create. Pompeo Coppini sculpted the bronze statue and based his design on one submitted by a local school girl. The statue depicts John Ball and two of his children. After the Great Depression began in 1929, the Zoo fell on very hard times. Most of the animals were given to other zoos that could afford to care for them. However, times were so hard that some animals, like the buffalo and deer, were butchered to help feed the poor. Only a few animals remained at the city zoo.

But after the Second World War was over, prosperity returned to the region and by 1949, concerned citizens and determined zoo-advocates like Katherine Whinery had begun to make a difference and resurrect the John Ball Zoo. Grand Rapids offered to hire a zoo director, rebuild and maintain the Zoo if the private citizens would form an organization to assist with private contributions to offset the cost of building new exhibits and purchasing animals. Consequently, the John Ball Zoological Society was formed.

In 1949, Fred Meyer, who had been working at the Lincoln Park Zoo in Chicago, was hired as the zoo’s first director. Monkey Island soon became the first of many new exhibits and in succeeding decades a new zoo was constructed in John Ball Park. In 1986, the City of Grand Rapids and the County of Kent carried on several years of investigation and compromise to find a way to better fund the cultural facilities in the City. In 1989, Kent County purchased both the Zoo and the Park. In 1995, as part of a larger plan of renovation and expansion, the Living Shores Aquarium, Bald Eagle Aviary, new concession plaza and ramping system were completed. In May of 1996, the African Forest Edge Exhibit opened. The Zoo’s new animal hospital was constructed and opened in the spring of 1999. And the Mokomoboso Valley Chimpanzee Exhibit opened on May 25, 2001. Yet another phase of construction is currently underway. A new entrance and the Giant Steps Exhibit, which includes elephants, are expected to be finished in 2005.

1904

Herbert Hughs of Sault Ste. Marie cut the head off of a chicken which then lived for seventeen days. It is not entirely uncommon for a chicken to run around once its head has been chopped off. However, this usually lasts for no more than a few minutes. When Herbert Hughs of Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan cut the head off a chicken he was planning to eat for dinner, he was shocked when the chicken began running around his kitchen. What was more, the chicken kept moving for seventeen days after that! This was a headline story in the Sault Ste. Marie paper, and for two weeks spectators took careful notice of the Black Minorca chicken. Hughs was the owner of the Belvidere Hotel and the brief influx of tourists was no doubt good for business.