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Bobo the Gorilla (1951-1968)

HistoryLink.org Essay 1369 : Printer-Friendly Format

Bobo the gorilla entertained visitors to the Great Ape House at the Woodland Park Zoo in Seattle for 15 years. He was a mainstay attraction for both young and old. A somewhat grumpy gorilla, Bobo loved to charge the impact-resistant window near his nest whenever children were present. Of course, this thrilled the children to no end. Bobo's birthdays were always big occasions, as many people loved seeing Bobo swat his birthday cake all over his cage.

From Africa to Anacortes

Bobo was born in French Equatorial Africa, but was abandoned by his mother. Discovered by a hunter, he was brought to America. In 1951, Bill Lowman purchased Bobo in Columbus, Ohio, and brought him to his Anacortes residence where he lived with his parents. According to Bobo's human sister, Claudia Lowman-Miles, Bobo became part of this three-generation household. Bobo's main caretaker and "mother figure" was Bill's mother, Mrs. Jean Lowman. Bill's father, Raymond Lowman, also helped with Bobo's care, as did Bill, who was a commercial salmon fisherman and had to be away for periods of time.

The Lowmans raised Bobo as if he were a human child. At the age of 22 months, he had outgrown his "home" -- he broke dishes when he sat down to the dinner table, etc. -- and the Lowmans took him to Woodland Park Zoo in 1953. He grew to six and a half feet in height.

A Fruitless Union

Zookeepers hoped that Woodland Park's female gorilla, Fifi, would be a fine mate for Bobo and that they could produce more gorillas, but Bobo would have none of it. More often than not, he would knock Fifi for a loop with a raucous swing of his arm, sending her away in a huff. Needless to say, their "marriage" bore no fruit.

On February 22, 1968, Bobo the gorilla, a resident of the zoo since 1953, died at the age of 17. Despite the best efforts of zookeepers and his companion Fifi, he left no heirs.

Bobo Beyond Death

After Bobo passed away, taxidermist Chris Klineburger preserved Bobo beyond death. For many years after, Bobo was a major attraction at the Museum of History and Industry, fixed rigid inside a display case, staring out with glass eyes. Later he was rotated into storage with other historic, Seattle "artifacts."

In June 2000, 32 years after his death, Bobo was given a major dusting off by his very own taxidermist, Chris Klineburger. Once again, the six-and-a-half-foot tall gorilla returned to display at the Museum of History and Industry.

Sources:
Walt Crowley, Rites of Passage: A Memoir of the Sixties in Seattle (Seattle: University of Washington Press, 1995), 252; Don Duncan, Washington: The First One Hundred Years, 1889-1989 (Seattle: Seattle Times Company, 1989), 100; Isaac Baker, "Bobo, Seattle's Beloved Gorilla, is Back and Ready to Show his Stuff," Seattle Post-Intelligencer, June 28, 2000, p.1-B; Claudia Lowman-Miles to HistoryLink.org, July 26, 2005, in possession of HistoryLink.org, Seattle, Washington.
Note: This essay was corrected on August 5, 2005, with information supplied by Bobo's human sister, Claudia Lowman-Miles.


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Bobo the gorilla, Seattle, ca. 1955
Courtesy Woodland Park Zoo


Bobo, prior to his donation to the Woodland Park Zoo, 1953



Bobo the gorilla, 1960s
Postcard


 
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