Meet Rudolph H. Bell, Head Chef of the Bronx Zoo

Chefs are, as a general rule, an exceedingly temperamental bunch. Rudolph H. Bell, head Chef of the Bronx Zoo was an exception, and he met his daily task of feeding the Zoo’s animals with good humor. He’d been with the Zoo at the time it was founded in 1899, have taken the job after working in the circus. The animals under his care had ballooned from 4 to 3,262, and many of them were finicky eaters. Bridget, the reigning queen of the chimpanzees, refused to perform her signature trick of posing like an actress unless her rice contained raisins. The two baboons, Jack Dempsey and Babe Ruth, would often throw their meals at observers rather than eat it; Chef Bell only served them food which would do little damage in case it ended up as a projectile rather than dinner. At 300-years-old, Buster the tortoise demanded the privileges of age, and received a daily slice of watermelon.

What the other animals lacked in picky eating they made up for in volume. Judging by his name Peter Murphy was a hippopotamus of Irish extraction; he devoured 6 heads of cabbage, 9 bunches of carrots, 18 loaves of bread, and 36 bananas at a single sitting. Each of the bears received 20 loaves of bread per day, and 5 pounds of beef and 3 pounds of fish per week, and the seals went through barrels of butterfish.

Bell’s efforts weren’t confined to the kitchen, after years of working with animals the Zoo considered him an expert of sorts, to be consulted in unusual situations. Sometime in the 1910s, one of the buffalos gave birth to a rambunctious youngster. In a moment of absent mindedness, Mother Buffalo let Junior wander into a miry spot, and in an effort to extract himself Junior broke his leg. Realizing his predicament, several keepers went inside the pen to render assistance. Doubting the sincerity of their motives, Mother charged the group and the keepers scattered.

They sought the advice of Chef Bell, who concocted a scheme with his assistant, Loring. A former cowboy, Loring entered the pen mounted on a pony, and by fast riding around mother and yelling at the top of his lungs, sought to distract Mother while Bell scrambled to pick up the calf and run to safety. Everything went according to plan until Junior let out a plaintive bleat. When Mother heard it, she charged Bell with her head down. Loring tried to ride between them, but the pony would have none of it, and threw him.  Bell was on his own.

“I looked behind me,” he said, “and saw her coming. Dropping the calf, I made for the fence. But the next thing I knew, I didn’t know anything! Afterward, when I woke up in the hospital, and was strong enough to receive company, they told me how it happened. She picked me up on her horns and tossed me into the air. They say I flew through some tree branches like a bird and landed outside the corral. I had to have an operation then for my injuries; and two years after that I had to have another operation.” Meanwhile, back at the Zoo, the keepers found a solution to the Junior problem. They covered a two-wheeled cart with a box about the size of a piano crate, closed at the top and on the sides, and open at the bottom. Two men got inside and rolled the contraption inside the pen. Mother charged it repeatedly, but could make no impression upon it. The cart was placed over Junior, he was hauled inside, and ten minutes later found himself in the Zoo’s hospital.

Bell eventually returned to his kitchen. In a single day, the Zoo’s denizens consumed 175 loaves of bread, 250 pounds of beef, 15 heads of cabbage, 36 bunches of carrots, 2 barrels of potatoes, 450 bananas, 150 apples, 4 dozen oranges, 15 pounds of boiled rice, 25 quarts of milk, and 500 pounds of hay, not to mention the assorted birdseed, extra seasonal vegetables, the various rodents and insects consumed at the Reptile House, and of course, Buster’s watermelon. To prepare it all, Chef Bell had a gigantic combination kitchen and butcher shop at his disposal, complete with two huge refrigerators, a sink so large one could bath in it, and three big tables at which he and his assistants doled out the animal’s meals. Chef Bell retired in 1935, much beloved by his fellow Zoo employees, and most of the animals; Mother Buffalo was suspected of still bearing a grudge.


A Fantastic Fourth from 1916

Happy humanity crowded Atlantic City, New Jersey on July 4, 1916. Many a Philadelphian motored over for the day, motivated either by the weather, or by the new stylish bathing costumes making a debut that year; crisp taffeta with an abbreviated skirt, from which peeped frilled knickerbockers.

Sixty miles south, Cape May played host to the U.S. Navy; three submarines and two surface ships, the U.S.S. Vixen and the U.S.S. Bushnell (side note: the Bushnell would later survive the Pearl Harbor attack), were in the harbor, and the Corinthian Yacht Club did everything in its power to entertain the officers and men. The navy men staged a mock attack for the spectators’ pleasure.

A parade in the afternoon was delayed by a Ford automobile that refused to start until coaxed with repeated crankings by an irate driver; once it got going the parade featured floats depicting George Washington, Uncle Sam, the Goddess of Liberty, and the like. The affair concluded with a reading of the Declaration of Independence, and all joined in to sing Hail Columbia.

Folks in Philadelphia had fun too. 10,000 folks gathered in Independence Square. The State Fencibles, Philadelphia’s militia, paraded down Broad Street, looking magnificent in their bearskin hats.

Mrs. Clara Driscoll Sevior presented Mayor Smith with the Texas state flag, a gift to Philadelphia from the people of the Lone Star State. The mayor gave a rousing speech, followed by Congressmen Scott, who urged preperadness for war; Pancho Villa was causing trouble on the Mexican border, and the U.S. might be drawn into the war raging in Europe. At noon, the crowd grew silent as the bell of the State House rang 48 times, once for each state of the Union. As the last clang rang out, they rose to their feet, gave three cheers, and sang:

My country tis of thee,
Sweet land of liberty,
Of thee I sing.
Land where my fathers died!
Land of the Pilgrim’s pride!
From every mountain side,
Let freedom ring!

My native country, thee,
Land of the noble free,
Thy name I love.
I love thy rocks and rills,
Thy woods and templed hills;
My heart with rapture fills
Like that above.

Let music swell the breeze,
And ring from all the trees
Sweet freedom’s song.
Let mortal tongues awake;
Let all that breathe partake;
Let rocks their silence break,
The sound prolong.

Our father’s God to, Thee,
Author of liberty,
To Thee we sing.
Long may our land be bright
With freedom’s holy light;
Protect us by Thy might,
Great God, our King!

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