Dee-Dee Diamond
3 min readAug 29, 2023

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Brooklyn’s Polar Bears & Monkeys

1940's-1960

The Prospect Park Zoo, to this Brooklyn little girl, it was Shangri-La.

A magical escape from the shabby, cement Brownsville block I lived on.

All it took was a nickel to ride the subway to this joy.

The Zoo had lions, tigers, seals. gorillas, zebras, black bears, polar bears, elephants, monkeys, all kinds of colorful, noisy exotic birds, snakes, etc.

Its majestic entrance with its giant black marble panthers guarding the broad winding staircase, started my heart pounding in anticipation of what lied ahead.

I loved the animals of the zoo, so I visited them regularly.

My favorites were the pair of husky white Polar bears.

Imagine Polar Bears in Brooklyn, a short ride away.

The crowds & I marveled at them thru the high spiked wrought iron cage, encircling their roomy compound. They climbed into & out of their black rock icy mountainous caves. Then they’d jump so gracefully into their lake, frolic about for us visitors to enjoy…along with them.

The zookeeper would feed them whole fish from straw baskets which they would jump and catch in their mouths. We kids would clap each time they snagged a fish. They were happy and so were we.

They’d eat the fish heartily…then cuddle together to nap in a sunny spot.

So cute & sweet I thought. These same bears were there throughout my Brooklyn years…treasured friends I could count on.

Well, “the Brothers Polar” became crime victims, while minding their own business, in their familiar habitant. A deranged, stoned creep, climbed from the hill above… to jump into their caged home… one night.

The bears were frightened by that creature prancing about their sanctuary. So, they attacked him…mauled the invader.

Can you blame them?

When the zookeepers arrived & witnessed the killing of the man, he shot both my beautiful polar bears…dead! 😱😩

The Monkey House

1967–1971

When my husband & little girls moved back to New York, after years of living in North Carolina, we settled on Long Island.

That was suburbia which as a Brooklyn gal… I did not like. My new friends did not know …being born and raised “in the sticks”, (as I called it) much about Brooklyn. circa 1940's-1950's.

I reminisced so about the Prospect Park Zoo, & since our toddlers loved monkeys, I talked them into going to my Brooklyn. I hadn’t been back to for years.

We drove an hour from Long Island to Prospect Park Zoo. The little ones were whipped up to see live monkeys playing, eating bananas, and swinging.

We parked the car then found The Monkey House, after getting a paper map of the large zoo. As we entered the building our small kids were ecstatic “Look Mommy… Monkeys, Monkeys”! 😁😁😁😁🧡🧡🧡🧡

Well, those same children were battling for MORE “monkeys-monkeys”, but we ran with terror from scene after ONLY a few minutes. 🏃‍♂️🏃‍♀️🏃‍♂️🏃‍♂️💨

Why? Some monster teens had given the monkeys lit cigarettes. The mimicking monkeys were smoking them, swinging, then flipping them towards us. We grabbed our crying, screaming toddlers who didn’t want to leave the monkeys.

We ran with our kids to our car… back to Long Island.

I never went there again.

The Prospect Park Zoo closed in 1983 I read from afar… another piece of my childhood erased.

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Dee-Dee Diamond

Born & raised in Brooklyn, 80 years, ago. Interviewed by The Brooklyn Historical Society. I published a funny book called” First Stop Brooklyn” it's on Amazon.