Thursday, October 12, 2006
As this year marks the 25th anniversary of his passing, I thought I should take a minute to pay my respects to Samson, the mammoth gorilla who ruled the Milwaukee County Zoo from 1950-1981. Samson was truly a Milwaukee icon, easily besting other pretenders to the throne such as Bob Uecker, The Culligan Man and "Bowling Game" host Howard "One Nut" Guernette (look it up). Samson was featured on mugs, t-shirts city bus passes, etc...they even showed him on the local evening news eating special holiday meals year after year. Dude ruled that 'burg. And when he died, it was front page news. And I mean lead story, right-under-the-masthead front page news.
Samson came to the Milwaukee Zoo from Cameroon in 1951 and soon became a zoo favorite, right up until his death from a massive heart attack on November 27, 1981, a dark day in my life (An autopsy showed that Samson had suffered 5 previous heart attacks that had gone undetected! Samson was tough.). Although Milwacky does have its weak spots, its zoo is not one of them. It has a great reputation, and deservedly so. I mean, come on...it has Monkey Island.
Do not drink the water around Monkey Island, as it is 87% poop.
At his peak, Samson weighed 652 pounds (the average weight for an adult male gorilla is 400-450 lbs). And he was grouchy. He sat on his throne ( which was actually a scale ) glowering at the slack-jawed yokels like a hirsute Archie Bunker, and was famous for rushing at the glass and pounding on it. I saw him do this many times, and it was impressive to say the least. But he was in actuality pretty docile and quite attached to his long-time handler, a fellow named Sam Mamalfa. They tried to mate him (Samson, not Sam) in 1975, but Samson would have none of it, apparently deciding that a monastic existence suited him best.
Samson's skeleton is now kept on display at the Milwaukee County Museum, where a new exhibit dedicated to him will soon be unveiled. Yeah! Samson like a mu-fucka! The exhibit will include the skeleton, video footage of Samson at the zoo, a death mask made of his face and more. A sculptor is also making a full-body replica of him, and you can watch a video diary of that here. Info on the exhibit itself and more about this legendary brute can be found here.