Cowtown Extra: Fort Worth Zookeeper Ham Hittson and His Forest Park Friends

by Paula Bosse

FW-zoo_hamilton-hittson_fawn_062937_UTAZookeeper Hittson and tiny friend… (click for larger image)

by Paula Bosse

Today, Fort Worth. I was looking for photos of the old Forest Park in Oak Cliff (which was renamed Marsalis Park in 1925) and came across photos of the Forest Park Zoo. A search on the internet showed me that there was also a Forest Park Zoo in Fort Worth. I’ve never actually been a big fan of zoos, but I saw the photo above and was won over by its sheer cuteness. So let’s just take a little trip westward and enjoy some photos of cute animals, most of which feature zookeeper Henry Hamilton (“Ham”) Hittson.

Ham Hittson (1912-1966) began working as a zookeeper at the Forest Park zoo in the early 1930s — if his obituary is correct, he became the zoo’s director in 1933 — at the age of only 21! During World War II he served for two years in the Coast Guard, assigned to work with sentry and attack dogs and with patrol horses. After the war he returned to the zoo (he was the director of the zoo for 21 years) and eventually became the director of the Fort Worth Park Department. His 1966 obituary (he was only 54 when he died) noted that he was instrumental in forming the Fort Worth Zoological Association. And, well, these photos are very sweet.

(All photos are from the University of Texas at Arlington Libraries. Click pictures to see larger images; click the link below each photo for more information.)

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The photo at the top is my favorite — it shows Hittson with a tiny fawn born the previous day. The photo above and the one below were taken on June 29, 1937.

FW-zoo_hamilton-hittson_fawn_062937-b_UTAMore info here

Below, Hittson with a new baby lion cub named Will (June 29, 1939).

FW-zoo_hamilton-hittson_lion-cub_062939_UTAMore info here

Actor Jimmy Stewart stopped by the zoo on May 22, 1953 to check out the zoo’s new rhinoceros, Marilyn Monroe. F. Kirk Johnson, zoological board president, is at the left and Hittson, then park department director, is at the right.

FW-zoo_jimmy-stewart_052253_UTAMore info here

Back to Ham’s zookeeper days: in the photo below (taken on August 2, 1940), he’s standing with one of the zoo’s top attractions, an elephant named Queen Tut. He’s bidding her farewell as he is about to leave for New York where he will pick up a baby elephant to be her companion. (Hittson and the zoo’s veterinarian brought the one-year old elephant back with them in a trailer — they must have attracted a lot of stunned looks along the highway as they drove back from New York.)

FW-zoo_hamilton-hittson_elephant_080240_UTAMore info here

The arrival of this new elephant was big news — there were almost daily updates in the pages of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. In order to buy the elephant, the zoo had had to take out a loan from the bank, and in what was both a speedy way to pay off the debt and a clever way to garner publicity, there followed a successful drive to raise money to pay off the “mortgage” — countless school children happily did their parts by contributing pennies, nickels, and dimes in the fundraising effort and then flocked to the zoo to see the newest member of the zoo family and welcome her to Fort Worth.

And here’s Queen Tut with her new little pal, Penny, on September 10, 1940.

FW-zoo_queen-tut-and-penny_091040_UTAMore info here

Awww.

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There are tons of photos of the Forest Park Zoo in the UTA Libraries Special Collections, here (20 pages’ worth!).

Click photos to see larger images.

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Copyright © 2017 Paula Bosse. All Rights Reserved.

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