The Monday After: Remembering Monkey Island at Meyers Lake

·5 min read
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Canton Repository logo

The story George Sinclair told about Monkey Island at Meyers Lake Amusement Park more than three decades ago is either fondly repeated legend or laughable history.

Sinclair, the last caretaker of the community icon that was his family's business during his time and also for the decades that Meyers Lake park was owned by his father and grandfather, chuckled loudly as he recalled the walled-in and monkey-filled and moat-protected attraction at the amusement park northwest of Canton.

"They cleaned the island every Monday, and one time my dad said to the grounds foreman, 'When you come back for lunch, leave a board across (the moat),'" Sinclair said in an interview for this column in the summer of 1988.

Many will remember an "onslaught of monkeys" the city endured after what was termed in that earlier Monday After article as the grounds foreman's "planned mistake." Sinclair recalled it vividly.

"Forty-two monkeys got loose in Canton," he said. "They were loose for three weeks. Every day, we had free publicity. The last one we caught was at 12th and Cleveland. He was inside some woman's apartment, tearing up her drapes."

Recent event serves as reminder

We were reminded of the story about that circus-like promotional event earlier this year, when multiple news agencies reported about the trio of monkeys that had escaped from a trailer after a crash on a highway in Pennsylvania.

The story wasn't as laughable as Sinclair's tale. The three monkeys were "part of a shipment of 100 cynomolgus macaque monkeys from Mauritius to an unnamed CDC-approved facility used to quarantine foreign animals," reported NBC News in January. They were recovered the next day and had to be euthanized "after officials assessed possible health risks."

Still, it brought to mind that monkeys can act, well, like monkeys--wild animals that when given an opportunity will seek to find the wilderness from whence they came.

There are those who have since maintained that the escape described by Sinclair never happened, that the groundskeeper who was supervising the park grounds at that unidentified time in Meyers Lake history never had provided the plank as a simian escape route. That revision could be correct. Sinclair might just have been repeating a favorite story in family lore.

Or, the story might still have been factual, and some woman in Canton was sent purchasing a new set of window coverings.

Checking the newspaper archives

What easily can be determined is that Monkey Island did exist for a relatively short time at Meyers Lake Amusement Park and, according to several articles published in the Repository through the years, many monkeys did escape from it.

"Monks Again Leap Beyond Confines," said one headline in The Evening Repository on Aug. 8, 1927. Apparently, it all had happened before at the popular fun spot for entertainment in the summer sun.

"Inhabitants of Monkey Island at Meyers Lake park caused their second sensation of the season Sunday when 18 of the larger animals escaped the confines and sought the freedom of the park," an article in that day's edition said. "Continued practice in getting a running jump from the island enabled them to reach the wall enclosing the zoo; escape was easy."

Baskets left unattended by picnickers at the park "were stripped of food," the article noted. Neighbors were roused.

"Harold Rosenberry, who occupies a park cottage, was awakened early Monday by thumping on the roof of the cottage, and found monkeys in the windows and doorways, as well as on the roof.

"Efforts by attendants to capture the animals have proved futile."

Chaos repeated in later escape

Another in a number of simian escapes occurred in the summer of 1938, albeit a smaller breakout.

"The monkey chase began Friday when two of the island colony at Meyers Lake park made their escape," said a front-page article published on Saturday Aug. 20, 1938, in what was then called The Canton Repository and The Canton Daily News.

The article reported news that indicated that there would be a sadder outcome to this story than the tale Sinclair later told.

"One was recaptured yesterday by lake employees, but the other remained at large. The management notified police to be on the lookout for the animal and to kill it on sight."

Police officers in squad cars "kept watch all afternoon and night but the monkey managed to keep out of sight," the newspaper reported.

"About 6:30 a.m. today police received a call that a monkey was upsetting the calm of residents at Clarendon Avenue and Ninth St. NW by running around on the housetops."

So, the hunt by police resumed. Patrolmen Henry Swallen and R.E. Leonard responded initially and were told that when first seen by residents of the neighborhood the monkey was "running over the roofs of the homes" in the 900-block of Clarendon.

"The animal appeared to be seeking an open window," the Repository reported. "When the monkey crossed the street to the Waltz home, the family decided it was time for action. When police arrived, it had moved south on Clarendon and played hide and seek for half an hour with the officers."

The monkey was cornered, the story said, at the Clarendon Avenue home of Jacob Karper.

"Finally after coaxing and threats had failed to bring the monkey within the clutches of the law, Patrolman Swallen shot it."

Nobody reportedly laughed. This part of history was all too sadly real.

Reach Gary at gary.brown.rep@gmail.com. On Twitter: @gbrownREP.

This article originally appeared on The Repository: The Monday After: Remembering Monkey Island at Meyers Lake