MANGUM, Okla. (KFOR) — There are only remnants left of the old Mangum Safari Park about a mile west of town, a few leaky cages and a storage building.
“It’s been 45 years since I was back here,” says former animal keeper Martha Young.
She remembers working here when this was a zoo, and its star attraction was a jaguar named Geronimo that seemed pretty tame to her.
“Geronimo and I was real good friends together,” she recalls.
In 1974, Ruby Foster and her Tulsa business partner Frank Ready had big plans.
Frank had rescued Geronimo and two cougars from a facility in Arkansas.
Ruby was the colorful owner of the Hotel Franklin.
Young says, “She was a very sweet, exotic woman.”
Martha remembers her old office and hearing the stories about the alligator she kept in the coat closet.
“She loved surprises,” she smiles.
It was Frank’s idea to build a zoo. Ruby donated 22 acres and work began.
But before permanent cages could be built, Geronimo escaped.
He ran free for five days before someone spotted him in the crawl space of an abandoned house.
Assistant Fire Chief R.V. Hendricks got a close-up view through a hole in the floor before he flushed him out with a fire hose.
“I was face to face with him about a foot apart,” he chuckles. “It didn’t take me long to look at him.”
The zoo lasted about a year, from 1974 to 1975.
A plea for a half-million dollars in public funds didn’t come through, and so the big plans for a 300-plus acre safari park fell flat.
Historian Stephen Dock, at the Old Greer County Museum, did a lot of digging but so far, hasn’t found out what became of the big cats.
They didn’t escape again. They just sort of faded away.
“I have no idea yet,” he states. “I’m still looking.”
The hotel closed in 1986.
This hard luck palace in southwest Oklahoma, which opened just before the big stock market crash of 1929, is for sale if anyone is interested.
Martha Young insists, “The people were interested in it at the time.”
The ‘Tiger King’ and ‘Tiger Queen’ of Mangum had their short time in the sun.
But the memories retain their brilliant pattern.
Ruby and Frank had to go to court to keep their big cats in Mangum.
Federal wildlife officials wanted to seize them because they didn’t have proper papers.
The zoo won their battle in actual court but lost in the court of public opinion.
‘Is This a Great State or What?’ is sponsored by WEOKIE.