Ivan the gorilla arrived in Tacoma in the sultry summer of 1964.
It was August, the same month three civil rights workers disappeared in Mississippi. A few weeks later, the Warren Commission would conclude that President Kennedy's assassin acted alone. America's space program was 3 years old, and the moon was within its grasp.
Ivan was perhaps a year old, and no one expected the frail infant to survive.
Half a dozen presidential administrations have since passed. The United States has been transfigured by anti-war protests, race riots and a sexual revolution.
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In a dim corner at Tacoma's B&I shopping mall, next to a T-shirt shop, Ivan lives much as he has for the past three decades. Four hundred pounds of charcoal fur and strength, he squats in front of a painted jungle, one knee propped up, one arm flung over the tire he lugs around as a toy.
Sometimes he swings on a tangle of ropes hanging from the ceiling of his concrete compound. Sometimes he slams his ham-hock shoulders into the glass windows where visitors cluster. Other times he sits quietly, gazing at children staring shyly back.
His keepers play with him through the bars and hatches of the cage - tug of war with burlap, finger painting when he is in an artistic mood, foot races from one part of the compound to another when he's feisty.
They feed him parboiled celery, peeled apples, monkey chow and an occasional sip of a latte or Coke.
They talk to him like a child.
"Gimme those toes, " coos Tonya Hill, who has been taking care of Ivan for 10 years. "C'mon, bonehead. I'm gonna tickle those toes."
At night, the keepers leave. The gorilla is alone, with late-night TV his sole companion. Except for one animal in Florida, Ivan is the only gorilla in the U.S. to still live as most apes did in 1964 - in an indoor compound, isolated from his own species.
Thirty years ago, in a town humming with smelter workers, sawyers and buzz-cut soldiers headed for Vietnam, a solitary gorilla behind glass wasn't an oddity. He was part of the carnival atmosphere at Tacoma's most popular shopping spot.
In the decorous '90s, many find the scene as shocking as a circus freak show.
"Ivan is living like a ghost from the past, " said Allison Argo, producer of the National Geographic documentary "The Urban Gorilla, " which made the Tacoma ape a national cause celebre. "He is the solitary gorilla we all remember from childhood."
Former B&I owner Ron Irwin, whose father, Earl, founded the store, argues that it's not fair to compare a situation rooted in the past to the standards of the present.
"People want to judge the B&I based on the political correctness of the '90s, " he said. "But things were different in the '50s and '60s. Views of animals were different."
A carousel, llamas, cheetahs - and Ivan
Earl Irwin was, by most accounts, an animal lover. He was also an unparalleled entrepreneur who never passed up a promotional opportunity.
He rolled into Tacoma after World War II with an eighth-grade education, a back riddled with shrapnel from the Normandy invasion, and a vision of a store where shoppers could find anything they wanted under a single roof.
Starting with military surplus and hardware in 1946, he opened the B&I on South Tacoma Way and proclaimed it "The Biggest Little Store in the World." When surplus dried up, Irwin branched out, adding a Quonset hut full of clothes and sporting goods and expanding the hardware department.
He also poured on the gimmicks.
Early ads boasted of Tacoma's first sidewalk sale. "Meet the Cisco Kid!" screamed another. Once, Irwin piled 250,000 pounds of ice in the parking lot and offered $500 to the person who guessed when it would melt.
Earl Iwin's most glorious gimmick was serendipitous.
In the late 1950s, a traveling circus ran into customs trouble. Six llamas, a cheetah and other exotic animals were turned back at the Canadian border. The circus master asked Irwin to board the animals, and "The World Famous Circus Store" was added to the B&I's self-accolades.
Earl Irwin and the big top were a natural match. He installed seals in an indoor pool. Sammy the baby elephant performed by a full-sized carousel. Goggle-eyed kids crowded the aisles to see the bears, chimpanzees, flamingos and lions.
Ivan was among the last big animals added to the menagerie, recalls Ruben Johnston. As manager of the B&I pet store, Johnston also served as general zoo keeper. At Irwin's request, he arranged for shipment of a $5,000 pair of infant gorillas captured somewhere in Western Africa.
The female, called Burma, died after six months of chronic diarrhea. Ivan was lost in transit for several weeks, and was little more than a 9-pound hank of black hair and skin when he was finally delivered.
Johnston and his family kept the tiny beast alive and raised him as a member of their family for three years.
Ivan rewarded his adopted family with ape-like devotion, and $17,000 worth of devastation.
"We had just bought a new house, new furniture, " Johnston said. "He ransacked everything."
The gorilla rolled a bowling ball down the stairs into the washing machine. Unhappy at being left alone one day, Ivan upended a 30-gallon aquarium full of fish, ran down the street and rushed into a neighbor's home.
"He like to scared the lady to death, " Johnston said. "It's a wonder we never got sued."
Ivan helped earn his own keep by entertaining customers at the pet store, where he spent each day in a cage. He was featured in B&I promotions and ads: riding a tricycle over the Narrows Bridge; holding a baby in his arms; posing for a postcard.
When Earl Irwin decided Ivan had to be permanently caged in 1967, he used it as an excuse for another contest. The lucky winner would guess the exact time the ape would be locked away forever - a step gorilla experts warned was necessary because of his increasing strength.
More than 25 years later, Ron Irwin regrets listening to the experts and closing that cage door.
"If we would have maintained that touch contact, we would still be able to go in with him, " he said. "But they said he's a mean, ferocious animal. Lock him up, and throw away the key."
A new way to look at apes Early African explorers penned heart-pounding accounts of their first encounters with gorillas. Part self-promotion and part distorted truth, these tales of man-eating monsters colored the species' popular image for decades.
In zoos, the captive gorillas were displayed singly, or in pairs. Their tiled or concrete cages afforded no place to hide and nothing to do. The cells were easy to clean, which keepers believed would keep the gorillas healthy. The animals were easy to see, which kept the visitors happy.
By the early 1970s, visitors began to squirm a bit during their trips to the zoo. Nature shows like Jacques Cousteau's "Undersea World" beamed a very different picture of the natural world into their homes.
Researchers including Jane Goodall and Dian Fossey were unraveling the rich social lives of wild chimpanzees and gorillas. Photos of silverback males tickling their toddlers with fingers the size of sausages were a jarring contrast to captive gorillas numbly plucking their hair.
"Gorillas live in groups, " said Terry Maple, eminent gorilla behavior expert and director of Zoo Atlanta. "It doesn't take great brilliance to see that ... but zoos weren't doing anything about it."
Former Woodland Park Zoo director David Hancocks was the first to break from the tradition of sterile zoo environments and consider animals' mental and social well-being along with their physical health.
In 1976 he created a gorilla habitat that was more like a jungle than a jail cell - an open air enclave with trees to climb, grass to lie on, bamboo to snack on and bushes and hills to hide behind. And most important of all, a gorilla family to interact with.
Traditionalists scoffed and predicted the gorillas would trample the vegetation, rip up the plants, catch cold and die.
"I was doing literally no more than playing a hunch, " recalled Hancocks, now director of Tucson's Sonora Desert Museum.
The hunch played out fruitfully. By 1986, when nearly all zoos had adopted naturalistic habitats, the captive gorilla population began a sustained, upward climb for the first time. There are also fewer females who reject babies, males who turn on their mates and animals that pace, pound the walls or fling feces.
Visitors behave differently, too.
"At the old ape house at Woodland Park, people would stand in front of the gorilla and jump up and down, make funny noises and scratch themselves under the armpits, " said Hancocks. "It was such an ugly environment, it brought out ugly behavior in people."
At modern gorilla habitats, visitors speak in hushed tones. Often, they have to wait to see the animals, or crane to peer behind a bush or rock. But when gorillas appear, spectators gasp with delight.
"The message is, here is this wonderful work of art that nature created, " said Ron Kagan, director of the Detroit Zoo.
At zoos across the country, gorillas are always among the most popular animals. With faces both enigmatic and expressive, and gestures so like our own, gorillas fascinate like few other creatures, Maple agrees.
"There is something about these big, charismatic primates."
People can easily imagine what a solitary, captive gorilla might be feeling, Maple added. That's why so many react so viscerally to Ivan's situation and long to see him living with other gorillas, he feels.
If all goes well, visitors to Zoo Atlanta will experience Ivan in a way his Tacoma fans never have.
''The grandeur of these creatures is never really appreciated until you see them in a naturalistic environment, '' Maple said. ''You can only view them with awe.''
The last of the menagerie
Ivan is acting surly today, says Hill, Ivan's long-time handler at the B&I. He's getting spoiled by visiting handlers from Zoo Atlanta, who have been using yogurt-coated raisins and other treats to get him accustomed to new routines.
Now, he's turning up his lips at his ordinary food.
"So I'm just going to spoil him, too, give him whatever he wants, " Hill said.
She and fellow keeper Joyce Barr grant that their baby may be better off with other gorillas, but like protective parents, they worry. Maybe he'll suffer in the sweltering Southern heat. Maybe he'll pine for his favorite snacks. What if he panics, and no one he knows is there to comfort him?
They're also sick of hearing Ivan's world described as drab, pathetic and barren.
"These people don't know what Ivan's life is really like, " said Barr. "We get all kinds of letters from people who say he should stay in Tacoma."
On a sunny afternoon last month, a woman who grew up visiting Ivan was introducing her son to the gorilla. "I think these do-gooders ought to just leave him alone, " she muttered, heading back into the store with her shopping cart.
Today's B&I encompasses a hodgepodge of goods and services under its 4.5-acre metal roof: Individual vendors sell knives, foam rubber of all shapes and sizes, hunting rifles, life insurance, leather jackets. At the front of the complex, the carousel sits silent next to tarnished bowling machines. Young boys cluster at the video games.
All of the other animals are gone. Sammy died young, from causes unknown. Surgery failed to save a seal poisoned by a belly full of coins tossed into his pond.
Soon after he took over the store following his father's death in 1973, Ron Irwin says he began to sense that public attitudes toward animals were shifting. He sold the big animals to zoos and got rid of the chicken that played baseball inside a vending machine.
Only Ivan remains, a living link to the past that soon will be severed.
A chapter in gorilla management will close when Ivan leaves the B&I, Maple says. A chapter of Tacoma's past and his own family history will close too, says Ruben Johnston, who still works part time at the B&I pet store he once owned.
"I just know I'm not going to be here when Ivan leaves, " he said. "It would be too ..."
His voice trails off and he gazes into space.
"I just want to remember him how he was. He was always so gung-ho."