In the 1950s, in the days before seat belts and enlightened zookeeping, Laurianne Sell and her grandfather, Charles Wheaton, knew how to have fun.
They would hop into his two-tone green 1953 Chevy and head for the zoo.
“On the way there, we’d stop at the store and buy a bag of groceries for the animals,” she said. “We’d get a loaf of bread for the ducks and geese, a box of sugar cubes for the deer and our beloved Roosevelt elk, a bag of peanuts for the monkeys.”
They’d stop first at the aquarium, which was near the Boathouse.
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“We’d go see Dub Dub first. We’d get herring from the bait shop to feed him,” she said. “He was a clown. He’d clap the water with his flippers, begging for the fish.”
Once they’d fed Dub Dub, they’d march up the hill and head for the monkeys.
“We’d throw the peanuts over the glass inside or into the cage outside,” she said.
Sell remembers the thrill of meeting a young elephant named Cindy, who came to the zoo in the mid-1960s.
“She was just a cute little baby elephant who would eat out of my hand,” she said. “You could hand her a banana. Just hand it to her.”
Time passed, and Sell the teen forsook the zoo for the flirty pleasures of Owen Beach and The Bowl.
As a mother, she returned.
“I raised my kids here,” she said of her boys, Dan and Jared Adam, who are 29 and 26, respectively.
“Dub Dub had passed away, but they had stuffed him,” she said. “I showed them Dub Dub in the case, because they couldn’t see him alive. The boys loved (walruses) ET and Rosie. … The whales and the polar bears, Rocky Shores.”
In the summer, the boys went to day camp at Titlow and Wapato parks and at the zoo.
“They lived here a few weeks out of the summer,” Sell said.
In the winter, she and the boys loved Zoolights.
The boys’ favorite display was the penguins sliding down a hill. Sell’s is Mount Rainier.
The first year, she treated the boys to a wagon ride around the park. Later, it was hot chocolate inside.
“The weather is crisp, and there’s the music and enjoying hot chocolate on a cold night,” she said. “I’ve already asked if I can work Zoolights.”
That’s the newest zoo chapter in Sell’s life.
When she read The News Tribune’s first special section on Point Defiance Park, she took up the invitation to share her memories.
“They just came flooding back,” she said.
She sent some to us. The rest she attached to her application for a job at the zoo’s entrance.
She got the job.
Now Sell will watch a new generation of children learn to love her zoo.
Kathleen Merryman, The News Tribune