Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Zooland

When I was young my mother did much of our clothing shopping at a tiny chain store called Richman Gordman. The store was only located in Nebraska, Iowa, and Kansas and had very few locations. But one of those locations was about a mile away from my parents. And like a Kohl's or a Gordman's (the current iteration of Richman Gordman), the store carried a variety of everything. There was clothes and shoes and housewares. But it was even better than Kohl or Gordman's because, Richman Gordman had Zooland.

We kids loved to go shopping because of four fiberglass animals that were set up in one of the back corners of the store. There was a big blue and red elephant that was a slide, a green hippo that was a tunnel, a yellow kangaroo that had both a balance beam and a climbing area, and an orange camel that was a fort. My favorite was always the elephant. In between his front feet was a set of stairs that spiraled up to his head. And the slide was his trunk. I loved going down the slide but I really loved the red twisting stairs inside. The play area was a dream play area. These four animals seemed huge and magical (at least to my tiny self). I can still remember the feeling of the painted fiberglass of the elephant's trunk. To say that I loved this playland was an understatement.


Of course as I got older, I got embarrassed by the play area and stopped going there to play. And then I got too big to climb on them. I think I was 13 or 14 when the store near us closed, but I'd stopped playing in Zooland a long time before. In my youth I didn't even think of where the animals would be shipped to. I know now that many of them went to private buyers. Just recently I started to get nostalgic for some of the things of my childhood and I went looking for pictures of the animals. But I found even more than that. I found out that Omaha Children's Museum not only managed to find some of them, but have refurbished them as playground equipment in the museum. They have all four animals and a whole new generation of children are playing on them. I think I need to take a road trip. If you're in Omaha and stumble into the Children's Museum to find a woman weeping next to a blue and red elephant, don't be alarmed. It's just me, reliving my childhood.


3 comments:

Adam S said...

Thank you so much for your blog. I was just thinking about these very animals and googled it. I am so glad my favorite play area has found a new home at a children's museum!!! Now I can take a short road trip to show my own kids!!!

Cat B said...

Adam,

Thank you for your comment. I'm so glad that you will be able to introduce your kids to these wonderful animals. I hope they love playing on them as much as I did. A well loved bit of childhood.

PL36 said...

I think these might be of the same manufacturer as the ones I played on at Dayton's Department Store in downtown Minneapolis in the late 1960's. The children's drop-in day care center near the women's department on the 5th floor had a an elephant slide nearly identical. The stairs were accessed between the front legs and curved inside the torso to the head where I recall two portals allowed kids to sit and peer out of its ears before sliding down the trunk. I can't remember if Dayton's had other creatures beyond the elephant - at the time my tiny attention span was probably fully consumed by this ingenious contraption. But now I have a reason to road trip to Omaha. Thank you so much for the pix to jump start some very fond memories!