- Wildcat Dunny@flickr
A spokesperson said on Tuesday that Lincoln Park Zoo’s iconic swan boats, which in the past have dotted the South Pond throughout the summer, won’t be coming back this year. The move, possibly temporary, accompanies a $12 million restoration of the South Pond, which reopened last summer (the boats haven’t been out on the water since 2008). A zoo rep told the Tribune that new plant life needs a while to take hold; no solid date for the swans’ return was given.
Lincoln Park Zoo’s first two inhabitants were a pair of swans, gifted from Central Park. Swan boats followed soon after, canopied contraptions with room for a crowd. Donald L. Miller described a typical scene from the era in his 1996 book City of the Century: The Epic of Chicago and the Making of America. What’s striking is that the swans were the last holdouts from that era (well—that and electricity). They’re gone now, and for that matter so are the nearby working-class neighborhoods that Miller mentions:
On Sunday afternoons, the park’s lakes and lagoons were filled with canopied swan boats and with canoes “paddled by gentlemen in high stiff collars, their ladies holding dainty parasols and trailing fingers in the water.”* And on dirt diamonds young men in shirtsleeves played the “American Game.” As many as twenty thousand people would be in the park on sunny Sundays, many walking with their big wooden picnic baskets from working-class neighborhoods that had begun to appear north and west of the park. Electric lights were introduced in the 1880s, and summer crowds that stayed on into the evening would gather around Yerkes’s electric fountain to see the colored water display, young couples discreetly breaking away to walk hand in hand along the gaslit lake promenade, the moon throwing a silver trail across the black water. “No Chicago millionaire,” wrote George Ade, “has such a magnificent front yard.”