The zoo celebrates its 150th anniversary with a burial in a time capsule

PROVIDENCE — An animal facts booklet, a stuffed giraffe, a city council pin and a copy of the Providence Journal were among dozens of items hidden in a time capsule buried at the Roger Williams Park Zoo on Friday in honor of of its 150th anniversary.

At a press conference outside, the drilling could be heard as the capsule was briefly reopened for the last-minute addition of a stuffed polar bear.

City and state officials reminisced about their memories of the zoo, some dating back decades.

“In fact, some of my favorite childhood photos are my sister and I sitting on that brass dog right over there,” Mayor Jorge Elorza told the crowd of attendees, referring to “The Sentinel,” which was cast in 1851 and is probably the oldest statue in the park. “And then coming to the zoo with my kid and having him sit there, you can’t help but have those kind of butterfly feelings inside, starting to see the world through his eyes.”

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Hope Academy students throw dirt into the hole before the time capsule is lowered.  On Friday, the Roger Williams Park Zoo celebrated its 150th anniversary.

Senator Jack Reed recalled his visit on a school field trip in eighth grade.

“We had our brown bag lunches from mom, and we went down the hill, and we got in and had a lovely day here,” Reed said. “That was the highlight of this year. The park was great then. It’s better now.”

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Senator Sheldon Whitehouse, who hailed the zoo as a “gem”, stopped for a bit of levity, comparing himself to one of his beloved creatures.

“I want you all to know that I asked about the welfare of Sheldon the armadillo, who I am [told] going great,” Whitehouse said. “An armadillo is a small armored armadillo, which I think is more suitable for my current work. Also, according to Wikipedia, with long sharp claws for digging, which can also help me in my current work.

The time capsule is ready to be buried under

Created in 1872, the zoo is the third oldest in the country. Executive director Stacey Johnson, who was hired in November, said early landscaping documents outline areas for bears, bison, deer, elephants, monkeys and waterfowl.

Today, more than 160 species of animals call the zoo home, including zebras, snow leopards, anteaters and a Komodo dragon. The birds were once housed in what is now the gift shop. Built in 1890, it is one of the oldest buildings on the property.

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In 50 years, when the zoo turns 200, another generation of animal lovers will see what it left behind, including letters from elected officials and a comparison of commodity prices from 1872 to 2022.

As visitors continue to arrive year after year, Johnson hopes they will have fun above all else.

A zookeeper at Roger Williams Park poses with two bears circa 1900. Behind them is Palm the lion.

“My belief is that a trip to the zoo should be about having a good time and accidentally learning something,” Johnson said. “Whether it’s an animal’s natural history, how it can act to become better stewards of our shared environment and natural resources, or simply spark curiosity about the wonderful web of life that exists in their own backyard.”

Providence residents with valid ID or proof of residency will be able to visit the zoo for free on Saturday. On Sundays, admission for all will be reduced to $1.50, and entertainment and Dunkin’ Donuts treats will be offered.

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