by Tim Gilmore, 12/18/2016
The Monkey Farm dismissed Otto Tinklepaugh after the “Chimcracker Caper.”
The caper had nothing to do with the Humanzee, nothing to do with escaped monkeys that terrorized the small town of Orange Park at night, and nothing to do with mutant effects from chimpanzee radiation experiments.
Chimcrackers were not hybrids of chimpanzees and Florida crackers, or rednecks. They were preprocessed hardtack biscuits for chimps, and Tinklepaugh’s erroneous dietary information led to excessive chimp weight loss.
Throughout the 35 years the Yerkes Laboratories of Primate Biology, which locals referred to as the Monkey Farm, operated in Orange Park, the lab usually kept a low profile. Kingsley Avenue was still a two lane road through the woods, and the lab was barely visible in the “blackjack ridge” of oaks and pines. It didn’t take long for locals to think of the lab’s low visibility as secrecy. Urban legends proliferated.
It’s true, however, that Donald and Gua were raised together as infants. Gua, the female chimpanzee, was seven and a half months old when she came to live with 10 month old Donald, the son of Winthrop and Luella Kellogg, at the Monkey Farm in 1931.
In their 1933 book The Ape and the Child, the Kelloggs document Donald’s meager influence on Gua’s development while the Kelloggs’ infant son made chimp vocalizations. Gua would stick out her lips in an effort to say, “Papa,” but that was as close as she came to speaking. Donald, meanwhile, sometimes sounded more chimpanzee than human.
“From 7:00 a. m. to 6:30 p. m. the Kelloggs were incessantly occupied with the children, dressing, feeding and cuddling them,” Time Magazine reported on June 19, 1933 in an article called “Babe and Ape.”
In nearly every way, Gua learned more quickly and outperformed Donald. She was the first to walk upright, and Donald imitated her manner of walking. Gua recognized her reflection before Donald recognized his, she understood pictures in children’s books before Donald did, and she taught Donald to bite people and walls. Gua loved to be tickled and sometimes engaged in long sessions of tickling herself.
Kellogg and Kellogg’s study is one of the most radical “cross-fostering” experiments ever conducted, prodding the distinctions between nature and nurture. Environment, they concluded, had the greatest effect on learning other than natural limitations. Though Winthrop Kellogg had first proposed the experiment in a 1931 Psychological Review article called “Humanizing the Ape,” Donald seemed to show more signs of simianization than Gua did of humanization.
Robert Yerkes, the Yale psychologist and primatologist who founded the Monkey Farm, also had a great interest in eugenics, the study of improving the genetic quality of human beings through controlled breeding. In 1923, he wrote, “No one of us as a citizen can afford to ignore the menace of race deterioration.” At Yale, he chaired the Committee on Inheritance of Mental Traits, a section of Yale’s Eugenics Office. Five years after Time Magazine published “Babe and Ape,” it put Adolf Hitler on its cover as “Man of the Year.”
Most of Yerkes’ studies at the Monkey Farm, however, concerned ape cognition and socialization, operant conditioning, and sexual and family relationships. Sometimes he dressed Judy, his favorite chimp, in pink and drove her around in his car.
Kellogg and Kellogg’s experiment received notoriety and intense criticism. Most of the lab’s work garnered much less attention, which only made North Florida residents more suspicious. In December 2006, the Discovery Channel aired an absurd special about Oliver the Humanzee (rhymes with chimpanzee), in which a psychology professor refers to an unnamed source who supposedly told him that just such a human-chimp hybrid was bred at the Monkey Farm in the 1920s.
But the lab opened in 1930. Yerkes ran the lab for its first decade. In 1965, it moved to Atlanta, where today it’s called the Yerkes National Primate Research Center and funded by the National Institutes for Health.
Not much is publicly known about Donald Kellogg’s later life, but in 1973, when he was 43 years old, he committed suicide.
A Himalayan salt lamp glows a paradoxical cool pink on the front counter. Nearby are shelves and shelves of locally produced honey, cartons of rice nog, assortments of vitamin pills, and bottles of yerba mate and ginger beer.
Nelson Hellmuth’s mother had always loved the charming two-story house built in 1887. The expansion of the interstate system had brought massive suburban development to the little town of Orange Park and older houses were frequently demolished. Orange Park Mall opened in 1975, and Kingsley Avenue widened and spawned rows of new commercial structures on either side.
Nelson and Julie Hellmuth began The Granary, their whole foods retail shop, inside the old house in 1979. The house still has its original 130 year old copper roof, the bluish green patina of which you can see from near the hickory tree that may be older than the house.
The house had been abandoned for two years. After its 35 years as the Yerkes Laboratories’ caretaker’s house, it spent the rest of the ’60s and the early ’70s as The Orange Door, a kind of halfway house whose inmates, according to the few stories that survive, seem to have run the institution.
In his office at the back of the second floor, Nelson points to holes that remain in the doorjamb where four large latch bolts once locked an old door that weighed hundreds of pounds. He’s sure this back office is where inmates’ personal affects, and maybe confiscated drugs, were impounded.
In The Granary’s early years, former inhabitants of The Orange Door sometimes stopped by, usually surprised their former residence was gone. One visitor told Nelson the residents had sex on the porch and all around the sides of the house.
Standing by the basement door, Nelson recalls the swarm of termites that rose from below when The Granary first opened. He points down the stairs to the brick and lath-and-plaster walls. The exterminator looked at the solid heart-pine walls and beams of the old house and told him termites would have no interest in such hardwood with so much new construction nearby. In fact, the termites had been attracted to plywood stacked in the basement, and once the plywood was gone, the termites were too.
Nelson points to carved crosses on the upper corners of entryway doors and windows. They resemble the Confederate “Cross of Honor,” which looks so much like the “Iron Cross” of the Nazis. On the backs of the same corners are carved circles.
An architect once told him the crosses facing the entrance were supposed to keep out evil, while the circles that greet you before you leave the house represented watchful and protective eyes.
Though the house preceded the Yerkes Lab by nearly half a century, my sister Wanda points out that its story arc from ape research to halfway house to health and whole foods store makes for a lovely and optimistic narrative.
Nelson also runs a solar power business, Solar Designs, from his back second-floor office: “Engineering and Design for all Things Solar.” He shows us the upstairs kitchen and dining room where Julie taught cooking classes for 20 years.
The Hellmuths have seen generations of pregnant women shop The Granary for maternal care. Nelson says, “We’ll get to know a pregnant woman who shops here, then she has her baby. They keep coming and that baby grows up. Then she becomes the pregnant woman shopping here.”
He smiles and says, “The best thing anyone has ever told me about this place. This woman had been shopping here for years, and she said, ‘Every time I’m in this house, something just comes over me, and I’m happy here.’”
Just east of The Granary is an office complex where newer stucco-fronted buildings stand beside older concrete structures.
At first glance, the buildings seem nearly identical, but strange holdovers from previous existences linger amidst today’s Christian marital counseling offices. On three separate buildings, original to the Monkey Farm, old iron stairs lead into unopenable windows on the second floor. One set of stairs leads from a window to a drop in midair.
Along the walkways between buildings stand iron posts painted innocuous beige and yellow.
Around the periphery, old fences still wear crowns of barbed wire, and electrical sockets and conductors from 65 years ago hide in the vines that have overgrown the pines.
These concrete-walled buildings that so blend in with the newer 1970s and ’80s stucco facades once housed chimpanzees, gibbons, and gorillas. Side walkways once held open-air cages. The tops of walkways lead to iron stairs that lead to unopenable windows, because the windows once were doors and the roofs of walkways once were second-floor walks that circumnavigated the laboratory complex.
The stairs between windows and midair remind me of l’esprit d’escalier, the ghost of stairways, the haunting of the thing you should have said or done at a certain turning of your life, which you realized only too late.
In his 1930 poem “Ash Wednesday,” T.S. Eliot calls the spirit “the devil of the stairs who wears / the deceitful face of hope and of despair.”
Building names all relate to the Yerkes Labs’ funding. The Yale Building, the Stetson Building, and the Carnegie Building are original to the Monkey Farm. Marvin Wilhite, the developer who built the nearby Foxwood subdivision and this office complex, headquartered here, calling his company Ahpla, Inc., spelling backward the name of the first chimp born at Yerkes. Alpha was born on September 11, 1930.
I’m looking for Bokar, the lovely chimpanzee who held to the top of his cage and opened his mouth for the primatologist to check his teeth in 1951. Don’t call a chimpanzee a monkey. He might take great offense.
I want to ask Bokar what he thinks, 66 years ago, of the spider monkeys and macaques nearby. It’s midday, so he’ll already have had his breakfast of apples, carrots, sweet potatoes, grapes, orange slices, and bread.
The infants in the nursery upstairs have been bottle-fed their morning milk.
I have for Bokar bananas, which he usually eats in the morning, and a head of cabbage, which he usually takes for lunch. I’m going to find him. I’m going to ask him what he thinks.
I’m going to ask him what he thinks about halfway houses and Himalayan salt lamps. Then I’m going to see what I think when instead of his speaking my English, my communication patterns change to chimp vocalizations.