When perusing the case of taxidermied apes and monkeys in the Hall of Primates at the American Museum of Natural History, your eyes might breeze right past a primate simply labeled “Gorilla.”
Here’s the thing, though: that gorilla had a name (John Daniel) and a penchant for cider, tea, and leisurely strolls around the block.
This Is No “Ape Named Ape”
Back in the very early 1900s, when World War I was just, The World War, and TV was called books, you could go to a department store and purchase your very own gorilla. Not the FAO Schwarz stuffed animal kind, the real, live, primate-we-share-98-percent-of-our-DNA-with kind.
And that’s just what one Major Rupert Penny did one day when he strolled into a store called Derry & Toms in London and bought himself a furry friend in 1918. He gave him the very-un-pet-like name of John Daniel, and from that day on, John Daniel was family.
No Monkeying Around
At first, John Daniel was kept in a heated cage near the family, but soon Alyce Cunningham, Major Rupert Penny’s sister, decided to groom Daniel, as it were, to eat, drink, and hang with the household.
According to Cunningham, Daniel had respectable table manners; pulling his chair up to the table to eat his bread and jam, never missing a tea time, and enjoying an occasional after dinner coffee. 1 He even walked around with the neighborhood children knowing exactly which houses made the best cider and stopping to eat flowers along the way like the star of an adorable French poem.
Bigger Is Not Always Better
Just like the fabled alligators and crocodiles flushed down the toilet every year, John Daniel eventually got too big and difficult to control. You know, because he was a wild animal and not meant to be a rich family’s prize poodle.
So Alyce Cunningham decided she had no choice but to sell to our poor Mighty Joe John Daniel to a park in Florida. Or at least, that’s what she thought. In a bamboozle worthy of any great magician worth his rabbit hat, John Daniel actually ended up being sold to Ringling Brother Circus where he was doomed to caged up like his wild animal cohorts, torn away from the leisurely life of tea and crumpets and the love of a family to which he was accustomed.
Then He Ripped Everyone’s Face Off
Just kidding. But no one would have blamed him.
After only a short time in the circus, John Daniel died of pneumonia, possibly brought on by a broken heart. After he died John Daniel’s body was autopsied, stuffed, and put on display at the American Museum of Natural History so that visitors could see the gentle giant who liked a good cup of tea just like any civilized gentleman.
So the next time you enjoy a nice flagon of cider, pour some out for John Daniel, the “Gorilla.”
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- William T. Hornaday (1921) A Gorilla That Lived Like a Human. The Mentor Volume 8. 30-31. Aimée Lutkin (Jan. 25th 2017) There Was Once a Gorilla Named John Daniel Who Was Raised Like He Was a Child https://pictorial.jezebel.com/there-was-once-a-gorilla-named-john-daniel-who-was-rais-1791615816
- Mark Smith (Jan. 26th 2017) The 'almost human' gorilla who drank tea and went to school https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2017/jan/26/john-daniel-gorilla-drank-tea-school-uley-gloucestershire