Monkey Farm - Orange Park Florida
Chupacabra, Swamp Ape, Stink Ape, Yeti, Sasquatch, and Bigfoot, are frequently in the news and stimulating the fears of ordinarily stable and sober folks. Yet, these myths have nothing on the “Monkey Farm” fear factor in Orange Park, Florida.
A sense of place. No matter where you live, a sense and appreciation of place is important. Two small businesses now occupy one of the few remaining buildings from the "Monkey Farm"
One of my scariest memories from childhood is the big ape escape from the Monkey Farm in Orange Park. As a young Boy Scout in “the big city” of Jacksonville, Florida, I relished the chance to camp in the wilds of Camp Echockotee on the banks of the historic St. John’s River in Orange Park.
Dr. Yerkes, of Yale University, had relocated his primate study center from Connecticut to the much more ape friendly weather of Orange Park in the 1920’s. This center was secretive and suspect to the locals. So, it was ripe for myth and legend and the “Yale Yerkes Primate Center” quickly became the “Monkey Farm” in local lore.
As a young Boy Scout camping a few miles from the “Monkey Farm” I fell victim to the fears. Around the campfire came stories of the escape of a great ape or two from the “Monkey Farm”. Later that night novice scouts were sent into the dark woods to collect firewood. There we were “attacked” by “Apes” (senior Scouts) and proceeded to run helter-skelter into trees and briars trying to escape the hairy beasties. There was the ceremonial washing of the soiled under-shorts in the morning.
In reality there were never any escapes of chimps or apes from the center when I camped at Camp Echockotee in the 1960's. A few years later Yale University persuaded Atlanta, GA’s Emory University to take over the administration of the center, as the distance was a burden to Yale. A bit later Emory moved the center to the Atlanta Emory campus area.
Background: In the 1920’s Orange Park was a backwater burg. There were a few farms and plantations and a few hundred residents. Most ordinary residents were involved in fishing on the Saint John’s River or subsistence farming or timber industries.
The train service to Orange Park had been terminated many years before, so when the Yerkes’ local host was requested to pick them up at the train station he predictably assumed he had to drive many mile to the north to the “big city” of Jacksonville. But, Mrs. Yerkes had exercised her influence with the rail service to have them stop at the backwater burg of Orange Park. No one was there to meet them. The Orange Park host found no one at the station in Jacksonville.
The invasion by nerdy Yale scientists was met with suspicion and undoubtedly there was cultural shock by both the invaders and the locals.
There are stories of the bored and culturally deprived Yalies starting sailing races on the St. Johns River near Doctors Inlet that just boggled the minds of the locals. They could not imagine why someone would go on the water without the goal of catching fish, crab or shrimp or in someway making money. They thought the Yale eggheads were crazy.
I have recently relocated to the Orange Park area and I am still constantly on the lookout for rogue apes on the loose.