South Pond’s Swan Song


Back in early July my daughter and I visited Lincoln Park Zoo. When I saw South Pond I thought an environmental disaster had occurred. Gone were the curvilinear paths surrounding the pond. Gone was the island’s wild overgrowth. Gone were the giant swan paddleboats.


We read the signs and learned South Pond was being rebuilt to look more natural. At the time, I thought it strange that I hadn’t seen anything in the newspapers about the disappearance of the swan paddleboats, but since then I’ve learned I’m not the only one puzzled.

Another blogger, Mike Doyle of Chicago Carless, has delved deeply into this story. He’s posted vintage photographs documenting a history of recreational boating on the South Pond and has tracked the press coverage, or lack of it, regarding the paddleboats.


My first visit to the Zoo, late 1950s.

From swans to bears, fake animals are a beloved tradition at the Zoo. According to the Lincoln Park Zoo website, the Nature Boardwalk, as the South Pond has been renamed, was designed to be a model urban ecosystem and outdoor classroom. I can’t argue against that, but I hope the Nature Boardwalk will be, as was its predecessor, pleasing to the eye and fun, too.

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5 Responses to South Pond’s Swan Song

  1. Carol Barstow August 9, 2010 at 8:29 am #

    I loved those paddleboats, too! In fact, when I was a young lawyer in Chicago, one of my favorite “stress relief” activities on the weekends was to go to the Zoo and hop on one of those paddleboats. Suddenly, all the cares of the world melted away and you were a kid again! 🙂

  2. Frances Archer August 9, 2010 at 9:30 am #

    Carol, I was so disappointed because I had been anticipating taking my daughter on her first swan ride that day.

  3. jennifer Stix August 9, 2010 at 11:39 am #

    Oh! There’s a picture of me sitting on that stuffed bear, along with many others taken over the years at LPZ — on the merry go round (gone) on the train (gone) standing in front of the Viking ship (moved), throwing stones in pond at the rookery…. And of course more up-to-date photos of my son and I taking the swan paddle boats for many a cruise and feeding crumbs to the ducks and geese in the south pond. I’m sad to see it go — but it sounds like they’re trying to make it nicer. I will never forget the mornings Andy and I would walk through the park into the zoo, past the pond and the farm in the zoo seemingly a million miles from the sooty noise of nearby Clark Street – en route to his school. What wonderful and pastoral memories of our time in the big city. I will never forget them, and I hope when he emerges from his teenage diffidence, he will remember them fondly too.

  4. Frances Archer August 9, 2010 at 11:52 am #

    Thanks Jennifer for sharing your memories of the Zoo of our youth. I remember the train as well, and the merry go round. I think the Rookery’s rehab is a great success, and I’m keeping my fingers crossed for the Nature Boardwalk.

  5. Bonnie McGrath August 9, 2010 at 11:53 pm #

    i’ve been to the new nature walk and it’s pretty nice. i feel nostalgia for the old, too–but if they had to get rid of the old, this particular rendition isn’t bad. you will like it i think!

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