Lofty and Patches

It was no tall tale that the Zoo’s first giraffes experienced a hurricane at sea and their own “Travels with Charley” road trip on their way to the San Diego Zoo.
  • 1930s
  • 1950s

Lofty and Patches were already making headlines when they arrived in the New York harbor on the battered freighter the Robin Goodfellow in 1938. The ship had been tossed and buffeted by a hurricane in the Atlantic before reaching shore, and when reporters came to meet it to see the damage, they were astonished that the ship’s cargo included two giraffes from Africa! In fact, Patches’ crate had tumbled over during the storm, injuring one of her hind feet, but fortunately she was recovering. Reporters also made sure to include the detail that the giraffes had survived on pancakes for three days, because all their food had been washed away.

Keeper Charley Smith had also come to meet the ship and was tremendously relieved that his charges had survived the journey. But there was more to come—they needed to travel together by truck from New York to San Diego. Reporters were now intrigued with the story, and accounts with photos of the giraffes being unloaded from the ship, strapped in their tall, oddly shaped crates onto the truck, and heading off on their cross-country adventure appeared in newspapers from small town weeklies to big city dailies. As Zoo director Belle Benchley described it in a ZOONOOZ article, “Newspapers in every corner of the United States followed Charley Smith and his two precious charges day by day as they made their careful journey….As the giraffes moved westward a thousand amusing stories found their way into print and America took time to smile at the ludicrous travels of a man and two giraffes….” This was the time of the buildup to WWII, and the news was ominous and depressing. Having a little fun with the story of two giraffes peering out their windows as they “saw the country” was a welcome respite. Headlines such as “Low Bridge,” “How’s the Weather Up There?”, and “San Diego’s Perambulating Giraffes on Cross Country Dash” gave everyone something to chuckle about with their morning coffee. Along the way, Charley stopped regularly under appropriate trees and opened the top of the crates to let Lofty and Patches reach up and browse. He said that it had been fun to see people stop and wonder if they were seeing things, and “the heads emerging from the top must have been somewhat startling along the quiet country roads….”

Nonetheless, both man and giraffes were weary and glad the travels were over when they finally reached their destination. Even so, Lofty and Patches were hesitant and skeptical about coming out of their crates. Lofty, who was described as “a most affectionate creature,” took a few minutes, checking things out, before he stepped out to accept the acacia browse that Charley was offering. Patches, who was “nervous and would stand for little familiarity,” took much longer, stubbornly moving only one step at a time with lengthy pauses in between. Eventually, though, they both went for a stroll around their new home, found the food in their specially built barn, and settled in. And it was a good, long settling in—they lived at the Zoo for nearly 30 years, a huge hit with visitors from the start.

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