The Gesmo Animal Show from Amsterdam was one of the “excellent attractions” at the Canajoharie Citizens’ Band carnival in September 1929.
The Canajoharie Courier wrote the show included “a wild cat, eight months old lion cub, parrots, boa constrictors, rattlesnakes, monkeys, a baboon” and what the newspaper described as the world’s smallest horse, “standing just 24 inches tall.”
The 1930 census reported the show’s owners, animal trainer Eugene C. Gesele and his wife, Ida Gonyea Gesele, were living on Florida Avenue on Amsterdam’s South Side. Eugene was 31 and apparently had been born in New York City. Ida was 40.
Their farm was on Broadway, described in an advertisement as on top of Yankee Hill. In 1930 they advertised “wild animals” as an attraction for motorists and offered white poodle puppies for sale. Late that year a trade publication, The Billboard, reported a leopard was shipped to their farm.
By early 1932 the Geseles and their animals moved to Cranesville, a hamlet east of Amsterdam on Route 5. Jerry Snyder, one of the founders of Historic Amsterdam League, has been researching the Geseles but has not yet been able to pinpoint the farm’s location.
Fifth-graders from East Main Street School in Amsterdam visited in 1932. The Recorder reported, “The beautiful leopard was respectfully admired but Jane and Sammy, the two marvelous chimpanzees, were the real charmers of the occasion, eating their sliced bananas with a fork and pouring out and drinking their cocoa in mannerly fashion.”
In December 1932 Gesmo chimpanzees were entertaining in the toy department of Whitney’s department store in downtown Albany.
Also that month, according to The Daily Gazette, chimpanzees Sussie and Jennie were displayed at a circus in Schenectady.
“To see Sussie and Jennie wearing clothes, eating, drinking and smoking in human fashion convinces one that they have little desire to return to their native haunts.”
In 1933 Gesele built new outside cages, constructed a large entrance arch and hired Edward F. Flanders, an experienced big cat trainer. Gesele toured that year (in New England the act was billed as Gorilla Land) and took chimpanzees to the Fonda Fair.
According to The Billboard, the Gesmo Animal Farm in the 1930s was sometimes known as the Gesele Ape Farm, the Gesele Lion Farm and the Gesmo Circus Animal Farm. Gesele took a lion cub one day to the Amsterdam offices of the Recorder newspaper.
Gesele also used the name Movieland’s Famous Animal Actors for his business but Snyder could not document that Gesele’s animals ever appeared in movies.
In January 1935 Gesele was hospitalized eight weeks after an attack by a large rhesus monkey. The Billboard reported he lost the use of his right arm. The zoo had 150 animals at the time including dogs, ponies and birds. The facility also boarded cats and dogs. Ida Gesele was “busy with her trained chimps.” In 1937 the Geseles displayed greyhounds at Larrabee’s hardware store in Amsterdam.
The Geseles’ son, Eugene C. Junior, served in the U.S. Navy in World War II and was missing for two months after his destroyer, Reuben James, was torpedoed while on convoy duty in the North Atlantic in October 1941.
The son apparently had grown up with his grandmother in New York City. The last city directory listing for the Cranesville farm was in 1943. Snyder could find no notice of Eugene Senior’s death but presumed he died in the mid-1940s as Ida Gesele is listed in an Albany city directory as a widow in 1947. She appears to have moved to Albany that year. She died there on May 26, 1963.
Bob Cudmore is a freelance columnist. Opinions expressed in his column are his own and not necessarily the newspaper’s. Anyone with a suggestion for a Focus on History topic may contact him at 346-6657 or [email protected]
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