Animal Attractions

Located at the Museum of Science and History Jacksonville, FL (December 2018 – April 2019)

Exhibit Text and Installation Views

In the late 1800s, Jacksonville blossomed into a popular winter destination. Often called the “Gateway to Florida,” the city boasted several tourist attractions. Alligator and ostrich farms were among the most popular.

Visitors to these farms watched ostrich races, rode alligators, made custom photographs and postcards, and purchased souvenirs such as alligator teeth and ostrich eggs. When these tourists returned home, they brought with them mementos of a tropical Florida.

MOSH houses several of these “Florida curiosities” in its collection. Take a look at some of the unique souvenirs of Jacksonville tourism at its height in the early 20th century.

Alligators have always been an important part of the Florida experience. To bring in tourists, many cities hosted alligator farms.

In 1895, one visitor to downtown Jacksonville called Bay Street “Alligator Avenue.” He wrote, “I did not happen to see any alligators served on toast there. But I saw them stuffed and skinned, turned into bags, or kept in tanks and boxes and cages.”

“Alligator Joe” Campbell was one of America’s gator farming pioneers. His Ostrich and Alligator Farm in Jacksonville’s Phoenix Park featured wild animal shows in which alligators glided down a metal slide and splashed into the water. In 1916, Campbell’s business moved to the site of the recently closed Dixieland Amusement Park in South Jacksonville.

Ostriches played a significant role in creating an image of exotic Florida. The bird, which is not native to the state, gave tourists the chance to experience an “African curiosity” without having to leave the country.

The Florida Ostrich Farm opened in 1898 in East Jacksonville and housed more than 200 of the gigantic birds. Visitors rode in wagons drawn by ostriches and played with baby chicks. They also bought ornate and expensive hand fans, feather boas, and large feathers for their hats.

The ostriches moved to Joe Campbell’s alligator farm in Phoenix Park in 1912 and were a major attraction at the Dixieland Amusement Park, located where MOSH is today.