Meshie: The Child of a Chimpanzee

A Creature of the African Jungle Emigrates to America

Meshie brushing

Oral hygiene: Meshie willingly opens her mouth and holds it open while her teeth are being brushed and her mouth inspected.

As the weather grew cool on the homeward voyage, I made a sweater for Meshie from some heavy woolen stockings. The first time I put it on her she tore it off, though, afterward, when the nights were very cold, she apparently made no attempt to remove it.

It was the middle of February, 1931, when we arrived at Boston. Meshie was very much excited and interested in all the things she saw and heard. I think the outstanding incident of Meshie’s arrival in the United States was her alarm on seeing a team of horses while she was being driven across Boston in a taxicab. She heard the clatter of horses’ hoofs on the cobble stones and looked out of the back window. Upon seeing a team of great, dappled gray, draft horses blowing steam through their nostrils, she uttered a little scream and grabbed me around the neck, but her curiosity was stronger than her fear, so a moment later she was again looking out of the window. As it happened, the team followed us on the ferry and drew up just behind our cab. When the horses came so close, Meshie actually got down on the floor once in an effort to get as far away as possible, but a moment later she was back and looking out of the window. Each time thereafter when she looked out, she made a peculiar sound which might be translated as a very soft “oh-ooooo.” This sound I had never heard her make before, but during the past summer I heard her make that same sound again when she saw a snake.

A few weeks after we had reached home, when the weather was warm, I built a little house for Meshie on the top of the frame of the children’s swing in the back yard, ten feet from the ground. Wild chimpanzees always sleep in trees at night and Meshie seems to feel safer when she is off the ground. I made a sliding door in the house that she could open and close at will. Every night at dusk I carried out her blankets to her and she would lean out the little door and catch them as I threw them up. She would pull each piece into the house, arrange it around her, and then lean out for another piece. After twisting them around her in a kind of nest, she would go to sleep, usually as soon as it was dark. Early in the morning she would open the door of her house and climb out, at first sitting quietly for a few minutes on the crosspiece that supported the house, then doing all her housework for the day by throwing down her blankets one after another to the ground. If it were cool, however, she would wrap a piece of blanket around her shoulders and sit contemplatively on the crosspiece, reminding me of an Indian in his blanket, squatting before his hut in the cool of the early morning.

Meshie at bedtime

Bedtime but not very sleepy: Next to playing in the water, Meshie enjoys a bedtime romp with the children.

One morning she was sitting on her house when we heard her give a sudden scream of terror. When I looked out of the window, she was gazing down at a piece of black cloth which had been torn from the edge of an old coat she had used as a blanket. This piece of cloth had fallen into curves and I believe she thought it was a snake. At a second glance she had apparently realized her mistake, but all her hair was standing up.

Meshie had ridden with me in a motor truck for more than two thousand miles in Africa and, except when the wind blew in her face, causing her to wrinkle it in a most comical manner, she enjoyed it thoroughly. While I drove, she sat on the seat between me and a black boy. At first she had to be slapped and scolded when she attempted to play with the wheel or other machinery. However, when the car stopped, she would climb up on the steering wheel and, grasping it with both her hands and feet, rock back and forth to the great amusement of the natives.

At home she often screamed when she saw us going out in the automobile, leaving her behind, and when she was allowed to accompany us she would say “uh-uh-uh” repeatedly to show her pleasure.

We hope that Meshie, emigrant from Africa, may continue to grow in health, weight, and knowledge in her new American home.

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