Ivan the Gorilla mug.jpg
Courtesy Zoo Atlanta
Ivan the gorilla
Ivan the gorilla died Monday at the Atlanta Zoo he called home. He was 50. A fixture of South


Ivan the Gorilla's Ashes to Be Returned to Tacoma

Ivan the Gorilla mug.jpg
Courtesy Zoo Atlanta
Ivan the gorilla
Ivan the gorilla died Monday at the Atlanta Zoo he called home. He was 50. A fixture of South Tacoma's B&I for so many years, as a Tacoman I couldn't help but feel significant sadness over the loss. And I'm certainly not alone. Many Tacoma residents, while acknowledging that the glass and concrete cage where Ivan was kept during at his time at the B&I was inhumane and regrettable, still hold the massive gorilla close to their hearts. Ivan is a part of Tacoma's gritty history. So it seems fitting that his ashes are headed back to T-Town.

According to a story by The News Tribune and staff writer Rob Carson, Ron Irwin, a spokesman for the Tacoma family that owned Ivan for much of his life, says Ivan will be cremated in Atlanta before being shipped back to Tacoma to find his final resting place. Irwin tells the Trib some sort of public memorial may also materialize.

From the Trib's story:

In the days since Ivan's death, many people in Tacoma have called for some sort of public ceremony or permanent display in the gorilla's remembrance.

Irwin said he and his family are open to the idea but added that he had no idea what form that would take or where might be a suitable location.

"We really not sure how to do that," he said. "I don't want to make a spectacle out of it. He was, unfortunately, a spectacle for too long."

"It's one of those tough decisions," Irwin said. "I feel like any kind of a display would be exploiting him. He had too much of that in his life. I don't want that in his death."

For those unfamiliar with Ivan's story, the B&I's Earl Irwin, Ron's father, purchased Ivan as an infant gorilla and subsequently housed him at eclectic South Tacoma store for 28 years. Ivan became an icon behind the glass, even as may derided the conditions he lived in. In 1994, after a seven-plus-year struggle with animal rights activists, Ivan was shipped to Zoo Atlanta on a long-term loan. The Irwin's and the Woodland Park Zoo retained the gorilla's rights after death.

As the News Tribune's story notes, Zoo Atlanta was interested in studying Ivan after his passing - as the chance to research the body of a 50-year-old, 315-pound gorilla is rare (Ivan was the oldest gorilla in captivity at the time of his death) - but the Irwin's balked at the idea.

From the Trib:

"We just want him to rest in peace," Irwin said Thursday.

"They say researching a gorilla is a very rare opportunity," Irwin said. "I suppose there's a need for that, but it's not really what the family wants."

And that seems to be what many in Tacoma want to. As the Trib's article notes, in the aftermath of Ivan's death there's been an outpouring from folks who want the gorilla to be returned to T-Town for a proper memorial.

And while that may or may not come to fruition, the good news is Tacoma will always have its memories of Ivan.

From a 2011 story in the Weekly Volcano by Joshua Swainston (note: I was editor of the Volcano at the time this story was published):

John Clark, a long-time Tacoma resident, reminisces ...

"My parents took all five of us kids, and usually a kid neighbor or two, over to the B&I on Saturdays pretty frequently. It was always a big event for us because it involved corn dogs, cotton candy, a merry-go-round, the penny arcade, shoes, live pets and the main attraction - Ivan the Gorilla. The store used to do shows with Ivan and his trainer, but I think the trainer was outside of the cage most the time. Older folks would say to us, 'Did you go and watch Ivan play today?' or 'Did Ivan do tricks for you?'

"Ivan was huge, especially to a little kid."

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