The completist in me sent me out on a day trip the other day to visit the Queens Zoo. Yes, there's a zoo in Queens, out in Corona, on the edge of Flushing Meadow Corona Park. It's one of five in the city and probably the most unpatronized. (The others at the Bronx Zoo, Central Park Zoo, Prospect Park Zoo and the New York Aquarium.)
Before I even paid admission, I understood why the Queens Zoo was so little known. It was impossible to find. Walking from the subway, it's hidden behind the Museum of Science. There are almost no signs indicating its presence and no one we asked seemed to know there was a zoo anywhere around there. I found it after a half hour, after seeing a sign that said "zoo" in tiny letters. (It's also called a "wildlife center" at time, to further confuse the issue.)
The zoo's remoteness does have the advantage of your not competing with tons of other people to view the animals. It's a small place, with one path that leads in an oval. There are some quite nice exhibits, including an interesting aviary, and nice examples of pumas, lynx, cranes and elk. It's most remarkable aspect, however, is not on the zoo map: a mock graveyard enumerating all the animals that have gone extinct over the past half-millennium. The markers are headed "1500," "1600," "1700" and so on, and list some of the beasts and birds that disappeared during that century. It's creepy and rather chilling—and starling to think that animals were dying out as early as 1500 because of the doings of man. If I was disturbed, I had to wonder what the effect was on a small child.
One other odd aspect about the Queens Zoo (and there are many). It's bookended by two fountains. The southern one is called, ahem, "The Fountain of the Planet of the Apes." And the northern one is named, double ahem, "The Fountain of the Planet of the Grapes of Wrath." Seriously.
They both used to be called the Fountain of the Planets. But recent Parks Commissioner Henry Stern decided to rename one of them after one of his favorite movies and, to balance out the animal theme, used the other to honor another movie with a plant in the title.
Worst fountain names ever.