Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Along the Way: Bedtime for Bonzo

Grave of Bonzo
Hearthside Rest Pet Cemetery
Hidden just southwest of the junction of Interstates 79 and 90 among the rolling hills of Elk Valley is Hearthside Rest Pet Cemetery. I stepped out of the vehicle and looked around the peaceful spot located on the banks of Elk Creek.

Despite the peacefulness of the area, it felt strange that I was visiting a pet cemetery. In my journeys around the state, this was the first one I purposely stopped at to search for a specific grave. Yet on this occasion I sought out the final resting place of a celebrity buried here among the beloved pets on this sacred piece of land.

Looking at all of the similar markers, I knew I had before me an adventure just to find one particular stone in a sea of them. I unfolded the piece of paper that had vague directions to the grave I sought. After walking a couple of rows, a truck pulled in and the caretaker walked over and asked me if I needed help.

“I heard that you have a celebrity buried here.”

“Oh, you’re searching for Bonzo,” he observed. “He’s a couple more rows over.” I followed him to the final resting place of the cemetery’s most famous resident, a chimpanzee known to the world as Bonzo.

Bonzo's rise to fame occurred in 1952 when he starred in the movie Bonzo Goes to College. The film about a chimpanzee who goes to college and plays football also starred Maureen O’Sullivan and Edmund Gwenn.

In researching the life of Bonzo, I discovered that the Bonzo in Bedtime for Bonzo was not the Bonzo who is buried in the Hearthside Rest Pet Cemetery. There were actually two different chimpanzees who starred as Bonzo.

The first Bonzo was a chimpanzee named Peggy. Yes, the male chimpanzee in the movie was protrayed by a female one. Peggy had performed in a number of the Jungle Jim movies and was supposed to appear in a series of Bonzo movies. Sadly Peggy, her stand-in, and two other chimpanzees were killed in a fire in 1951 shortly after the release of Bedtime for Bonzo. Some places state that Peggy is the chimpanzee buried here, but this is not the case.

The second Bonzo (the one buried at Hearthside Rest Pet Cemetery) was a male chmpanzee whose actual name was Bonzo. He starred in the second film in the series, Bonzo Goes to College, During his time in the spotlight Bonzo toured the country, appearing on a number of television specials. As far as I can determine it appears he never appeared in any other movies after starring in Bonzo Goes to College.

Sadly Bonzo’s fame soon faded. He was placed in a circus during his later years, which promoted his celebratory status as a means of bringing people in to see the carnival. While the circus was in Erie in 1969, Bonzo became ill and passed away. A local vet offered to have him buried in this peaceful location.

While talking with the caretaker, I discovered that over 3100 pets are buried here, along with some of their owners. In the time spent talking with him, I gained a newly found appreciation for pet cemeteries. After taking a couple of minutes to explore the cemetery, I left it, wiping away a tear at the thought of the pets I’ve had over the years.

Finding Bonzo’s grave is a little bit of a challenge. Parking in the small lot,look towards the cemetery. There is a small cluster of trees in the center of the cemetery. Bonzo is buried halfway between these trees and the pines to the left as you are looking into the cemetery in almost in a straight line between the two.

As with all cemeteries, please be respectful of the area.

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