Sunday, October 23, 2016

how zombies saved Halloween.

As I approached the Halloween of my seventh grade year, my parents delivered the devastating news that I was henceforth too old to go trick-or-treating.

I was crushed.

Halloween has been my favorite holiday ever since I was old enough to know what it meant to have a favorite holiday.
I would take Halloween over my birthday and Christmas, hands down. I loved (and still love) nothing more than to put on a costume (elaborate or otherwise) each year and have one night to be someone/thing else. I couldn't imagine EVER being too old for that.

When I was informed that I had aged out of trick-or-treating, I began plotting a work-around. My parents suggested that I stay home and hand out candy, but I was having none of that.

Besides, we only got the smallest handful of trick-or-treaters... there was no need whatsoever to have a person there to do the handing. My fellow rural South Dakotans simply left a giant bowl of candy on the steps with a sign saying "help yourself." As I have professed before, trick-or-treating in the country is the BEST.

Since handing out candy was out, I did what any Halloween-deprived conniving twelve-year-old would do:

I called up my town-dwelling friend Allison, and we went trick-or-treating on foot in Arlington.

I may have been too old to have my mom haul me around in a minivan to go trick-or-treating in the country, but there was no way I was giving up Halloween just yet.

Honestly, I went trick-or-treating much longer than I should have. There is definitely a "too old" threshold, and I passed it... and ignored it. In my defense, in my last few years of high school trick-or-treating, my friends and I only went to our teachers' houses - which sounds weird, but I really think they got a kick out of us.
Especially the time we dressed up in our band uniforms and went to our band director's house.
The last time I went trick-or-treating was during my freshman year in college. WAY too old, I know. But in my defense, the only real Halloween alternative to trick-or-treating was underage drinking. It was barely two months into my college experience, and I was still an eighteen-year-old uncorrupted goody-two-shoes, so I went trick-or-treating.

For some, high school is when Halloween morphs from cute costumes and candy into slutty costumes and booze. Others wait until college for this particular transformation.

It still hasn’t happened for me.

Halloween to me has never been a time to go out and get drunk, and it never will be. (I’m 29, for crying out loud: if it was going to happen, it would’ve happened.) Halloween means dressing up in something awesome (NEVER SLUTTY), eating candy (even if it’s candy you yourself purchased), and doing fun Halloween stuff.

As a childless adult, this is much more challenging than one would think. I am fortunate enough to work in a place that allows me to dress up, and candy is easy to come by… but Halloween stuff? It’s all aimed either at children or drunk twentysomethings. Don't get me wrong: I am totally a-ok with a drink or two. But I have long aged out of drinking for the sake of drinking, and that's what Halloween skews towards.

Sure, there are a couple of adulty non-drunk things one can do… the midnight showing of Rocky Horror comes to mind, and there is a haunted Sioux Falls tour that I’ve NEVER been able to get tickets to… but on the whole, pickings are slim.

Until the zombies.

Zombies have been having a moment for quite some time now, and I am SO GRATEFUL. Zombies have saved Halloween for people like me.

My first ever zombie event occurred just at the beginning of the zombie revolution. It was 2006 and my sophomore year in college. The U of M Morris announced it would be hosting a zombie prom, and HELL YES I was going. My friend Sara and I went to the Salvation Army for our outfits and Pamida for our makeup, and we looked ridiculous. It was a great time - the food service building had been transformed into part graveyard/part dance floor, and "Thriller" was on a never-ending loop. What a great and ridiculous entry point to my zombie life.
And you know what? I think UMM has had Zombie Prom every year since.

As an adult (and since I graduate from UMM - gulp - more than seven years ago), I'm pretty sure I'm no longer invited to Zombie Prom. (Though a quick Google search informs me that Chicago has a huge Zombie Prom. Next year??) However, there are two major zombie events I do attend each Halloween: the Zombie Pub Crawl in Minneapolis, and the Zombie Walk in Sioux Falls.

Let’s start with the pub crawl.
First of all, it is indeed a pub crawl, and I KNOW I was just griping that Halloween events cater to drunk adults. Indeed, this is true of the Zombie Pub Crawl: it is primarily a means for people to drink. However, it is not just that: there is a zombie costume contest, and there are food trucks. There are concerts, and someone is always doing the “Thriller” dance. I personally LOVE that there are thousands of people in one spot, and each and every one of them is dressed like a zombie.

But the real star of the show is the Sioux Falls Zombie Walk.

I have lived in the Sioux Falls area for five years now, and I’ve participated in the Sioux Falls Zombie Walk for three years. (Soon to be four, as the walk is coming up on the 29th.) I didn’t know about it during my first year (as I had just moved here at the beginning of October and was likely too poor to buy zombie makeup), but I’ve been a faithful zombie ever since.

The Zombie Walk is a full-on zombie parade, and the costumes are some of the most intricate I’ve ever seen in my life. You can pay a few bucks to have a professional do your makeup for you, and you can get hosed down with fake blood at the “blood station” (you should see the sidewalk when they’re through). I have seen dogs dressed as zombies, and I have seen tiny babies dressed as zombies. I have seen astoundingly delightful theme zombies - zombie Marty McFly being my favorite to date. At the parade itself, there are zombie floats and everything. The entire zombie horde goes shambling down the street, and people line the sidewalks to watch. It's downright magical in an eat-your-brains kind of way.

This year's Zombie Walk promises to be the biggest and best so far. I've heard that there's going to be a regular Halloween parade before the zombies - something less gruesome for the squeamish among us. Then, all zombies are invited to the Icon in Sioux Falls - something I'm pretty thrilled about, as there has not been an organized zombie event after the parade. In previous years, the zombies would just disperse - and anyone in zombie makeup heading to a downtown restaurant after the parade would get some weird looks (Mitch, James, and I were all but shamed out of Bros one year).
We looked like this.

I love the Zombie Walk because it is one of those rare events that bills itself "for all ages" and actually is. If you go to the Zombie Walk, you'll find all ages: remember the babies dressed as zombies? And the point - unlike a lot of adult-ish Halloween events - is NOT to get drunk. It's to dress up like a zombie and be a part of a zombie community and march in a parade while doing your best to look like you want to eat brains. It is exactly my kind of thing.

So I just want to say thank you. Thank you to the zombies of America for saving Halloween. Thank you for creating something to do for Halloween that doesn't require small children or copious amounts of alcohol. I love you, zombies, and I can't wait to eat brains with you at the Zombie Walk.

Saturday, October 22, 2016

on this day in 2003: excerpts from a journal, October edition.

22 October 2003

College Days! (fanfare follows)

(editor's note: I was referring to a college fair in Brookings that the junior class attended each year.)

It actually wasn't nearly as painful as I thought it would be. Upon arriving at College Days, Gilbertson (the guidance counselor) gave us a few instructions and sent us on our merry way. I filled out a bunch of little cards for more information (even an Army one). College mail, here I come!

Allison and I are both fascinated with the armed forces, so we (along with Jessie) visited those booths. The Army ROTC guy was really nice, and he gave us big fat books with a ton of information. They rule. Apparently, if you go to school under an ROTC program, you graduate an officer and get lots of scholarship money. ROTC does not sound like a bad deal, although the whole idea of basic training scares the hell out of me.

Speaking of scary, when we were walking past the Navy table, Jessie said to us, "I don't do boats." The Navy guy yelled, "Only 54% of the Navy is on boats at any given time!" He barked information at us, and he asked Jessie what she was considering. When she said nursing, he yelled, "There are 270,000 nurses in the Navy, and 23 on each of our 10 aircraft carriers. Where the hell do you think the others are?" What a jerk! Doesn't the Navy want any more sailors?

After that weirdness, we went to visit of University of Minnesota, Morris. Their admissions guy asked us where we had been, and we told him about the Navy. He said, "Don't worry, we won't yell at you."

The other armed forces tables were nice, though. The Air Force guy was very smiley, and the Army guy liked Allison's coat. The Army was giving away some kick-ass swag. I got an awesome pin and a notebook, but I missed the luggage tags.

Current music: I heard "Livin' on a Prayer" by Bon Jovi on the bus on the way to Brookings...

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

a lifetime of Halloweens: revised for 2016!

(editor's note: I wrote this just before Halloween 2015. in the meantime, I have discovered an additional childhood Halloween costume AND have dressed as a zombie. so while much of the material is the same, there's a little bit that's different - and even so, I personally think it's totally worth revisiting almost 30 years of costumes.)

So it's almost Halloween, and I am excited: per usual. I have had my costume picked out since last Halloween, and I've been gazing at it longingly ever since. 

My costume is not just any costume. It kicks ass, and I can't wait to show it to you. However, there is a definite downside to having such an awesome costume: after this Halloween, I can NEVER WEAR IT AGAIN.


Because I have a policy.

I cannot be the same thing for Halloween twice.

"But wait!" you say. "What about the zombies, huh? YOU ARE LYING!"

But no! I dress up as a zombie for specific zombie-themed events: not for Halloween itself. Doesn't count. It's the zombie clause in my self-imposed Halloween contract. 

(I could also argue that since I have worn different zombie-fied clothes each time, I am never the same zombie. But let's not go there.)

I must have decided on my no-repeats Halloween rule at a pretty young age: I have pictures going back to 1988, and you won't find any duplicates. You will, however, find some darn cute pictures of me as a very excited child. 

I wish I had pictures of every Halloween, but I don't. I don't know what I was for Halloween 1987 - but I was a mere six months old and I am pretty sure that my parents dressed me up in the little skeleton costume you'll see on my sister in 1991 and my brother in 1993. 1992 is also missing, as are 1999 - 2002. While I am unsure about 1992, 1999 - 2001 was a dark time in my life... as I was deemed too old for trick-or-treating. I decided to forgo costumes those years, but I eventually realized that just because you're too old to trick-or-treat does NOT mean you're too old to dress up for Halloween. You're NEVER too old to dress up for Halloween, dammit. The only other year missing is 2009, but that was the year that I was in New Orleans. I was so excited to spend Halloween in New Orleans, but alas, it wasn't all it was cracked up to be. I didn't know anyone well enough to go out Halloweening with them, and even if I did, I didn't have enough money for a costume or drinks at the bar. I spent that Halloween curled up on my air mattress, watching Halloween episodes of Buffy the Vampire Slayer and sad-eating Halloween candy from my landlady.

On the bright side? Pretty much every Halloween going forward is guaranteed to be better than that one.

So here we go: a pictorial history of Calla's Halloweens!

I came across this picture in May when I was digging through a box of ancient photos in search of something embarrassing to post for Mother's Day. (You mean you DON'T share ridiculous photos of your mother from the 1980s on Mother's Day? Shame on you.) I was overjoyed, as 1988 had been one of my mysterious gap years. You have no idea how happy finding this twenty-eight-year old picture made me.

Mickey Mouse
Is this or is this not the cutest damn Mickey Mouse you've ever seen? I was about two-and-a-half, and Halloween was already my favorite holiday. Trick-or-treating in the country always meant that you'd come away with an enormous haul. We just had to hop in the minivan and drive from house to house. As not many trick-or-treaters make it out into the sticks where we lived, any house you went to would reward you with handfuls of candy. Or multiple full-sized candy bars. Or twelve-packs of pop. Country trick-or-treating is the best.

My pumpkin makeup is a little bit hilarious. I'm not sure which parent was responsible for this, but I would like to know why exactly I have a red mouth instead of a black one. The jack o' lantern face on my sweatshirt has a black mouth - why not me?

You may have noticed that all of my costumes involve long sleeves. Indeed, I live in the Midwest, so many of my Halloween costumes were planned around sweatshirts and winter coats. That's why I look so bulky: under my black sweatshirt was probably another sweatshirt. I believe 1991 was a particularly snowy Halloween, but there's no way that I wasn't going out trick-or-treating.

This princess dress came from a huge bin of my mom's old clothes that had been deemed "for dress-up." I played dress-up ALL the damn time, and it was a delight for me to be able to wear this out in public. To top it off, Mom made me glitter shoes: old dress shoes coated in glue and dipped in multi-colored glitter. They were the BEST.

I don't know where this costume came from, but I do remember that it was supposed to be a bunny suit. It more or less a white onesie and had big ears sticking straight up. One of Mom's coworkers sewed spots on it, and presto! I was a dalmatian. However, even though I was clearly wearing a dog collar, I was mistaken for a cow for all of Halloween day.

1995 must've been a particularly warm Halloween, hence the bare legs. Though I was only eight in 1995, I feel as though my sarcasm was really starting to develop: being a cheerleader for Halloween was the scariest thing I could think of.

Another cold Halloween, as our costumes were comprised mainly of different-colored sweatshirts. My cat ears are a little droopy, but I felt (at the time) like the stuffed mouse really brought the costume together. Please, though, direct your attention to my brother Mitch, who (at age three) is way too delighted to be Satan.

Cruella de Vil
Ah, the year I was Cruella de Vil. Mom (for reasons still unknown) had this old rabbit-fur coat in the back of her closet, and I commandeered it for Halloween that year. My cousin Ethan was a part of the theatre department at SDSU, so he was able to procure (and spray-paint) the wig for me. Another cold-weather costume, but this one was a win. 

gypsy/just-rolled-out-of-bed girl
The first year of the double Halloween costume. I dug through the old dress-up box and was a gypsy for the school Halloween parade. (This was around the time Disney released The Hunchback of Notre Dame, and I totally wished I could be Esmeralda.) I came home in my gypsy outfit, all ready to trick-or-treat, and I was informed that it was too cold to wear it. I would have to find something else. I half-heartedly threw together my "person in pajamas" costume, which is 100% lame. Had I realized that it would be my last year as a trick-or-treater, I'd like to think that I would've come up with something better. We'll never know.

Medieval vampire?
Ok, so I'm not 100% sure what I billed my costume as this year. I do know that it involved this dress that I bought at Goodwill, a vampire cape from KMart, and skeleton earrings. Medieval vampire, perhaps?

Count von Disco Bono
Another off-year in my Halloween history. This is the cape that I bought with Allison the year before - sadly, no photographic evidence exists of our 2002 vampire costumes. The cape itself is pretty awesome - it came from Kmart in Brookings before it closed, and I still have the cape to this day. I also have the skeleton earrings in this picture, which you can see if you look very closely. Anyway, I wanted to dress up for Halloween but was fresh out of ideas, so this is what I got. I called myself Count von Disco Bono: vampire cape + Bono sunglasses + pink plaid bellbottoms. A terrible costume, but a costume nonetheless.

reject Charlie's Angel/generic sock hopper
Halloween of my senior year of high school was AWESOME. That was the year our high school football team made it to the state playoffs (and won). Halloween was right around said big game, so all of Halloween (which was on a Sunday, so we celebrated early at school) was one big pep rally day. There were games and snacks and absolutely no productivity whatsoever. My outfit was a red one-piece bell-bottomed monstrosity that I got at Goodwill, plus some go-go boots and a shiny scarf. I was a reject Charlie's Angel. I had to work at the Dairy Mart  that evening, and there was no way that I was doing so in a polyester jumpsuit. I changed into a dress and saddle shoes and was a generic sock-hopper.

band kid
Much to my great pleasure, I found all sorts of people at college who loved to dress up at Halloween. I stole adopted my old band uniform - after all, the school had just gotten new ones and was systematically burning/donating/destroying the old uniforms, so I figured that I might as well give mine the loving home it deserved. Anyway, it was the perfect Midwestern costume - made of wool = super warm. And how about that hat? If only I'd had the red plume that goes with it.

zombie I/sailor-ish/opposite
Yes, friends: this was the year of the triple costume. My friend Sara and I attended UMM's first Zombie Prom: though we look like undead pandas, believe me when I say that we were zombies. Halloween was on a Tuesday that year, so we also needed costumes for the preceding weekend: hence my sailor outfit. It's difficult to see in this picture, but my top is an actual wool sailing uniform that I picked up at an antique store. Points for authenticity. Finally, Sara and I had costumes for Halloween itself: we went as opposites. It's the only time that I've ever dressed as a concept for Halloween, and it was a very liberal arts college thing to do. I totally loved it and still think we were a little bit brilliant.

My favorite costume to date: the year of the Croc. Ever since I first saw those rubbery horrors, I have cursed their existence. Sara had a pair of pink Crocs that she so graciously let me borrow for this costume. This was the year that Halloween was on a Wednesday, and Wednesday nights were the nights that both Sara (the news editor) and I (the arts and entertainment editor) worked late at the college paper. We put in extra hours on Monday and Tuesday of that week in order to be out the door by 10pm Wednesday - instead of our usual 2am Thursday. Halloween is THAT important.

Thanks to the leap year, Halloween landed on a Friday in 2008. Theoretically, that was great: but we poor band kids had a concert on HALLOWEEN NIGHT. And not even a fun Halloween concert... a regular concert that no one attended BECAUSE IT WAS HALLOWEEN. After the concert, we all booked it back to our houses to get into our Halloween costumes and catch up to the rest of our non-band friends. My costume is an authentic Norwegian folk costume, given to me by my authentic Norwegian grandma. And made of wool. The best Minnesotan Halloween costumes are wool-based.

Lobster Telephone
I was living in Minneapolis in 2010, which is an all-around excellent place to spend Halloween. I had finished my tenure as an intern at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts, but during my time there, I learned about all sorts of cool events that they sponsor. Example: they do this thing called Third Thursdays where, the third Thursday of each month, they keep the museum open late and have some kind of big event. On this particular Third Thursday, the MIA asked attendees to come dressed as their favorite MIA work of art. I chose Dali's Lobster Telephone because why on earth WOULDN'T you choose Lobster Telephone?

Rocky Horror fail/old-timey teacher
By 2011, I had moved to Sioux Falls and had been there for approximately one month. I wore the costume on the left to a midnight showing of The Rocky Horror Picture Show, hoping that it would be as amazing as the midnight showing I had seen in Minneapolis the year before. (Note: it wasn't.) My Rocky Horror outfit was not as risque as a real Rocky Horror outfit should be, but what can I say? It was cold, and I was a chicken. The costume on the left is the one I wore to work at the Department of Labor and Regulation. I was dead-broke, so I had to pretty much phone this one in. I carried a ruler and was an old-timey teacher - the dress belonged to my grandma in the 60s, who was real-life old-timey teacher. Again, points for authenticity.

By Halloween 2012, I was gainfully employed at the library and was delighted to find out that nearly everyone at the library dressed up for Halloween. The library costumes were all part of a theme, and the theme that year was superheroes. That worked out perfectly for me, as my brother Mitch had given me this spectacular pair of pajamas for Christmas the year before. And may I say that James's Pee-Wee Herman costume is simply amazing? 

zombie II/Mary Poppins
2013 was the first year that we participated in the Zombie Walk... and I didn't really even get to be in it. The parade started at 5 o'clock, but I worked until 5... I thought I could quick run over, find James and our friend Nate, and quick get my makeup done and hop in the parade. Alas, by the time I left the library and made it to the zombie area (approx. two minutes), the parade was over. So I found James and Nate at a restaurant, and they did my makeup while we were waiting for a table. For Halloween itself, the library's theme costume was Duck Dynasty... I don't have a photograph, but we all wore fake beards and camouflage. My REAL costume was Mary Poppins - and this was the first (and so far, only) year James and I have had couples' costumes. 

zombie III/Buster Bluth
Finally, we arrive at 2014. Mitch made it for the Zombie Walk, and I feel as though our makeup was much better than the year before. For Halloween, I convinced the library to go with a "TV characters" theme just because I had been dying to go as Buster Bluth. I repurposed the Duck Dynasty jacket from the year before and bought camo pants, a hook, an army hat, wire glasses, and a loose seal - complete with a yellow bow tie. It was the most I'd ever spent on a Halloween costume, and the hardest I'd ever worked on one. And you know what? Almost NO ONE got it. At the bar that evening, one guy yelled out "Motherboy," which was a spot-on Buster Bluth reference and totally made my night.

zombie IV/Maleficent/Marla Hooch

2015 was a particularly strong year for me, and I'm really quite proud of my costumes. Of course, there was the zombie element: I went to both the Minneapolis Zombie Pub Crawl and the Sioux Falls Zombie Walk, so zombie squared. (I'm only including the one picture, though, since my zombie costume was the same.) For work, I dressed as Maleficent. Our work theme was heroes and villains, and I was only one of two villains. I got a lot of great compliments on my costume that day, and no less than three people asked to take a picture of/with me. But what really struck me as hilarious was that for every one person who commented on my costume, there were at least three more who pretended like absolutely nothing was out of the ordinary. On Halloween itself, I dressed as a Rockford Peach - specifically, Marla Hooch. "And then there's Marla Hooch... what a hitter!"

zombie V/?
Did you honestly think I was going to debut my Halloween costume before Halloween?! You should know me better by now. Since Halloween is still nearly two weeks away, all you get (for now) is a zombie picture. Here I am at the Minneapolis Zombie Pub Crawl, in my child-size skeleton onesie. We had initially planned to go as Zombie Clue (which would've been AWESOME), but two members of our group couldn't come. Instead of looking like idiots when we dressed as just part of Zombie Clue, we went with the classic random zombie horde. I found my costume the day of at Goodwill. Typical zombie behavior.


And there's my lifetime of Halloweens! Rest assured I will continue adding to this list as the years go on, because DAMMIT you're never too old for Halloween.

Monday, September 26, 2016

on this day in 2004: excerpts from a journal, September edition.

26 September 2004

Yesterday, Bob came over for a cheesy Lifetime movie viewing. He got here at noon, and we made popcorn and watched Invisible Child. What a dumb movie - I loved it. I learned two very important things yesterday: Bob can cry on demand, and he will eat Play Doh if you ask him to.

When the movie was done, we decided to play hide-and-seek. It ruled. I am the all-time Ultimate Champion Hider, though. Bob would try to get me to come out by announcing that he was going to rip off Kermit the Frog's legs. At one time, I even came out of my hiding place, yelled, "Bob had better hurry up and find me because I have to go to work pretty soon," and went back to hide; he still didn't find me. It was really easy to find Bob, though; I could say anything, and he'd start laughing. Once, I announced that Mitch was wearing his headgear, and Bob dashed out of my room, walking Walter the duck and wearing my Harry Potter glasses.

Today was Darrah's birthday party, and I entertained Isabelle and Eleanor. Isabelle and I played Mousetrap, Tiddlywinks, Baby Animal Memory, and that game where you pick up the sticks without moving the ones around it. We had fun, but Eleanor kept interrupting our game of Tiddlywinks by trying to eat the pieces.

I was watching Conan the other night, ad he was talking about ER. "I call it Err," he said. I love Conan.

Current music: "Norwegian Wood" by the Beatles

Sunday, September 18, 2016

let's talk about the Bramble Park Zoo.

I wouldn't call myself a zoo connoisseur, but I've been to a handful in my lifetime. The Great Plains Zoo in Sioux Falls, the Henry Doorly Zoo in Omaha, the Como Zoo in St Paul, the Minnesota Zoo in Apple Valley, the Denver Zoo in (duh) Denver, and the Cheyenne Mountain Zoo in Colorado Springs. They all had their merits, but one zoo has always stood out above the rest.

The Bramble Park Zoo in Watertown, South Dakota.

The Bramble Park Zoo is the zoo I grew up with. 
circa 1992
Same picture, circa 1994.
Some of my very earliest memories involve me feeding the pushy goats at that zoo. The Bramble Park Zoo was very likely the ONLY zoo I had visited up until a third grade field trip to the Sioux Falls zoo - and after years of the cozy environment of Watertown, I was unimpressed with all their concrete and dust.

The Bramble Park Zoo feels less like a zoo and more like a park that happens to have animals in it. There are winding sidewalks in between grassy patches upon which peacocks roam free, and nearly all of the park is shaded with trees. 
And sometimes the peacocks are albino!
You can take your time wandering through the park, stopping to take in the enormous pond with its resident fowl, or perhaps feeding the farm animals with handfuls of corn you buy for a quarter.

There was a natural progression to our zoo trips, and the first place we always ALWAYS went was to the birds. The bird house was/still is an enclosed mini-ecosystem that you enter by walking through these plastic hangy-down chains (which were a total blast when you were a kid, but now are mostly just gross). 

This little bird area was a large rectangle, and you followed the sidewalk around until you arrived back at the exit. At the opposite end of the entrance was a waterfall and a bridge over a small pond, which was where the ducks and scarlet spoonbills hung out. 
The outside was lined with huge greenery-filled cages, housing birds and lemurs. (When Mom and I visited the zoo last fall, we met a 32-year-old lemur named Gwen. She was the best.)

From the birds, our next stop was usually the monkeys. If you've ever been to a zoo EVER, you know that monkeys are hilarious. We could watch them for ages - a typical cast of monkeys rarely failed to include an adorable baby, a shy corner-hider, and the asshole monkey who keeps trying to push his friends off the branches.
After the monkeys, our stops were dictated by the general feeling of the group. We never skipped visiting any of the exhibits, but the order in which we saw them would vary.

The Watertown Zoo had bears and large cats - tigers, panthers, and leopards. 

They had bald eagles and a super awesome wingspan chart where you could see how your own wingspan measured up to that of large predatory birds. (I never grew beyond a red-tailed hawk.) 

This is obviously everyone's favorite part.
There were gorillas and chimpanzees to see, and an alligator at which to marvel. The petting zoo was always a favorite spot, where donkeys let you scratch their necks and goats jostled to be at the front lines to munch feed corn from your outstretched hand. The Watertown Zoo had kangaroos (SO ADORABLE I COULD DIE), along with a pack of three wolves. There was a viewing area where you could peek in for a better view of the wolves, though they typically avoided your gaze. However, when Mom and I visited the zoo on a quiet October day last year, the wolves were totally STANDING IN THE WINDOW AND LOOKING FOR SOME PEOPLE TO EAT. It was amazing/terrifying.

No zoo is complete without a collection of large hoofed animals, and the Watertown Zoo had a stock of buffalo and camels. 
We also could not miss the snake house, nor would we bypass the foxes and owls. This place was our own childhood heaven. 

And it wasn't just for summer. One winter day, Mom took us three kids to the zoo. It was free to go to the zoo since it was so cold, and we were the only people in sight. It was a relatively mild January day, and honestly? It was the best zoo day I've ever had. Not only were we the only people there, but the animals were out in full force. Many of them were enjoying the cool weather, even though some of them originated from warmer climates. The camels were frolicking, and the wolves were running. The big cats were basking in the winter sunshine, and the bears played with their toys. If you ever get the chance to go to the zoo on a warm(ish) winter day, DO IT: the animals are much happier and will totally show off for you.

In the (many MANY) years since I was young, the Bramble Park Zoo has added a lot of great stuff. When I was in high school, they built an indoor exhibit hall that houses exotic fish, not-so-exotic fish, insects, and reptiles (including a python). They also acquired otters (!!!) and penguins, and super-cool park areas with metal dinosaurs in one and tractors in another.

But since I am a firm believer that zoos are not just for children, I have made plenty of trips to the Bramble Park Zoo to enjoy these later additions. The first time I went to the zoo without my family was when I was 17. I went with my friends Bob and Tiffany, and we roamed the zoo while acting like idiot high schoolers. It was the best, though I'm pretty sure the other zoo-goers would've hated our guts - but in my memory, we were some of a very few people at the zoo that day. Who knows if that's true, but I hope it was for the sake of those who would've had to put up with us.

The summer after I graduated from college, I visited the Bramble Park Zoo not once, but twice. The first time was in mid-July: I had been in Denver for an internship at the art museum, and I had come back to South Dakota for a week to see my sister Darrah off to basic training. For a farewell activity, she chose the Bramble Park Zoo. Darrah and I went with James and our college friends Nate and Sara, and it was a perfect send-off. 

The second time I went to the zoo that summer was right before I took off for an internship in New Orleans. Mom and I went to the zoo together as my farewell - it was the first time just Mom and I had gone to the zoo together, and it was wonderful. 

We have an affinity for the dinosaurs.
Mom and I made another trip to the Bramble Park Zoo last October (remember the hungry wolves?), and we continued our great track-record of visiting the zoo when there were almost no children present. YES.

There were so few people around that we could to stuff like this and no one would bother us.

My latest and greatest Bramble Park Zoo experience was just this past summer. The zoo hosted an adults-only (!!!) event called the Sunset Zoofari. You had to be 21 or older to attend, and you would be able to sample wine, beer, and food from around the world while enjoying the animals and having the whole damn place to yourselves. Mom, Dad, and I went, and it was absolutely delightful. We had fish and chips and Vegemite and fry bread and baklava, not to mention cherry cola beer and summer shandy. 
We got so caught up eating food and talking to the people at the booths that we ran out of time to see almost all of the animals. (The only animals we saw were the ones along the food trail, like the otters and the bears.) 

It was absolutely my favorite day at the zoo thus far, and I'm hopeful they'll do it annually. I'm 100% in.

Moral of the story: the Bramble Park Zoo is the best, and if you haven't been, go there. It's not the biggest zoo in the world, but it's clean and cozy and friendly, and sometimes you can drink beer there. The best.