Smokin’ Cy DeVry Was the Original Tiger King
How a cigar-chomping, bear-wrestling bricklayer became the unlikeliest celebrity-influencer of the early 20th century...and changed zookeeping forever.
Two policemen shouldered their way through a mob of onlookers, following the sounds of men fighting and sea lions barking. The officers had been patrolling the Lincoln Park Zoo when they’d heard the commotion break out in the distance and set off to investigate. The zoo was popular in Chicago in 1919 — there wasn’t much else to do on a hot summer’s day. And though most had come to see the animals, this crowd was watching a different spectacle entirely.
When the officers finally got ahead of the crowd in front of the sea lion pit, they saw a sight more bizarre than any creature in the park: Cy DeVry, the head animal keeper and director of the Lincoln Park Zoo, with his sleeves rolled up, fists balled, and a foot planted atop a dazed man on the ground.
Always sporting an impressive mustache and a tiger-tooth watch fob, DeVry was well known throughout the city for his eccentricity and steadfast devotion…