In our November-December issue, we feature an oral history about Africa USA, one of the most unlikely success stories in the history of Boca Raton: a pioneering wildlife park that, at the height of its popularity, in 1960, beat Disneyland for a Time magazine cover on the theme-park phenomenon.
Founders John and Lillian Pedersen forged an extra-special connection with one of their animals: a gregarious chimpanzee they named Princess Margaret. Here, Shirley Pedersen, John’s daughter, and her son John Schneider share memories of their favorite primate.
John Schneider: Princess Margaret was the queen of the monkeys. She had dinner with us at the table. She’d rollerskate, she’d ride a bicycle, a skateboard. She’d wear a dress. My grandfather would take her to see multimillionaires at the Boca Raton Hotel and Club. Presidents and movie stars always wanted to see this chimp. This chimp was so incredibly talented. We’d take her in a carriage down to Fort Lauderdale and ride around the streets with her, and all the restaurants knew her. They’d let her come in to eat. She’d sit in the high chair and eat with spoon and fork, and everybody just adored her.
Shirley Pedersen: August Busch [of Anheuser-Busch fame] knew my father. He would go to the Boca Club all the time, and he’d always say, would you send my little girl over? So my mother would dress up Princess Margaret in white organdy dress and a big bow in her hair, white shoes. And we’d go to the Boca Raton Club. As soon as Princess Margaret got inside, she knew where she was going. She’d be so excited. She’d knock on the door, and Busch would open the door, and she’d run over to him and jump up on him and hug him, and he’d kiss her, and say, “we’re going to get to play together.”
He’d say, “Margaret, I can only have you for an hour, and then you’ve got to go back home. But you know what we’re going to have, don’t you?” And she’d lick her lips and clap her hands. And he’d say, ‘Go sit at the table. We’re going to have ice cream and cookies and Coca-Cola.” So they sat there. Now we don’t know if he did this on purpose or he really slobbered. But Margaret looked over at him, and she’d see that he was slobbering out of his mouth, and she’d get out of her chair and take his napkin and wipe his mouth off. And then she’d go back and sit and eat her ice cream.