Remembering Duluth's famous mongoose, Mr. Magoo
Odd, obscure, historic, humorous, random and/or relevant items from the archives of the Duluth News Tribune
Picking up where we left off on an earlier post (if you didn’t see it, go there for much, much more information), Mr. Magoo, a mongoose given as a gift to the Duluth Zoo in November 1962, was condemned to death or deportation under a federal law barring mongooses from the country – but then won a temporary reprieve from the Secretary of the Interior, Stewart Udall.
Initially, Mr. Magoo was permitted to stay through March 1. Then, in the Feb. 19, 1963, News-Tribune, it was reported that Udall extended the reprieve until May 1 – though there had been some anti-Magoo mailings.
“There is a large volume of mail coming into this department and others,” Udall told the News-Tribune, “from people who fear the consequences if Magoo escapes and starts a mongoose infestation in the Midwestern farm belt.”
But a few weeks later, the good news that many Duluthians had been waiting for finally arrived, as reported in the April 19, 1963 News-Tribune:
MAGOO TO STAY
U.S. Asylum granted
Mr. Magoo, Duluth’s nationally famous mongoose, was granted asylum by Secretary of the Interior Stewart L. Udall Thursday.
In a letter to Daniel H. Janzen, director of the Bureau of Sport Fisheries and Wildlife, Udall said:
“Acting on the authority that permits importation or proscribed mammals, including mongooses, for zoological, educational, medical and scientific purposes, I recommend that Mr. Magoo be granted nonpolitical asylum in the United States.”
Lloyd Hackl, Duluth Zoo director, said, “I feel wonderful,” when informed that the zoo will be able to keep Mr. Magoo permanently.
“I’m happy and the whole area will be happy,” Hackl declared. “Not only has Magoo been a continuously big attraction, but I have had letters from all over the Midwest from people who plan to come see him this summer.”
Hackl said life in the zoo would be a little brighter for Magoo now that attendants can plan for his future. “We’ll probably have to build him a new house. He’s getting a little too fat for the door in the house he has now.
“Also, when the weather warms up a little more, we’ll start putting him outside in the sun for an hour or so each day — in his cage, of course.
“For exercise, we let him run free in the zoo office. He’s just as friendly as he ever was, even more.”
Hackl said Magoo was still eating an egg a day and like a little vegetable plus his milk or tea and water bottle. …
“I’m just as much a permanent resident of this zoo as you are, Jack, and a heck of a lot more alive,” Mr. Magoo, the Duluth Zoo’s mongoose, seems to be telling a stuffed monkey, in April 1963. Magoo was granted a permanent reprieve to live out his days at the zoo. (George Starkey / News-Tribune)
President Kennedy reportedly said, “Let the story of the saving of Magoo stand as a classic example of government by the people.” Kennedy – and Udall – were in Duluth a few months later, in September 1963. At that time, Udall asked local officials how Mr. Magoo was doing.
A book about Mr. Magoo, “The Duluth Mongoose” by Jack Denton Scott, was published in 1965.
Three years later, on Jan. 8, 1968, Mr. Magoo died at the zoo. Here’s his obituary from the Jan. 9, 1968, Duluth Herald:
OUR MR. MAGOO OF ZOO IS DEAD
By Harold Hollis, Duluth Herald
Mr. Magoo, Duluth’s famed mongoose, is dead.
He died Monday night, apparently of old age, after an illness that was first noted Sunday, Basil Norton, zoo director, reported.
Most popular of the animals in the Duluth Zoo, Mr. Magoo attracted nationwide attention when his execution was ordered in 1962. He was saved only by the intervention of Secretary of the Interior Stewart L. Udall. …
There are no plans to replace Mr. Magoo, Norton said.
“He had that certain spark that give some animals a special appeal,” the zoo director added. “Another mongoose could never take his place in the hearts and affections of Duluth people.”
Mr. Magoo showed indications of not feeling well Sunday and was taken to Dr. Donald E. Simes, veterinarian who looks after Duluth Zoo animals. Dr. Simes treated Mr. Magoo and he was returned to his cage.
The veterinarian noticed signs of deterioration resulting from old age in the animal, Norton said.
Mr. Magoo apparently lived the full life span of a mongoose, which is about eight years, Norton said. It is thought he was two or three years old when he was presented to the Duluth Zoo in September 1962 by a seaman on a foreign vessel berthed in the Duluth Harbor.
Norton said Mr. Magoo will be mounted by a taxidermist and kept on display at the zoo.
Although mongooses are known as vicious animals, Mr. Magoo was friendly and gentle. John Mealey and other keepers could pet and handle him in his cage. Even when indisposed Sunday, Mr. Magoo showed no signs of anger.
“He had a pleasant disposition right up to the time of his death,” Norton said.
Mr. Magoo was popular with all visitors, particularly children. His popularity was attested by the number of letters and Christmas cards he received. Many of the letters bore short verses such as the one “Mr. Magoo, why not live at the Soo?” from Sault Ste. Marie, Mich.
The stuffed Mr. Magoo went on display at the zoo; here’s a photo from 2002, which ran with an anniversary story in the News Tribune:
Mike Janis (left), Sam Maida and Basil Norton surround the final resting place of Mr. Magoo the mongoose at the Lake Superior Zoo in 2002. Magoo grabbed national headlines 40 years ago, back when he was a living resident of the zoo. Janis is the current zoo director, Maida is executive director of the Lake Superior Zoological Society and Norton was director of the zoo during Magoo’s last years. (Derek Neas / News Tribune)
For the last word on the story, here’s a memorial editorial that ran in the News-Tribune on Jan. 10, 1968:
Death has taken an inhabitant of Duluth very widely known in recent years — in some circles, surely. The mongoose, Mr. Magoo, won international attention. He was the occasion of high-level federal executive-action. President Kennedy saw in the acts which saved the life of the mongoose a classic example of government by the people.
At least two books were written about the little animal. Attention was called to our protective laws and to the ease with which they had been violated.
No chronicle of Duluth will be complete without some mention of this little creature, the fight which saved his life, and the pride Duluth took in him for his five years at the Zoo.
Share any information and stories you have by going to the News Tribune Attic and posting a comment.