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Frank C. Bostock – The Animal King of Abney Park Cemetery

If you live in Stokey, chances are you have seen that beautiful marble lion in the cemetery. And if you haven’t, you should make your way there pronto. It’s majestic, I tell you.

Frank C. Bostock's grave in Abney Park Cemetery

Frank C. Bostock's grave in Abney Park Cemetery

The man who is buried there is Frank C. Bostock, and – even though the RSPCA would probably have a word or two to say to him – it seems he was quite the man.

Bostock was born in Basford, Derbyshire in 1866 and started his career in small circuses around the country but by the time he died he had travelled the world, survived attacks by lions and tigers, put on shows in Paris, Indianapolis, New York, uh, Blackpool and other cities, and was known worldwide as “The Animal King”. He was one of the pioneers in his field and even wrote a book, The Training of Wild Animals, which you can still buy today.

Frank C. Bostock and his lions - From a program of his show at the Panamerican Exhibition, 1901

Frank C. Bostock and his lions - From a program of his show at the Panamerican Exhibition, 1901

“Imagine one man surrounded by twenty-five monster lions, sitting calmly in their midst reading a newspaper, while they group themselves about him as peacefully as kittens around a little child!” (Frank C. Bostock’s Great Animal Arena Program, 1901)

Our Animal King was best known for his work with lions, tigers and other big kitty cats but apparently the audience in Blackpool was treated to a show featuring “a group of well-trained camels” and at the Hippodrome in Paris, according to the New York Times, there was “” party of Abyssinians and a group of trained hyenas” on show. The Habesha people, I assume, not the house cat but, you know… who knows.

The Great Bostock Zoological Arena was part of the Pan-American Exposition in 1901 but I guess the biggest show he put on was the Bostock Animal Arena at Dreamland in Coney Island. Dreamland was one of the early amusement parks, light bulbs and all. It must have been an impressive place, with the central tower higher than any building in New York City at the time, rides, curiosities and all sorts. Unfortunately the whole place burned down in 1911, just after Bostock had sold his show there, when some workers accidentally started a fire in the “Hell Gate” attraction. Get it? It’s kinda funny, and nobody was hurt, so it’s ok.

Bostock Arena in Dreamland, Coney Island, courtesy of the Library of Congress

Bostock Arena in Dreamland, Coney Island, courtesy of the Library of Congress

While Dreamland was going, Bostock and his cats were in high demand. There he exhibited Rajah, a tiger that almost ripped his arm off in 1901, and Menelik, a lion who tried the same thing some years later in 1905. Both times Bostock survived (but apparently coming to Stoke Newington was a bit much. I’ve heard it used to be quite rough here.)

In 1905 even Theodore Roosevelt got in touch, mainly to find out about whether the puma was really a bit of a “cowardly animal” compared to the big bear, the jaguar, leopard and other beasts… but also to brag a bit I think.

What else? Apparently Bostock was also the first to introduce the boxing kangaroo to the public, and in one daring experiment in 1901 he sent a 100 years old Egyptian crocodile over the Niagara Falls… all in the name of science of course, and apparently the croc was fine, if a bit tired, but you know what I mean about the RSPCA hey.

How exactly Frank C. Bostock came to rest in Abney Park after he died of the flu while visiting England in 1912 I haven’t been able to find out but it is known that some his animals, the giraffes, were kept on a small farm in Yoakley Road, so there is a bit of a connection at least.

So there you go, this is one of Abney Park’s famous dead people. I’m sure there are many more and we’ll definitely try and cover a few of them here. Let us know if you have any suggestions or if you maybe even want to write an article yourself.

Check out Frank C. Bostock’s book, The Training of Wild Animals, on Amazon.co.uk and support us by buying through this link.

3 Comments

  1. Great Stuff, I’ll check out the book, It’s just a pity the Vicar of Stiffkey isn’t buried at Abney Park too, then you could do a whole series, on people eaten by lions (OK so Bostock wasn’t, but he nearly was). Isn’t there a lion up at the old Highgate Cemetery too?

    • Frank’s grave featured in Paul McCartney’s film Give My Regards To Broad Street during the Eleanor Rigby sequence. Check around eight minutes in: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xcjqSkAr2cY

    • There is another lion in Highgate cemetery, and it belongs to Frank Bostock’s uncle, George Wombwell, who was the first man to bring a lion to Britain, apparently, and had the first royal menagerie. Story goes that he used to organise lion vs. bulldog fights on the sly – but one lion was far too placid and refused to fight. This was his favourite lion, which statue he is now buried under…
      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/George_Wombwell

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