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#VintageKSDK: The time a labor strike shut down the Saint Louis Zoo

We go to the video vault for amazing footage of who was left to care for the animals.

ST. LOUIS — The Saint Louis Zoo has always been a gem of our city.

But 61 years ago this week, a labor strike shut it down for four days.

On this week's Vintage KSDK segment, we went to the video vault for amazing footage of who was left to care for the animals.

Monday, February 16, 1959

KSDK's cameras caught Saint Louis Zoo Director George Vierheller, in coat and tie, hand-feeding some animals in their cages.

The day before, supervisors including Vierheller started performing the work of 52 employees who'd walked off the job in a labor strike.

They were protesting the zoo administration's refusal to recognize a union they'd joined to represent them.

The gates were closed to the public for at least three days.

So, Vierheller and his overworked supervisors fed animals, birds and reptiles and yes, cleaned their cages.

Credit: KSDK
A lion is fed by a zoo manager during a labor strike in 1959.

Vierheller also was worried about picketing. The zoo had about a day-and-a-half supply of food for the animals. A picket line likely meant no more deliveries until the strike was over.

At one point, a heater to a birdcage was found not to be working, and striking workers were suspected of disconnecting it.

Police were never able to determine who did it.

By Wednesday, Feb. 18, workers and the zoo had come to a compromise. Employees would have the right to organize and take up grievances through the union but couldn't use a check-off system to pay union dues.

By Thursday, the gates of the zoo were back open and striking workers talked about how much they had missed the animals in just the few days they were away from them.

The only other strike at the zoo was in 1943. That one lasted two hours.

We have more than 70 years worth of video to share with you. Look for the Vintage KSDK segment every week on 5 On Your Side at 4 p.m. and by using #VintageKSDK on social media.

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