Gargantua the Great
Lowland Gorilla
The lowland gorilla know as Gargantua the Great poses in his cage.

Gargantua the Great, probably the most famous circus animal of the 20th century, was orphaned when he was only a month old and lived with missionaries in Africa until a sea captain purchased him and brought him to Boston in 1931. There, after being disfigured with nitric acid by a sailor with a grudge against the captain, he was bought by Gertrude Davies Lintz, who was determined to save the severely burned gorilla. Mrs. Lintz named him Buddha, “Buddy” for short, and tenderly nursed him back to health. However, his face was permanently disfigured and his mouth twisted into a fierce snarl.

In 1937 Lintz offered Buddy, who then weighed an estimated 460 pounds, to the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus. A delighted Henry Ringling North (Yale ’33) renamed him “Gargantua the Great” after one of the giants in Rabelais’ Gargantua and Pantagruel. As Gargantua, Buddy was transformed into the greatest of circus attractions by a flamboyant advertising campaign that saved the circus from imminent bankruptcy. For 12 years the circus toured the country and millions stood in line to see the lowland gorilla.

Buddy died of double pneumonia in November 1949 at the age of 20. North donated Gargantua’s skeleton to the Yale Peabody Museum in 1950.