The Crazy Chimp Lady of Shore Road

Mrs. Lintz Chimp
“A chimpanzee plays with the nozzle of a hose in my Brooklyn back yard.” From Animals Are My Hobby, 1942

Richard Trohner, the caretaker, smelled coal gas.

He pushed open the door in terror. Panic followed close in its wake. There they were, all nine of them, inert—probably lifeless.

He turned and ran. At the corner a firebox caught his eye. He opened it and sounded an alarm. Within a matter of moments the fire trucks were roaring down the street. Neighbors ran out of their houses, curious, fearing the worst.

The firemen scrambled down from the trucks.

“Where’s the fire?”

“It’s not a fire,” Trohner stammered. “It’s the chimpanzees. All nine of ‘em. Dead as doornails from coal gas.”

The firemen gazed at him witheringly.

“It’s a police job,” they said, and climbed on their trucks.

The chimpanzees lay sprawled out and apparently lifeless, looking lugubrious and reproachful.

Presently, Mrs. Gertrude Davies Lintz, who owns them, was on the scene. Someone called the police, and in a moment the shrill siren of emergency squad 12…split the morning air.

So began a harrowing front-page story in the Brooklyn Eagle on March 16, 1934. Inhalators were employed to revive eight of the chimps, who “shook themselves, cast disdainful glances at their rescuers and sauntered haughtily back to their cages, which by that time had been aired out.” Artificial respiration was tried on the ninth, Yonny, but to no use—he was dead.

Gertrude Lintz and Chimps
“I have a lapful of chimpanzee.” Mrs. Lintz with Suzabella, Skippy 1 and Captain Jiggs. From Animals Are My Hobby, 1942.

This was the most dramatic tale to emerge from 8365 Shore Road since kidnappers had been shot near there 80 years before. (The short version: the biggest American news story of its day, the kidnapping of little Charley Ross, like a proto-Lindbergh-baby, came to a close when his kidnappers were shot to death trying to rob a home on Shore Road. Click here for the long version.) Mrs. Lintz and her husband, Dr. William Lintz, lived just south of what’s today Fort Hamilton High School, and what was until the late 1930s the Crescent Athletic Club, on a two-acre lot where they had ample space for an assortment of creatures: at the time of the gassing, they also owned two gorillas, 30 St. Bernards, 200 rabbits, 300 pigeons, 400 tropical fish, three canaries, a pair of owls, and more. The Philadelphia Inquirer called her “Auntie Mame with a menagerie.”

Her assortment of animals became so overwhelming that, a year after the coal-gas leak, Dr. Lintz filed for divorce. “Gorillas, howling dogs and chimpanzees have wrecked the married life of the Lintzes,” the Eagle reported, “and they no longer dwell together in the big mansion at 8365 Shore Road, famous as the home of numerous wild animals of the jungle.”

Gertrude Lintz and chimp
Mrs. Lintz, with Suzette. Likely on her Bay Ridge property, 1949, via Brooklyn Public Library

[Mrs. Lintz] said he was cruel and objected to her interest in animals. He was cruel to her personally, too, she said, and several years ago reduced her allowance to $35 a week and cut off her credit, so that she was left without sufficient funds to conduct the big house on Shore Road.

It was the jungle population transplanted to his home that broke up his domestic happiness, Dr. Lintz told the court. The animals attracted people from far and near, and absolutely ruined his privacy, nor did he relish the presence of the beasts. They not only made him nervous, he said, but they ate him out of house and home, what with the special foods and care they required.

A year ago nine of the chimpanzees were overcome by gas. Two of them died [?] and the whole neighborhood was in an uproar and all the newspapers had stories about the Lintz homestead. Then he heard himself described as a veterinarian, although he is an M. D. and a surgeon, and some people even pointed out the house as a place where wild animals are kept for experimental purposes. As a result, he claims, his professional standing as a doctor suffered considerably.

But such conjugal discord is not what’s usually associated with Mrs. Lintz, who’s still vaguely remembered for her affinity with animals; Rene Russo played her (“Trudy”) in the 1997 movie Buddy, named for her most-beloved chimpanzee. “Driving around Bay Ridge in the thirties with a 200-pound gorilla in the passenger seat who tended to clutch at the wheel, Gertrude Lintz found that other motorists gave her a pretty wide berth,” Barbara Ensor reported in a 1997 New York magazine featurette pegged to the film.

Mrs. Lintz’s life was closely tied to Bay Ridge and what she called “the big place on the Shore Road,” to which she moved with her husband in 1923. (They were married in April 1914 and never had children.) “Our place on the Shore Road had once been the rural home of Judge Charles van Brunt,” she wrote in her 1942 memoir, Animals Are My Hobby. (This isn’t quite accurate—she lived in his brother Albert’s house, in which Charles had lived as a young man, but not in Charles’s summer home, later built just to the north, outside of which the Mosher–Douglas shootout occurred.)

Van Brunt House on Shore Road
From Charlotte Bangs’s Reminiscences of Old New Utrecht and Gowanus

It was a dignified mansion with fine trees and a superb view of the Narrows of New York Harbor…It seemed made for us, for the grounds were walled and stretched back from the harbor over a two-acre expanse. The place had been left empty so long that it had become a dump, and when we first saw it we counted the carcasses of forty dead cars. Everything about the house was wrong, too. All those people who love nothing better than to make over a fine old place will know perfectly how I felt. I couldn’t wait to get to work.

Foot by foot, inside and out, I transformed the place. We ripped the inside of the house to bits, modernizing and rearranging the room plan, and put sun porches the whole length of the front and rear. In the basement, which was really a ground floor, we made a separate apartment for Dick Kroener and the staff, with its own kitchen, and devoted the long room on one side to a succession of purposes. It was, primarily, the billiard room, but we used it for display of the Hercuveen trophies [Lintz’s St. Bernard, a champion show dog], for Dick’s collections of live tropical fish and butterflies behind frames, and later on for the first American home of small visitors from Africa.

My English blood had made me a born gardener, and now, as I look around the place where I have lived for twenty years, I can hardly believe myself that I planted most of the trees, for they seem to have been there for generations. Dick and I landscaped the whole two acres with shrubs and gardens, and between us we turned the sorry dump into a thing of beauty. There were fine new kennels and a pigeon loft over the garage, and we made ten long dog runs and covered the fences with climbing roses in every color.

Certain things I planted to attract humming birds—masses of salvia and trumpet vine and all the honeyed flowers these exquisite birds love. Year after year more of the tiny things came, until finally there were more on the place than in any yard in Greater New York.

Shore Road Lane
Shore Road Lane and houses, on what was formerly the Lintz property, as they appear today. Via Google

It sounds out of a storybook, although of a different sort when it turns up in Allene Gaty Hatch’s 2000 autobiography The Best of Times. “Mrs. Lintz’s house was a rambling Victorian, gingerbread affair,” she writes, “very stiff and formal, as was Mrs. Lintz.” Hatch was describing when John and Henry “Buddy” Ringling North, who together ran the Ringling Brothers Circus from 1936 to 1967, visited Brooklyn to buy the gorilla they would name Gargantua, who became the most famous ape of the 20th century; according to the Eagle, he “delighted more than 40,000,000 spectators during the 12 years it was a feature attraction for the…Circus.”

Buddy North also described the encounter (in his 1960 book, The Circus Kings, cowritten with Hatch’s husband, Alden).

We drove to Brooklyn, winding through dismal streets of rubber-plant-decorated homes, down into a tenement district, and up again to a once elegant, water-front street. We mounted the brownstone stoop of a mansion of faded grandeur straight out of Charles Addams’ macabre cartoons. A small middle-aged lady let us in, and we sat down on rosewood and horsehair chairs to drink tea with her.

Buddy/Gargantua died in 1949. Read his whole sad story here.

Gargantua the Gorilla
Via Retro Snapshots

“Sheer boredom may have been partly responsible for the death of the most famous gorilla of all time, Gargantua the Great, in the opinion of Mrs. Gertrude Davies Lintz, who raised him on her estate on Shore Road,” the Eagle reported.

Mrs. Lintz still refers to the ape as Buddy or Buddha. And, she says, she found him a “playful, friendly fellow,” not at all like the animal described in the billing of the Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus as the largest and most ferocious gorilla ever captured.

The woman whose hobby of studying, caring for and training chimpanzees and gorillas, not to mention St. Bernard dogs, rabbits, tropical fish and other forms of non-human life, at one time made the two-acre estate fronting on the Upper Bay the largest private zoo in the country, is most unhappy about the passing of Buddy…

There may be more baby gorillas in Bay Ridge next Summer. There are none now…In fact, there may even be another Buddy in the Summer, in the flesh. But there’ll never be another one in spirit for Mrs. Lintz.

Gargantua, aka Buddy, was said to be present on the day of the coal-gas leak in 1934. Another was Jiggs, a chimpanzee who died four years later when a disgruntled former employee poisoned him and then police shot him to death. “He was fed cleansing fluid containing cyanide, yesterday morning in his cage back of the mansion at 8365 Shore Road that was his home,” the Eagle reported. “The poison was not enough to kill him, but it was enough to shatter his nervous system, she added, so that when a rat crawled into his cage it sent him berserk.”

His madness gave him strength to rip the bars of his cage apart, while Suzy, his female chimpanzee companion, shrieked with fear. It sent him hurtling through the grounds, into the Chinese-carpeted house, straight to his owner’s room. He did not harm her, but retreated to her bathroom, where for five hours she pleaded with him and tried to calm him.

When her quiet voice, the voice that subdued even Gargantua the Great, the giant circus gorilla she raised from babyhood, failed to quiet him, she called police, fearful lest he escape into the neighborhood…

Finally, while Jiggs stood whimpering, his hands over his eyes in a gesture unutterably appealing, Patrolman Walter Matter shot him, three times. His legs jerked and then were still.

Police say Mrs. Lintz screamed the order for Jiggs’ death. Mrs. Lintz, who fainted at the sight of her pet’s body, shook her head in denial through her tears this morning.

“It could never have been done with my consent.”

Jiggs, the Chimp
Jiggs. Via Brooklyn Public Library

Jiggs was shot to death quite close to where the kidnappers Mosher and Douglas had been! Later:

Mrs. Lintz has always known that her pets are exiles in civilization. When they become too strong for her to handle she sends them away.

Several weeks ago, while Jiggs, dressed for company, was turning somersaults for a reporter, Mrs. Lintz recalled how she used to sing him to sleep when he was a baby.

Then, she added: “But he’ll have to go soon. He’s getting too big for this cage and too big for me to handle. Poor Mr. Jiggs! What sort of life is in store for him?”

Now his body is to go to the Cornell Medical Center and Mrs. Lintz will have no more animals.

“Conditions aren’t right here for them any more,” she said. “I bring them bad luck.”

Today, 8365 Shore Road—a different house that uses the same address—is right on the corner of Shore Road Lane, just across the street from the high school, on just a sliver of the Lintzes old property, which seems to have extended from Shore Road to Narrows Avenue, from the high school to about the middle of the block. The land was cut up in the mid 1960s; the house now known as 8365 was built in 1964-65, according to department of building records, and a tax map from 1964 shows copious alterations to the land from 1964-67, as it was cut up and cut up further into new lots.

Lintz Property Bay Ridge
The Lintz property, cut up into lots throughout the 1960s. Tax map, 1964, with later edits in purple and red pencil and dated, via department of finance

I’ve read that Mrs. Lintz died in 1968, but I can’t find an obituary in any databases that would indicate where, how or in what condition. I imagine, as her old property had already been chopped up, that she died somewhere other than Bay Ridge—perhaps somewhere without even chimpanzees.

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