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Happy the Tiger, Constan Carwash / Riverbanks Zoo: 1979   23 comments

Posted at 11:24 pm in Uncategorized

Happy the Tiger was a constant media and "personal" presence when I was growing up. I see from her plaque that she arrived in Columbia when I was three years old, and passed away when I was 18. In between those times, I must have seen her dozens of times, either at Constan Carwash on Gervais Street (where these pictures were taken), or at any number of events at which she appeared.

My memory is that her cage was behind the car wash in the area where you pull your car around to put it on the wash tramline. Such a thing would never fly in today's hyper-correct environment and I think that's good in some ways, and bad in others. I have no way of knowing how truly "happy", "Happy" was, but at any rate her situation doesn't seem to have affected her lifespan, and she got "modern" quarters at Riverbanks.

The plaque says that Marlin Perkins handled Happy's acquisition, but I'll bet he was somewhere nice and cool while "Jim" did the dirty work!

UPDATE 15 October 2009: Added a picture of Happy I forgot.

Written by ted on October 9th, 2009

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23 Responses to 'Happy the Tiger, Constan Carwash / Riverbanks Zoo: 1979'

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  1. I remember seeing her when she was a cub at the Esso on the corner of Beltline and Forest Drive. her name came from the advertising slogan Esso used at the time "Happy Motoring" which was in place over all their service bays at all their stations.

    She was quite a celeberty in Columbia and I even named my first dog after her. She moved into her own private quarters at the zoo, near the small mamals section, because she was a Bengal tiger and the others were Sibberian, plus she had too much of a "human imprint" on her. Sadly, I think she only lived a year at the zoo.


    10 Oct 09 at 9:29 am

  2. I got to see Happy the very first time she was brought to Columbia back in 1964. I was 6 at the time and my Mom, Dad and me got to meet her owner and I think Marlin Perkins was there..but not sure being that young. Happy WAS the main attraction for all of us kids back then.. we would watch Happy while the cars were being taken care of.. She was there until they moved her to the Zoo, but for a very short period of time I think back in the summer of 1967, she was at the Washington DC Zoo..for what reasons I dont know.. but then she was back in Columbia til the Zoo opened. Poor ol Happy is buried near the Lorikeet area where the Kowalas's are.. I think Happy's owner died before 1974, and I think she died of a broken heart...poor ol Happy. It was a great time growin up as a kid back in the early to mid 60's when things were actually family oriented and fun to do and go to.


    10 Oct 09 at 8:56 pm

  3. Happy was sent out of town because the car wash caught on fire and had to be renovated. (Luckily she was unharmed.

    By the way for all the youngsters out there. Esso's mascot in the 60s and 70s was a tiger and they had a saying "Put a tiger in your tank." Thus a tiger was the perfect thing for an Esso owner to give to the zoo.


    11 Oct 09 at 5:35 am

  4. OH..that's right. I remember when Constan caught on fire I think back either in 1966 or 1967. I dont remember for sure when it happend. But I do remember the Esso Tiger slogan.
    I wanted to see a tiger in a tank, but never could understand why I could never find one.. well, being 6 or 7 at the time, you believed pretty much everything what you saw on the Ajax White Knight, or the Imperial Margarin Crown thing... how traumatic not ever gettin one.


    11 Oct 09 at 10:39 am

  5. I grew up in Columbia and always heard my parents' stories of visiting Happy the Tiger at Constan as children. In the summer of 2005, I met a guy who told me that his grandfather, and now father, owned Constan. I, of course, squealed with excitement that he was Happy's "nephew!" Fortunately for me, we later got married in 2008. His dad and uncles tell great stories about growing up with a tiger. In the magazine "Garden & Gun," there was a story about Pat Conroy and how it was Happy that influenced him in writing the ending to "The Prince of Tides." (The tiger is in the book, but not the movie.) Happy's owners, my grandparents-in-law, are still alive and doing well in Columbia.

    Mary Douglass

    11 Oct 09 at 5:55 pm

  6. Glad to hear it!


    12 Oct 09 at 2:29 am

  7. Loved to watch Happy while dad got the car washed.

    She was intended to be the Riverbanks' first exhibit and as the years wore on without the zoo being built she became a constant reminder of a bunch of failed promises regarding Columbia's great new attraction. I have to think that her presence helped push the project forward just a little -- maybe even keep it alive.

    Columbia's elementary school students around '64 were asked to bring in a one dollar donation to help get the zoo idea off the ground, and received a round yellow coupon that said Zoo's Who which would get you admission when the zoo was built. When it finally opened in 1974 zoo staff were shocked to see these long-forgotten little round "get in free" tickets and refused to honor them at first.


    13 Oct 09 at 10:24 am

  8. Good ol' Happy! I have a picture somewhere of her (in a cage)in the Columbia Christmas parade, back when it was on what they now call "Black Friday".


    20 Oct 09 at 8:23 pm

  9. Send it in (closings at columbiaclosings dotcom) and I'll add it here...


    21 Oct 09 at 11:15 am

  10. It's my understanding that Constan was established by a husband and wife duo named Connie & Stanley in 1949

    Unfortunately I'm too young to remember Happy at Constan but I do remember going there with my grandmother to get her car washed back in the 90s


    11 May 10 at 9:41 pm

  11. Last week as part of the Main Street festival, the Nicklelodeon showed a news film made by WIS in 1967 of the Christmas parade that featured Hppy the Tiger and William Shatner in his Capt. Kirk costume.


    12 May 10 at 10:34 am

  12. Tom,
    With all due respect that was a uniform, not a costume.


    12 May 10 at 4:22 pm

  13. I was born in 1973, and I'd swear that I absolutely saw Happy the Tiger in Constan, so is it possible the April 25th, 1974 move to Riverbanks is wrong?! It could be a false memory -and I'm certain I don't remember anything when I less than one years old- but I really think it must be wrong. I could have sworn I was about three or four.


    21 Jul 11 at 8:59 pm

  14. I remember, I remember. Oh, Lord what a delight to find this site. I'm six weeks away from moving to California and am homesick already. Seeing Happy was a REAL big thing when we were little. Thanks everyone.

    Annaliesa Rayman Meeks

    3 Aug 11 at 12:02 am

  15. Welcome Annaliesa!

    Check out the Alphabetical Closings List for more.


    3 Aug 11 at 11:42 am

  16. Long before Happy was brought in, the car wash was a major attraction in the late '50s and '60s. You'd pull into the Esso (this was before the early '70s name change to Exxon) car wash on Gervais Street on the immediate west side of the railroad overpass, top up your gas for $.29 a gallon (more expensive than at a neighborhood Esso), then give your car to the attendant. They'd vacuum the interior, wash the inside windows, and scrub the wheels and tires with detergent. Then they'd pop up a gizmo behind one of your front tires, and a conveyor would pull your car into a tunnel of wonders, along a gauntlet of amazing machines that would wet it, soap it, scrub it, rinse it, wax it, dry it, and pull it out for the finishing touches. You'd walk along indoors, separated from your car by a see-through glass wall, admiring the miracles of modern ('50s) technology.

    In the late '60s, all the gasoline companies claimed their gas was better than that from the gas station across the street (never mind that it comes out of the same pipeline). Esso had a huge, multi-year advertising campaign about putting a tiger in your tank with their gas. They gave away fake tiger tails that were intended to hang out the gas tank filler cap to show the world you had a tiger in your tank. More often, the fake tiger tails were attached to rear view mirrors, radio antennas, and kids' bike handlebars, or placed in ladies' purses.

    When Columbia announced they were going to have a world class zoo, the car wash somehow obtained a tiger to donate to the zoo. They named it Happy. Put it in a cage down at the car wash (near the gas pumps). For weeks, everyone in Columbia went to see Happy the Tiger and bought a car wash while they were at it. For Constan, a great marketing gimmick. During that time, Columbia probably had the nation's highest per capita rate of sparkling clean cars.

    But, alas, the best laid marketing plans . . .

    Like most well-intentioned public works projects, the proposed zoo took years longer than anyone had envisioned. Poor Happy the Tiger languished in that small cage all those years. Last few times I saw that tiger at the car wash, it didn't look very happy. I don't even like cats, but I felt sorry for that one. Eventually the zoo opened, and Happy went. Probably didn't know what to do with itself once it was out of that cage and didn't have the sounds of the car wash machinery running all day on every day it wasn't raining.

    Always wondered who took care of Happy the Tiger all those years, feeding it and cleaning that cage. Had to be a pretty sorry job.

    Great memories of the amazing car wash. Still feel bad for the tiger.


    5 Feb 12 at 10:26 pm

  17. Marlin Perkins of Mutual Of Omaha's Wild Kingdom got Happy The Tiger actually, and was a big part of getting the Zoo started as early as 1964. I cant remember the name of Happy's Owner "Smith"?? but not sure. Anyhow, when the Zoo opened, I think he was dead or died shortly there after. I think Happy died of being lonely..but Bengle Tigers dont live that long in captivity..So She was 10 or 11 when she died. I saw Happy when they first got her in '64..small, but BIG to a 6 year old's eyes. Constan went downhill by the late 60's to mid 70's..and it's well...what you see now.


    6 Feb 12 at 1:16 am

  18. I remember also when Constan "expanded" and had another side for the cars to go through due to how many people went there in the 60's. It was one of my fave. things to go to back then..and watch the cars get washed and things. The side that's now the car shop? was where the other washing area was..but that's LONG gone and no sign of Happy EVER being there. Too bad things change.


    6 Feb 12 at 1:20 am

  19. Del, the Smiths still owned it in 1982, bu that's all I can vouch for.

    I remember after Happy went to the zoo, asking mom why she wasn't at the carwash anymore. "Happy wasn't happy there," she told me. Made me sad.


    6 Feb 12 at 8:02 am

  20. It IS sad when you think about it.. Sounds like we have a lot in common and remember a lot of the same things. I liked the way things used to be downtown when is WAS downtown and the only place to go. Thanks to Mayor Booblehead and Mayor T-Bone. SCE&G moved, and Kline Steel moved after being in the same spot since the mid 1920's.


    6 Feb 12 at 12:00 pm

  21. Happ wasd placed in the Riverbanks Zoo in 1974, and lived to be 15 years of age.


    27 May 12 at 8:19 am

  22. I'm glad she didn't fade off into oblivion and that some of us faithful still remember her. I remember her being at the zoo. She was the main attraction for me when I went there. Anyhow, Happy's also listed at Roadside America. Here's the link:

    Miz T

    10 Dec 12 at 4:12 pm

  23. I never got see happy . but every time we go to zoo I say lets go see tigers and happy . my mom teal's me of times she seen happy. my mom miss happy . we goo zoo every year in January 25 for my birthday we stared it in 2012 . Every time I see a exon station I say there's happy on sine. my uncle has a big happy sine . I named my small tiger webkinz Happy love .


    26 Mar 14 at 9:29 am

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