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Gillian Goodrich


illian White Goodrich was born in Birmingham, Alabama. She graduated from Converse College in 1968 with a BA in History and received her MA in History from the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB). After college, she began her teaching career at Tuscaloosa High School in 1969 and later became an American History instructor at UAB. After leaving the teaching field, she turned her focus to serving the Birmingham community and began work as Charitable Contributions Coordinator for Protective Life Insurance Company. She is currently president of the Mike and Gillian Goodrich Foundation whose focus is on education, human services, and the environment.

In March of 2012, Gillian and Mike created the Woodlawn Foundation whose mission is to serve as a catalyst and facilitator for the transformation and revitalization of the Woodlawn community in Birmingham with a cradle to college education pipeline and mixed income housing.

RCMP Inspection Point, Chilkoot Pass

Birmingham News, January, 1947.

Gillian White Goodrich

Gillian White Goodrich

Gillian is active in several civic and charitable organizations. She has served on the Board of Directors of numerous organizations including Converse College, McWane Science Center, Children’s of Alabama, The Community Foundation of Greater Birmingham where she was chair in 2013. Currently she serves on the Boards of the YWCA, Gateway, and the Alabama Heritage Foundation Board of Directors. She served as an elder and deacon at South Highland Presbyterian Church.

In 2006 she was appointed to the Board of the State of Alabama, Department of Archives and History.

She is a member of the Alabama Historical Society, and the Birmingham Historical Society. Mike and Gillian were honored by the Alabama Chapter of Fundraising Professionals as Outstanding Civic Leaders in 2004 and again as Outstanding Philanthropists in 2011.

New Ideal ad

Birmingham News, January, 1966.


Miss Fancy, Avondale’s Enchanting Elephant

—by: Catherine Greene Browne


he community of Avondale predates the founding of Birmingham. Known as "Big Spring" by the tribes of Indians who camped there, and "King’s Spring" for Peyton Griffin King, an early settler there. An important source of drinking water, the cool springs flowing north from a massive cave near the base of Red Mountain were also a popular gathering place in the mid-1800’s when settlers began moving into the area. As Birmingham grew into Alabama’s industrial center, residents traveled in wagons to the beautiful wooded stretch of land for picnics, games and to enjoy the cool springs. The water flowed north down Spring Street later known as Forty-first Street.

In 1910, Avondale had joined other suburban communities to become part of the expanding city of Birmingham. Three years later the Birmingham Advertising Club was sponsoring an Industrial Exposition. The Exposition was being held in downtown Birmingham and residents were slow to come to the location. So, the promoters wanted a "crowd gatherer" to promote the show.

The most popular and best known version about the beginning of the Avondale Park Zoo and the acquisition of its first animals was that the Hagenbeck-Wallace Circus was performing at that time just off First Avenue and Twenty-second Street in downtown Birmingham. The circus was in financial trouble and did not have enough money to leave town. To raise money to pay their rail freight charge the circus considered selling off some of its animals including one of its elephants.

When news of the stranded circus reached Advertising Club promoters, they decided that the circus’s female elephant was to be their "crowd gatherer". The gentle beast had quickly captured the hearts of Birmingham’s children as they flocked in droves to the circus for rides on the friendly animal’s back. The circus agreed to sell the elephant for no less than two thousand dollars. The club raised $1,500 but didn’t have the last five hundred dollars.

Before the money could be raised the circus packed up and left for Tuscaloosa. Then an anonymous donor came forward with the $500. Mr. Edward Barrett, owner of the Birmingham Age Herald, and a group of friends traveled to Tuscaloosa to bring the elephant back on the return train to her new home.

Someone suggested the name "Miss Fancy" and she became the central attraction at the zoo established at Avondale Park. As the popularity of the zoo grew throughout the state more animals were added. By 1917, the park’s unique plan provided large animal enclosures so the animals would have surroundings as natural as possible.

Miss Fancy became a well-known feature in the City of Birmingham from her first appearance at the Avondale Zoo. There was never a charge for patrons of the zoo to enter the park or to enjoy a ride on the back of the enchanting elephant. When her upkeep became too expensive, Birmingham school children saved their pennies and had fundraisers to pay for her lodging and upkeep. Soon, she was known as the "Queen of the Avondale Zoo". The popular zoo had a giraffe, llamas, antelopes, deer, coyotes, wolves, various snakes, peacocks and other exotic birds, and alligators. Its bad tempered buffalo, which occasionally charged at the zoo visitors, was double fenced.

Once after an especially hard rain, one of the alligators escaped from its pen near the park entrance on Avenue E (Fifth Avenue South). Park attendants swarmed over the streets of Avondale, eventually capturing the creature and returning him to his pen.

Miss Fancy was always the best known and most popular animal housed at Avondale Zoo. Even after the initial burst of enthusiasm to raise money to purchase her and provide her food and shelter had passed, much money was contributed to a fund to continue to provide for her nourishment. Children rushed from Avondale School, hoping Miss Fancy and her keeper, John Todd, would be on Fifth Avenue by the park so that they might have a ride.

Miss Fancy with her voracious appetite needed tons of fodder almost daily. Her trainer piled hay over the fence, reaching to the elephant’s knees. During the long winter months, Miss Fancy remained in her house, but when Spring arrived she saw came out and performed for her audience of eager, excited little children. Between huge bites of hay, she slung her trunk back and forth and flapped her large ears. She stomped her feet one at a time and someone remarked that it looked as if she were doing the "Charleston", a popular dance at the time.

Two Ladies with Miss Fancy.

Two Ladies with Miss Fancy.

John Todd’s antics made him almost as a familiar character as Miss Fancy. Many who lived in Forest Park and Avondale during the glory days of the Avondale Zoo reported memories of the elephant and her trainer. John Todd would take Miss Fancy out for walks after dark. She is said to have eaten impatiens and pansies out of local gardens throughout Avondale and Forest Park. It was not unusual for residents to look out of the windows of their houses to see Miss Fancy peering in.

One little girl of long ago days awakened one morning to see Miss Fancy’s huge head pressed against the panes of her bedroom window. This was not a dream because this happened to others and it was a shared memory of a time that is no more, and never will come again.

John Todd and Miss Fancy were known throughout Forest Park and South Avondale for their “nocturnal strolls” and many a child and parent who had just fallen asleep for the night was awakened by Miss Fancy’s happy trumpeting as she strolled up and down the streets.

Apparently, John Todd was not bashful about knocking on doors and asking homeowners for a dollar. Some of the homeowners refused to give the trainer money, knowing his fondness for alcoholic beverages. In instances when he was refused, John Todd left quietly, leading the elephant back to the park.

Once a month, John Todd took Miss Fancy to a weighing station or freight station to have her weighed. Lacking proper transportation, they walked to the downtown locations with John holding a rope looped around Miss Fancy’s neck. In the years she was a resident of Avondale Zoo, Miss Fancy’s weight soared from 3000 pounds to over 8000. Many times when John and Miss Fancy reached the weighing station, he had consumed a few alcoholic drinks and frequently the police, who were very familiar with John’s problems with alcohol, stopped them.

One such incident happened on Fifth Avenue South when John Todd was so intoxicated, he could barely stand. Many school children, who were walking home from Avondale School, witnessed this and the police had no choice but to arrest the trainer for public intoxication. An officer then volunteered to lead Miss Fancy back to her house in Avondale Park, but she would not budge. All efforts failed and John Todd was seen laughing in the back of the police car. He finally told the officers that they might as well release him because Miss Fancy obeyed no one but him.

When the Great Depression devastated the country, the Birmingham area was one of the hardest hit. Funds dried up for all the park systems in Birmingham and gradually, animals in the zoo had to be sold.

With only a few animals left, officials at the zoo contacted the Hegenbeck-Wallace Circus to see if it wanted to purchase the few remaining animals, which included Miss Fancy. The animals, including the beloved elephant, were sold back to the circus for the sum of $700. Later, the circus resold Miss Fancy to another circus and she lived there until her death.

Sources: Johnson, John A.: "A History of the Avondale Zoo", University of Alabama 1922; Brown, Catherine G.: "A History of Avondale"; Linn-Henley Research Library Archives.



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