Rockingham Fun Day

Rockingham Park hosted a Pepsi Family Fun Day in the track’s picnic pavilion and paddock, last Saturday.  Admission and parking were free, and so were the pony rides.  There was complimentary entertainment and amusements and the chance to win great prizes, including Red Sox tickets.  The event also featured clowns, face painters, magicians, puppeteers, temporary tattoo artists, and caricature artists.  There was even a special appearance by the Manchester Wolves professional football players, the team’s professional dance team, the Lady Wolf Pack, and team mascot Blitz.  Fans were able to have their photos taken with the Wolves contingent and get autographs signed.  Coolers were allowed in the track’s picnic pavilion, provided they did not contain any glass or alcoholic beverages.  There was also full food and beverage service available for purchase.  As usual for Rockingham, this was a day to be remembered.

Horse racing for the adults

Jozlyn Piwowarzyk and her mom are enjoying a picnic lunch.

Posing by the fancy Dodge

Hamburger kid, Cody Long

A good raffle line

Campbell and Atticus Savage are having fun at the toy spin table.

Peter Spofford, from Northwood, is a regular.

Mascot, having fun

Audrey Latino, Atkinson, having her image drawn

Two-month-old Lillian Blamgren seen with her mom and grandpa

Partners in crime

Anna and Laura Haas - enjoying the day

The hot dog line

DJ Riotelle - showing his fancy shades

Sophie Lapayt - her first pony ride

Benson’s Hosts ‘Display of Memories’

by Doug Robinson

Catherine Kenny and Arthur J. Provencher take a minute to reflect on their years at Benson’s Wild Animal Park.

Benson’s Wild Animal Park has been hosting a ‘Display of Memories’ exhibit at the Hills Memorial Library. Open daily with a free admission, boys, girls, owner Arthur Provencher, and three past employees of the park donated their time and talents to describe the attractions of shows as well as educating the public to the long list of historical accomplishments of the park.

The park was originally owned by John T. Benson.  At an early age, “He ran away from home and joined the circus.  He was taught to train lions, tigers, and elephants while traveling with the Bostock and Wombwell Menagerie,” writes Benson’s last park owner, Arthur Provencher.

In 1911, Benson helped establish the Franklin Park Zoo, then purchased the 200-plus acre property known as the Interstate Fruit Farm in Hudson and turned it into a quarantine center in 1922 for the jungle animals entering the US who were destined for zoos, circuses, and private menageries.  In 1926, Benson decided to open his jungle animal center to the public.

Originally billed as the Strangest Farm on Earth, it eventually became known as Benson’s Wild Animal Farm, and then in later years it became Benson’s Animal Park.

After John T. Benson’s death in 1943, Benson’s was sold to a “consortium of 4 investors from Boston.”  The investors had links with Boston Garden as well as many other businesses in the Boston area.

From 1947 through the 1960’s, Benson’s transformed from a park of exotic animals to a park that entertained with trained animal acts.  Picnic pavilions were added and money was reinvested into the park in an effort to expand the park’s tourism.

In 1979, Arthur J. Provencher realized his dream by finally purchasing Benson’s, after negotiating for three years.  He became Benson’s third owner.  Born and raised in Nashua, Provencher had been operating a mini zoo called My World of Pets.  After purchasing Benson’s, Provencher hired consultants to completely redesign and clean up the farm.  He expanded the attractions to create a family-friendly park.  Graphics were installed outside pens and corrals, explaining the animals’ highlights.  Full-time zoologist Pat Quinn was hired to rebuild the collection of animal species.  Eventually, Benson’s featured more animals than the Stone and Franklin Park zoos combined.  Benson’s prided itself on the daily performances of its elephants, seals, exotic birds, and horses.  Each year, additional circus acts were booked to entertain the public.

Former Benson’s employees tour the property on June 27. Arthur J. Provencher, previous owner,
is shown at the far right.

As the economy began to struggle in the late 1980’s, Provencher poured millions of dollars into the Benson’s Wild Animal Park in an effort to keep the park from closing.  While the park continued to operate for several years during the late 1980’s, high interest rates, poor weather during the height of the tourist season, and the inability to reach the necessary attendance figure of 500,000 visitors brought Provencher’s longtime dream to an end.  In October of 1987, the park was permanently closed.  The contents of the park, including the 550 animals, were sold at auction.  (Writer’s note:  a story written previously discussed the sale, life, and transition of Benson elephants, Liz and Queenie, and their transition to an elephant habitat.)

After 62 years, Benson’s Wild Animal Park closed its doors.

The ‘Display of Memories’ at Hills Memorial Library has been presented by and courtesy of Arthur J. Provencher and the Hudson Board of Selectmen with the help of many former Benson employees.

”I miss it,” commented Benson’s Wild Animal Park owner Arthur J. Provencher.  “If I had my druthers, I would have stayed open.  I like to talk to people about Benson’s.  It is nice to hear that not only they went to Benson’s, but their kids went to Benson’s, and their kid’s went to Bensons.”

Provencher also stated, “I think the highlight of this exhibit is the mock-up of the property which was created in 1985.  The mock-up is in pristine condition and it shows the property as it was in 1985.  We have many albums with over 50 years of history here for the public to view.”

Assisting Arthur J. Provencher at the exhibit is Lynda (Wright) Dube, who was employed at the park as Provencher’s personal secretary.  However, like most of the employees at the park, Dube wore many hats.  She was also involved in the zoo department, where she assisted the raising and training of both grizzly bears and black Himalaya bears.  In addition to Dube’s assistance, Catherine Kenny, personnel manager for Benson’s, has also donated her time at ‘Display of Memories’, saying, “We all wore many hats at the Park and I am very happy to help out with this exhibit.”

In addition to the displays of lions, tigers, and bears, visitors will also be treated to a walk down a path of true Hudson history.  Visitors to the exhibit will not only value the memorabilia displays but they will energetically immerse themselves by playing a game of “Remember When?” with themselves.  Pictures, photos, and paraphernalia will jog the memories of all who visit the ‘Display of Memories’ with thoughts of “I remember seeing that” or “I remember the gorilla” or, more simply, “Thank you for the memories, Benson’s Wild Animal Park.”

If you missed the display, it will be open again August 6 through August 9, 10am to 5pm. Admission is free.

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