Sheena the performing elephant, with Suzie the chimp, 1960s.  Color postcard from


One day in 1960, a man approached Gen. Sumter Lowry (Jr.) and asked him to buy an elephant. Lowry asked "Why should I?" The man said "because the children of Tampa have never seen one."  Lowry agreed to buy it, but only on the condition it could be here by Christmas. He asked, "Where is this elephant?" "Well, India." was the reply.

Sheena was the first elephant to fly in a jet. She was flown to Tampa from Burma (now Thailand.)

This account of how Lowry came upon the opportunity to purchase the elephant, and the fact she flew in a jet, is repeated almost verbatim everywhere the circumstances of Sheena's acquisition are presented.  The source is probably Gen. Lowry's own memoirs, some of which were read in Dec. 1985 when the Lowry family donated $500,000 for the construction of a new Asian domain which would house Sheena.  The donation was made in celebration of the 25th anniversary of the arrival in Tampa of the baby elephant Sheena.  A portion of the Dec. 11, 1985 article is shown at right.

According to this article below, it appears that Lowry became aware that the City had an opportunity to obtain an elephant, but due to the wording it's not clear if the opportunity was made known to him by the seller, or to the city.  Then, Lowry wrote Mayor Lane offering to donate the $3,000 to pay for it.   His method of contact with the mayor seems as if the two were at a considerable distance from each other at the time. 

If anything, the article is clear that it was Lowry who made the offer to the City, by way of a letter to the mayor, to pay for the elephant after hearing that the City was being given a chance to buy one.

The yet-to-be-named elephant was described as about 42 inches tall and between 800 to 900 lbs.

BELOW:  In the article on the left, we learn that the elephant is in Thailand, not in India.  She is an Indian elephant.   "But the man negotiating the purchase told Neff later that...the animal probably could not be shipped out of there in time to arrive any earlier than New Year's."  So if Lowry was the one approached with the opportunity to buy an elephant, he didn't participate any further than to offer to pay for it.  It was the City through parks director Frank Neff who negotiated the purchase and made the arrangements.

Sheena came to the U.S. over the Pacific Ocean, landing first in California, then from there to New Orleans to Miami to Tampa.

Here the elephant weighs 400 lbs.  Delays were caused by political unrest and rough weather over Laos.


Dozens of children went home disappointed as planned ceremonies were cancelled due to a delay.  It was reported that the plane had to turn around and return to Miami because the elephant was too heavy for the plane.  Later, it was reported that a mechanical problem forced the plane's return to Miami.  Lowry's grandson was to hand over the elephant to Mayor Lane marking the official delivery of Lowry's gift to the City.  Her home was to be a concession stand vacated by the Sertoma Club who was operating the stand without contract and keeping all the proceeds.


Below, the author of the same article that featured Sally Lowry Baldwin's comments, here claims "hundreds" of local youngsters greeted the red- bow-adorned elephant at the airport.  All indications are, that didn't happen.


Tampa Bay Magazine, Oct/Nov. 1986 at Google Books


Lowry's grandson, David R. Murphy IV, was the first ride given by the elephant.




"Packy Derm" was the temporary name given to the baby elephant, until one was selected by means of a contest.  Packy made the five-day trip STANDING UP; her cage was built snugly around her to keep her standing, which means she probably didn't get any sleep as elephants sleep lying down.  Trainer Jim Godfrey spent the night with her in order to help her to gain confidence in him.  Here, Packy weighed 455 lbs. 

The Tribune thinks she is a "he."




Jim Godfrey, Packy's trainer, spends considerable time with her to gain her friendship.  Seen here strolling the park together on one of their two daily walks.

Jim Godfrey also refers to Packy as a male.




It didn't take long before a "Neff vs. City Council" face-off began.  City Council was least interested in providing a decent home for Packy to grow in, even though park attendance had already increased.  Neff was hoping that public contributions would finance the home.




Below:  Lowry paid the City for Packy's purchase price--in the form of 160 shares of stock in his life insurance company.


The battle over the cost of Packy's "home to grow in"  reached a compromise deal when City Council recommended that each year, Neff should figure exactly how much revenue the attraction has brought in by concession sales, and budget the profits for zoo improvements.


There was no mention Shelia riding Sheena in the 1961 parade.  In fact, the only mention of Shena (and not by name, but as "Fairyland elephant') was on a parade line-up in the news the day before the parade.  The next year, a 1962 Gasparilla article mentions that the Fairyland elephant was old enough to walk in the parade this time, and a monkey rode on her (chimps are NOT monkeys) but the previous year (1961) she rode.  So Shena was too young to walk the distance, let alone carry a rider, in the 1961 parade.






Apparently, the City of Tampa couldn't muster $5,000 in four and a half years, but contributions from park visitors did.



General Sumter L. Lowry, Jr.

Sumter de Leon Lowry, Jr. was born in St. Augustine, FL on August 27, 1893 to Sumter de Leon Lowry and Willie Miller Lowry.  Lowry, Jr. was a Lt. General in the National Guard, a businessman, and political activist.

In 1894 the Lowry family moved from Palatka to Tampa and by 1914 he began his military career.  In 1916 Sumter married Elizabeth Bellamy Parkhill, together they had 5 children.

A 1914 graduate and veteran of two world wars, he set a pattern of accomplishment and distinguished service during his cadet days at Virginia Military Institute. He was a Cadet Captain and Company Commander, a varsity letterman in both football and basketball, president of the monogram club and captain of the basketball team.

At his graduation he became the first recipient of the Cincinnati Medal, awarded then as now to the graduate who is most distinguished in efficiency of service and excellence of character.

Sumter de Leon Lowry, Jr in his football uniform at VMI, 1914.

Photo from Virginia Military Institute Digital Archives

He was a long time member of the Florida National Guard and took part in that organization's service on the Mexican border in 1916, followed by service in Europe for the First World War, and in the Pacific for the Second World War  as a brigadier general in the Army's 31st Division in the Pacific.

His military career included organizing the 116th Field Artillery Regiment of the Florida National Guard in 1921, as well as, establishing Benjamin Field camp (renamed Fort Homer Hesterly in 1940). By 1934 he received a promotion to Brigadier General and command over the 56th Field Artillery U.S. National Guard.

Concurrent with his military career, Lowry established the Victory National Life Insurance in 1921 serving as president. His company, Victory National Life Insurance Company, paid the $300,000 life insurance claim on D.P. Davis when he fell overboard on a cruise in 1926. Lowry investigated Davis’ death and decided to pay off the policy. Later, he wrote in his memoirs that this act "gave the public a lot of confidence in my brand new insurance company.”)  In 1928, he served on the board for Gulf Life Insurance after a merger with Victory National Life Insurance.

"Watch Us Grow!" was the slogan of the Victory National Life Insurance Company the day it opened for business on Nov. 5, 1923 in this small building on Marion Street just south of Lafayette (now Kennedy Blvd.). And grow it did. Later came the mammoth Gulf Life Insurance Company. Victory National Life was capitalized for $500,000, this being the only life insurance company organized in Florida at the time, by Florida men and with Florida capital. The entire operating staff that opening day is shown in this photo, left to right, Loper B. Lowry, sales force; Marjorie Giles Davis, Policy writer and stenographer; Sumter L. Lowry, President and General Manager, and D. S. Hull, Actuary.

Photo and caption from "A Life Insurance Company Is Born In Tampa", Sunland Tribune, Journal of the Tampa Historical Society, Vol. 6, No. 1, Nov. 1980.

In 1952, Sumter Lowry retired to civilian life as a Lt. General. He continued to be active in business, community affairs, and politics until his death in 1985 at the age of 91.


1949 Reunion of VMI Class of 1914 alumna. 

Photo from VMI Digital Archives

Lowry was a recipient of the Distinguished Service Medal, and commendations from the state legislatures of both Florida and South Carolina.


A charter member of the Institute Society, Lowry was the donor of the Sumter L. Lowry Award, which yearly goes to the winner of the Cincinnati Medal.  (VMI Cadet, Nov. 8, 1974)

Along with Lieutenant General Albert H. Blanding, he was one of the national founders of the American Legion. Lowry ran for governor on a segregation platform in 1956, losing to LeRoy Collins. General Lowry was well known to Floridians often as an outspoken right-wing conservative who was a vocal anti-integrationist and anti-communist for his entire life.

Sumter Lowry Papers, University of S. Florida 
"Distinguished Men Honored" VMI Cadet, Nov. 8, 1974.
"A Life Insurance Company Is Born In Tampa", Sunland Tribune, Journal of the Tampa Historical Society, Vol. 6, No. 1, Nov. 1980.



Baby Sheena giving Donna Ringer and
hitchhiking Suzie the chimp a ride, circa 1965.

Photo provided by Rick Ringer


Suzie played an important role in getting the elephant house for Sheena.  She performed with Sheena in a circus ring at the park twice daily and three times on Sundays.  Around 1963, after each performance, Susie would go into the crowd of spectators with a cup, collecting contributions for Sheena's new home.  In a year, $4,000 was collected and by 1965, Sheena had a new home.








The following photos were graciously contributed by Linda Godfrey Napier.  Her father, James Godfrey, helped build Fairyland and the storybook character statues, as well as working as Sheena's trainer in her early years at Lowry Park.  He also trained Suzie and Joey, the chimpanzees, and Bobo the spider monkey.

Sheena the baby elephant, and Susie the chimp,
circa early 1960s.   Photo courtesy of Linda Godfrey Napier.

Jim Godfrey (sitting) watching Sheena practice, 1962.
Photo courtesy of James' daughter, Linda Godfrey Napier.

Thank you to Tampa native Mary Tolbert Johnson who shared this memory of Mr. Godfrey with us:
Mr. Godfrey was also a security guard. I worked in the concession stand that was half in the ground. The Sertomans operated the concession and Bea Reynolds managed it. Mr. Godfrey would walk me thru the park at nights to gather the monies from the vending machines. I was so grateful. Lowry Park at night with all the screeching sounds was scary to a young girl. Great days those were. They inspired me to continue my education.


Bobo, the Spider Monkey
Jim's daughter, Linda Godfrey Napier, says Bobo sometimes would spit at spectators. Linda's dad could never make him stop.  Photo courtesy of Jim's daughter, Linda Godfrey Napier.


Bobo and his trainer, Jim Godfrey
Bobo would dig into Jim's shirt pocket pull out cigarettes put one in his mouth and wait for him to light it.  Photo courtesy of James' daughter, Linda Godfrey Napier.

May 24, 1965 TBT archives photo


Above at right:  Sheena performing for park guests, along with her trainer James Godfrey, circa late 1960s.
Photo courtesy of James' daughter, Linda Godfrey Napier.


Rex Gordon from eBay seller




Sheena the performing elephant, with Suzie the chimp, 1960s.  Color postcard from


Sheena and Suzie performing.
Photos courtesy of Elizabeth Moore.


Below: Suzie performing at her piano while Jim Godfrey looks on.

Grandma and her friend pose with Suzie and Sheena.


May 23, 1965
Suzie the chimp and Sheena the baby elephant

TBT archives photo


The acquisition of Sheena provided the impetus for expanding and diversifying the animal collection. By 1987 the zoo was the home of eight different species of animals, including two Florida black bears, two Bengal tigers, a Himalayan black bear, a chimpanzee, two spider monkeys and two otters. As the collection continued to grow, the need to upgrade the habitats and present the animals in natural settings became an issue fully embraced by the Tampa bay area community, which resulted in the formation of an organization dedicated to building a first-class zoological garden.    Zoo History continued

Fairyland token provided by Kimi Lau-Costanzo.
Place your cursor on the coin to flip it over.


A Ride to Remember - April 19, 2014, A Zoo Man's Musings
J. D. (Doug) Porter is a zoologist, an educator, and a writer who takes the unorthodox and controversial view that zoos can be good for animals – if they are done right.



I have been doing some reminiscing (and some writing) about the early days at the Lowry Park Zoo. I love this photo of my son Jason and the story it tells, as he sits atop Buke – a massive male Asian elephant.



1985 - Jason Porter atop Buke, the male elephant brought in to share Sheena's enclosure at Lowry Park to accompany Sheena to Canada and make her transportation less traumatic.
A Ride to Remember
- April 19, 2014

     The Lowry Park Zoo, at that time, had one 24 year old Asian elephant named Sheena, who had been donated to the zoo in 1961 by the Park’s namesake** General Sumter L. Lowry, Jr. The new master plan had been designed around her and the building she inhabited, but in order to build her new facilities, she would need to be moved to another zoo for a few years. After searching far and wide, we found a good facility at African Lion Safari near Toronto Canada that would take her. They had proper facilities, other elephants, and a highly competent staff. All we had to do was figure out how to get her there. I described the process in my article for the Zoo’s newsletter in the fall of 1985. 

 **The park was named for Gen. Lowry's father, city commissioner Dr. Lowry, not Gen. Lowry.

     Though highly trained, Sheena had not been handled in over ten years. She had become quite unmanageable and even dangerous to those who worked around her. But after a few days with the experienced elephant handler, Charles Gray, she was performing all of her old tricks and even seemed to enjoy the change in routine and the companionship of her handler. The next problem was how to get her out of the enclosure. So complete was Sheena’s incarceration, that there was not even a gate into her enclosure. Our friendly workmen moved in with their cutting torches and bulldozers, and after nearly an hour of cutting the heavy iron rails, an opening was made in the pen.
     The next problem we faced was the uncertainty of Sheena’s reactions to her new-found freedom. Would she respond to her handler’s commands, or would she run away at the first opportunity? The moment of truth arrived. As Sheena walked out of her pen for the first time in nearly 15 years, it became obvious that she was happy to be outside and yet very responsive to her handler. She quickly gained his confidence, and was soon allowed to wander happily around and explore the zoo she had lived in for most of her life. The rest of her loading and transporting was so uneventful as to appear routine. But that was not the end of the story.
     In order to make transportation less traumatic, another elephant was brought from Canada to keep her company. A large male Asian elephant named “Buke” became the first elephant ever to share Sheena’s enclosure. Though she was coy to his advances at first and turned her back whenever he came close, she soon warmed up and remained close by his side as they explored the zoo grounds.
     Buke seemed gentle enough, responding to his handlers like an anxious child, as the two elephants wandered the property untethered. It never occurred to me, as I placed my son on his back and snapped a picture, that Buke might have a dark side. But the next time I saw him was at his home in Canada later that summer. He was in musth (a period when bull elephants are sexually active and very aggressive) and chained to a tree – ready to kill anyone who came too near.


The Death of Sheena
Sheena, the elephant queen of Tampa's Lowry Park Zoo, died of unexpected and unexplained heart failure on January 17, 1986. 

Sheena, age 27, had been shipped to Canada's African Lion Safari in May of 1985 while her Asian Domain quarters were being prepared.  Officials had even hoped she would come home pregnant.  According to zoo director Doug Porter, "She was in her prime."

This bronze elephant is located at the entrance to the Asian domain within the Lowry Park Zoo, and is intended to serve as a memorial to Baby Sheena, who was donated to the zoo by Sumter L. Lowry, Jr. in December, 1960. Lowry intended Sheena to be a gift to the children of Tampa, who, in 1960, had not been exposed to elephants in a local setting.

1986, Bronze  4’ x 5’
Lowry Park Zoo
by Joyce Parkerson


Don't miss J. D. (Doug) Porter's interesting blog about zoos and other related topics.
He is an excellent author and has written quite a few books.
"From animal keeper to zoo director, my career spanned over forty years. It included positions with a half dozen of America’s great zoos during the most transformational era in zoo-keeping in more than a century—a time when zoos went from 19th century menageries to modern day arks."

Five articles are specifically about his years at Lowry Park:

A Ride to Remember - Memories of Sheena's preparation to relocate her in Canada
Apr. 19, 2014

Good Sized Zoo for the City of Tampa - A brief history of Tampa's zoos.
Nov. 7, 2019

Bringing Down the Bars - Doug Porter and his time in Tampa during Lowry Park Zoo's transition of 1984.
Nov. 18, 2019

An Elephant Moves to Canada - Sheena, from beginning to end.
Nov. 27, 2019

Tampa's Lowry Park Chimps Walk on Grass - The story of Herman and Gitta from Liberia to Lowry Park.
Dec. 5, 2019





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