In the 1930s, the so-called “largest gorilla” in captivity was a lowland gorilla credited with saving Ringling Brothers circus from bankruptcy.
His name was Buddy, but he was later called “Gargantua.”
Ringling Bros. posters of him showed him in King Kong-like poses, with one describing him as the “world’s most terrifying living creature!” and “the largest and fiercest gorilla ever brought before the eyes of civilized man!”
Born in 1929, he was captured as a baby in Africa in the Belgian Congo. He was given to a ship captain and became popular with most of his crew. But one drunk sailor threw acid on his face and almost blinded him, leaving him with physical scars and a distrust for people.
“Buddy hid himself refusing food, shrieking, and attacking anyone who came near. The sailors, at a loss for what to do, urged the captain the euthanize Buddy, but the captain knew a wealthy woman in Brooklyn who cared for sick animals and decided instead to bring Buddy to her,” said TheNonist.
The captain as a result gave Buddy to Gertrude Lintz, a wealthy eccentric. Apparently, Lintz dressed Buddy in clothes and drove around with him in the passenger seat of her car in Brooklyn, where she lived. In 1937, however, the 460-pound ape broke out of his cage and climbed into bed with her. Lintz then sold him to John Ringling for less than $10,000, renaming him “Gargantua” in the process.
He had other monikers, including:
“The Largest Gorilla Ever Exhibited!”
“The Largest and Fiercest Gorilla Ever Brought Before the Eyes of Civilised Man!”
“The Only Full-Grown Gorilla Ever Seen On This Continent!”
According to a 1938 report from Time magazine:
Appearing as Display No. 14 on the 26-item program, Gargantua was hauled round & round the Garden in a heavily barred, thickly glassed, air-conditioned wagon drawn by six white horses. Stocky & truculent, he stared menacingly out of his cage, was characterized by Frank Buck as “the most ferocious, most terrifying and most dangerous of all living creatures.”
He was paired with female gorilla Toto, but the two never showed interest toward one another. They were locked in separate cages.
— extremely dazzle auc (@salastaciano) May 25, 2015
Buddy died in 1949 of double pneumonia. At the time, newspapers announced his death with big headlines. A year later, his skeleton was donated to the Peabody Museum and now it is displayed on special occasions.
He also reportedly weighed 550 to 600 pounds, although lowland gorillas only reach around 450 pounds in the wild.