Remembering the tiger in Germantown

There it was…as clear as quartz in my mind’s eye, sitting on the corner of Pulaski and Rittenhouse, basking in the scent of gasoline, confined but very much… alive, warmed by excited children and passersby.  I peered my ears closer to make sure my senses weren’t deceiving me, could it be… a TIGER in Germantown?

Dropping off my car for service has become a back to the future episode to a time before I was conceived, a time when Germantown was known as the place to be.  Brothers, Ricky and Pete of Monte & Sons, an automotive repair shop on E. Walnut Lane in Germantown since 1977, always share tidbits of their childhood in Germantown when I visit.  They were adamant that they “never had to leave Germantown because everything was right here: stores, restaurants, car dealerships, and yes, even a tiger in a cage!”

I have heard many times over that Mt. Airy is what Germantown used to be, well… except for the tiger. “It was a time when “the people in Chestnut Hill and Mt. Airy used to come to Germantown and not the other way around,” Ricky said. Back then, Exxon Mobile was Maloney’s Esso, their slogan, “Put a Tiger in Your Tank”, and their grand opening was more than colorful balloons and annoying echoes from a bullhorn.

I listen as Ricky, in a trance-like state, reminisces about his first job at Maloney’s as a young boy  which ended “soon after he asked for a 50% raise.”  He still has not found an experience to beat the time when Andy Maloney rented a live tiger in a cage as a main attraction to the station. I couldn’t help wonder if the sale of Kellogg’s Frosted Flakes tanked during that period; Tony the Tiger was no match for this mascot, even with his iconic Gr-r-reat-ness.

The Monteiro sons remember so vividly walking down the block to see this mini-circus act and how the clever marketing scheme soon became an experience for neighboring families. Pete only used one word to describe it, “amazing.” So I imagine thereafter, cereal boxes lost their appeal and a trip to the zoo was not worth the effort. It was live entertainment redefined, right here in the small borough of Germantown.

The idea of seeing a real live caged tiger in Germantown, while inhumane to some and pure joy for others, is a fascinating double-edged sword. I asked my own kids how they would feel if they saw a tiger in a cage at a local gas station.  One said, “Cool, I’d want to own it,” and the other simply looked up from his drawing paper and only had one word…“Weird.”  That seemed balanced enough. Not sure that we will be traveling that far back, yet I can’t resist drowning my senses in the simplicity of the past and the wonder that made childhood in Germantown, LIVE.

Check back later this month for more in our series on historical reflections and the promising present and future of Germantown.

Until then, for more about vignettes about Germantown visit: http://www.ushistory.org/germantown/thoughts/archive2004.htm

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