Having a pet and living in the city isn’t always the easiest arrangement, and unfortunately for many animal lovers it’s just not doable. While some of us reluctantly accept the limitations of our living situation, fashion designer and New York socialite Ruth Harkness went beyond the norm on all counts. In 1936, Mrs. Harkness traveled to China in search of a panda, one of the rarest animals of the time. Not only did she find what she was looking for, but she also took her new baby panda back with her to New York.
Mrs. Harkness first traveled to Tibet to attend her wealthy husband’s funeral; he died looking for a giant panda to bring back to the U.S.. Instead of immediately returning to NYC to mourn, she decided to finish the expedition herself, and it only took her a couple months before her leg of the journey ended in success.
She named her new fuzzy friend Su Lin, which translates to “a little bit of something very cute,” and carried her back to America in her arms, getting her through customs as a dog. When Su Lin arrived in New York she was welcomed with applause as the first panda to enter the United States. Before being sold to the Brookfield Zoo in Chicago for $9,000 Su Lin stayed with Mrs. Harkness in her apartment for one month.
Su Lin also accompanied Mrs. Harkness to the annual dinner of the Explorers Club. She was the first woman ever to attend, and was invited as the official escort to her giant baby panda. Su Lin was ceremoniously announced as the one and only guest of honor.
Sadly, Su Lin only lived for one year in her new home at the Brookfield Zoo, and is now stuffed and on display at the Museum of Natural History in Chicago.
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