Fact, Speculation, a bit of Fiction
KING KONG, the legendary giant ape from the fabulous Skull Island, was truly the eighth wonder of the world. Captured in an unknown land, even the revelation that dinosaurs still existed paled beside the ape. His ensuing rampage through New York was one of the landmark events of the 1930's, up there with the fall of the Hindenberg.
Shortly after this, there were reports of a second, smaller Megaprimate Ape being found on Skull Island, and apocryphal reports that Skull Island had sank. (FOOTNOTE 1 - SKULL ISLAND UNSUNK) But despite this, the social history of the Megaprimates was just beginning.
The next appearance of a Giant Ape, in 1938, turned out to be historical: King Kong in Edo was a movie chronicling the appearance and rampage of a Megaprimatus ape in medieval Japan, in the city of Edo (now known as Tokyo). The movie is now lost, but it is possible to date the event within Japan to the 'tall building' era of Edo, a brief architectural phase foreshadowing modern skyscrapers. Relatively little is known about this event in Japanese history. We do not even know the origins of this Megaprimatus specimen, though possibly, this episode points to the discovery of Skull Island centuries before the Denham expedition.
However, we can make some educated guesses as to the reason this episode was revealed in 1938. The 'King Kong' incident had made worldwide news, the follow up 'Son of Kong' incident was less famous, but still popular. Kong was an intrinsic part of the international culture of the depression era. In the late depression, Japan was an expansionistic power increasingly challenging European and American dominance. Politically, this was seen in Japanese adventures in Manchuria and China. Culturally, the revelation of a Kong incident centuries ago was a kind of coup.
Ironically, this Japanese Kong would ultimately foreshadow the far more destructive reign of kaiju in Japan in the postwar era, which would feature its own gigantic ape, far larger than even the biggest Megaprimatus.
With Skull Island a restricted territory through the remainder of the '30's and '40's, very little news came out of it. Most of the American population assumed, on the basis of erroneous reports that the island had sunk. (FOOTNOTE 2 - SECRET HISTORY OF SKULL ISLAND).
However, through the thirties and into the 1940's, King Kong became a fixture of American culture. The hide and skeleton were put on display, carnivals featured faked Kong exhibitions, there was a lively trade in real and fabricated Kong relics. Newsreel and photograph footage of Kong's rampage from news organizations, and amateur and professional film and camera enthusiasts had made Kong's spree one of the most widely covered disasters in American history, and these images circulated constantly. Magazine articles, newspapers, pulp fiction, novels and books constantly turned this ground over, recycling and embroidering the story endlessly. (FOOTNOTE 3 - AFTER THE FALL, FOOTNOTE 4 - BODY OF THE KING)
The next encounter with Megaprimatus Kong came with the controversial 'Unknown Island' expedition in 1948. The background is unsavoury, to say the least.
Ted Osborne, an adventure seeker, photographer and sometime movie-maker in the tradition of Carl Denham, persuaded his fiancé Carole Lane, to fund a 'dinosaur hunting' expedition to the south seas. While a Navy pilot, sometime during 1943-1945, Osborne had gotten lost and had flown over or near an island inhabited by dinosaurs.
Osborne was, to say the least, a dubious personality. Things went from bad to worse when they hired a Captain Tarnowski out of Singapore, whose livelihood seems to have consisted of running contraband and illegally trafficking wildlife captured in southeast Asia and Indonesia. A known alcoholic, John Fairbanks, was retained as navigator, apparently because in 1947, Fairbanks had been shipwrecked on the same island.
If the Denham/Hellstrom expedition was run on a shoestring, the Lane/Osborne/Tarnowski expedition was distinctly unsavoury, a disaster waiting to happen.
And on schedule, disaster happened. Although the expedition located an 'unknown island' of dinosaurs, the crew mutinied and fled, leaving Tarnowski, Osborne, Fairbanks and Lane behind. Tarnowski apparently went mad, several crew members were killed, and only Osborne, Fairbanks and Lane escaped in a cached lifeboat. Unsurprisingly, Carol Lane's investment was completely lost, and the engagement to Ted Osborne ended badly. For a time, Lane took up with Fairbanks, but it's likely that his alcoholism proved an insurmountable barrier.
The expedition did encounter several carnosaurs, a couple of sauropods and a pelycosaur. But the most remarkable discovery was a large, ferocious mammal, originally identified as a giant sloth, but also referred to as an ape beast. This creature poses two questions: Is this actually a Megaprimatus (Kong) ape? Is this Island actually Skull Island?
First, the creature. Whatever it is, it's not a giant sloth. Native to North and South America only, the Giant Sloths went extinct about forty thousand years ago. Compared to dinosaurs, they're practically contemporary. And although we know dinosaurs existed worldwide, and although we have no clear idea where the Megaprimatus Apes originated, we very clearly know that the Giant Sloths never made it to Asia or the Pacific Islands. The Sloth's were edentates, characterized by very few teeth and relatively small heads, and they walked on the sides of their feet, giving them something similar to a knuckle walking gait. This creature has a large head, pronounced fangs, and flat feet. The only feature that is suggestive of a giant sloth is the relatively long shaggy reddish fur. In other respects, the creature resembles a Megaprimatus ape. Its general morphology or build is similar to a gorilla, as are its vocalizations, movement, and aggressive posture.
[Breaking the Fourth Wall Interlude: The 'sloth' was played by Ray Corrigan, one of Hollywood's 'Gorilla Men'. Through the thirties, forties and into the fifties and sixties, there was a small cadre of actors and stuntmen who owned custom built and fitted gorilla suits with elaborate mechanical heads. These actors studied gorillas to imitate their movement and body language, and rented themselves and their suits out as Hollywood apes. Corrigan owned and used one such suit, and appeared between 1932 and 1952 in over 20 different movies as a gorilla. Corrigan's 'sloth' suit is actually his gorilla suit, with some modifications, like larger fangs. Corrigan's performance was basically his usual ape performance. Cinematically, his creature's 'dramatic entrance' was clearly modeled on King Kong's entrance. End Interlude]
Apart from the shagginess, the 'Unknown Island' creature would appear to be a giant ape. But the female ape of King Kong lives had a similar shaggy coat. So, my argument is that we should assign the 'Unknown Island' creature as definitively a Megaprimatus or Kong ape.
But why misidentify it as a sloth, particularly when a giant gorilla might get more attention. There may be a couple of reasons. Keep in mind that no one on this expedition had any science training, they were all uneducated or half educated laymen. So they may well have been misled by the shaggy coat. This may have been exacerbated by pronounced but obvious facial scarring which obscured some of the apelike facial features, notably the flaring nostrils. Or it may have had much to do with the forbidden nature of the expedition and the pre-eminence of Giant Sloths in 'Carnival Kong' show. (FOOTNOTE 5 - KONG ON THE CARNIVAL CIRCUIT, APES AND BEARS AND SLOTHS)
One effect of the 'Unknown Island' expedition was that it created a revival of interest in Giant Apes or Megaprimates. Although the poor quality black and white photographs and the tales that came from the survivors of the expedition referred to a giant sloth, the resemblance clearly pointed to great apes. For the first time, the suspicion began to arise that the Kongs might survive, perhaps on Skull Island if it endured, but possibly elsewhere.
Clearly, Skull Island was not the origin point of the Kongs. The great apes stuck out like sore thumbs in the dinosaur-based ecology of Skull Island. But if the Kongs were not from Skull Island, then where?
Following the King Kong incident, there was an unusual historical footnote that suggested that 1949 may have seen a third Megaprimate, perhaps misidentified. For a brief time, a gigantic ape named 'Mighty Joe Young' was a nightclub sensation. Mighty Joe Young was far larger than any ordinary gorilla, yet much smaller than the Kong Megaprimate. At the time, in the era following King Kong's rampage, Joe Young's handlers may have preferred to describe him as a super-sized gorilla rather than a small juvenile Kong. While Joe Young was morphologically different from the white Megaprimate known as Kiko, Son of Kong, he did exhibit a variety of juvenile traits and playfulness which suggest a young juvenile animal rather than an older mature pituitary deformed ape. Joe Young apparently returned to Africa and vanished from sight, so the mystery of what he was has never been resolved.
Nevertheless, Joe Young seemed to hint that, Africa seemed to be the most likely place of origin, and if the Megaprimates originated from Africa, then perhaps there were still a few around. A year later, in 1949, we have Africa Screams, which features, in part, expeditions to find a Gargantua Ape. Although the ape was sighted briefly by Livingston and Johnson, this sighting was not officially verified.
Africa was also the site of another expedition, this one by a circus promoter in 1966, looking for a Giant Ape called 'The Mighty Gorga.' Gorga is clearly a contraction of 'Gargantua' as referred to in Africa Screams. Again, the expedition claimed success and returned with tales of Gorga fighting a dinosaur. However, the creature remained in the forest, and this sighting was not officially verified either.
One interesting suggestion is that the 'Africa Screams' expedition, and the 'Mighty Gorga' expedition may not have encountered two different Megaprimates, but rather the same individual at different times. Published descriptions of the two animals are sufficiently distinct, however, that they appear to be two different specimens. Another theory has it that the 'Mighty Gorga' was actually a grown up Joe Young. However, neither expedition was able to prove its story, and no other expeditions managed to locate a creature. The African Giant Ape became a matter of myth and folklore.
It would be another decade before a Megaprimate was encountered, this time, in 1976, and the 2nd "King Kong" incident. This new Kong was again discovered on an uncharted Island, this time by a failed petroleum scouting expedition, for an exploration arm of Exxon named Petrox. The 1970's were an era of grandiose gestures. Having failed to strike oil, the Petroleum Company attempted to use the Giant Ape as a cornerstone of its promotional campaign. (FOOTNOTE 6: SEARCH FOR NEW KONGS)
What Petrox/Exxon was attempting was an updated version of the Carnival 'Kong Shows' this time featuring a genuine giant ape. The use of the giant ape as a marketing device and symbol of unbridled and primeval power was a direct reference to the cultural mythology which had grown up around the original King Kong. Nor was this accidental. Petrox obtained the right to call their ape "King Kong" directly from the Denham foundation, and staged the theatrical public presentation as a deliberate echo and updating of the original disastrous presentation.
Indeed, without the original King Kong as part of the folklore and historical memory of American culture, the Petrox promotional campaign would have made absolutely no sense whatsoever. It could only work for a society which had experienced Kong's rampage in the '30's.
The resulting marketing campaign led to worldwide fascination with giant apes. Petrox/Exxon are estimated to have spent over a hundred million dollars on publicity and promotion. As a result of the incredible publicity and media saturation, there was a drive by opportunist groups to locate their own ape.
In the wake of this, there were three other Megaprimate findings. A large Megaprimate from an unknown location was shipped to South Korea or Japan. That ship was swamped, but the creature survived and ended up wandering in South Korea, before it was killed.
Meanwhile, a shoestring expedition found a female Megaprimate on the Island of Lazonga, and brought it to London. Finally, a further Megaprimate was discovered in Burma and retrieved to Hong Kong. This ape, dubbed 'Queen Kong' until the Petrox/Exxon lawsuits ended the use of the name, escaped and temporarily ran wild. However, happily, it was not killed but became docile and eventually shipped back to its home.
In Asia, another giant ape was found in the Tibetan highlands. To avoid lawsuits it was dubbed the 'Mighty Peking Man,' however, it escaped and returned to its home territory [it's this editor's opinion that the Mighty Peking Man was actually a giant yeti rather than a giant ape…but I'll have Den tackle this distinction in a future article, as we have discussed it-CN]. Still, by this time, it had become very clear that keeping Megaprimates contained in an urban environment was difficult and dangerous.
None of these incidents held a candle to the Petrox incident, where the new King Kong escaped, went on a rampage and killed dozens of people, before being shot at the top of the World Trade Center.
Amazingly, the animal was not killed, but survived in a semi-comatose state for a decade and the discovery of a final, female Megaprimate, in Borneo. It is possible that this might have been the same female previously seen in London as Queen Kong.
Eventually, the second King Kong with his new mate escaped. Kong was killed. His mate and its infant returned to Borneo.
Despite almost sixty years of encounters with the Megaprimates, and despite their large place in popular culture, the Kong Apes abound with mystery. Through the course of the 20th century, we still know every little about their biology, their ecology, their population, whether they are an endangered or merely rare species, their intelligence and habits, or even their origins. Perhaps in the future, rather than bringing them to us with disastrous consequences, we will locate and study them in their environments.
FOOTNOTE 1: SKULL ISLAND UNSUNK
The last we saw of Skull Island, it was sinking at the end of Son of Kong. Accompanied by a typhoon, the Island was in its last throes. Kiko's foot was caught, and as he sank beneath the waves, he held Denham up to save his life. The other visitors escaped in a boat.
Here's a simple question: Where's the Tsunami?
Think about it. In 2006, an undersea earthquake kicked up a tsunami, a tidal wave that killed a quarter of a million people, and was felt through Indonesia, India and even as far away as Africa.
In the Atlantic, in the Canary Islands, there is an unstable rock formation comprising a couple of cubic miles which is due to break away and slide to the sea floor. It may happen tomorrow, or in 40,000 years, no one really knows. But scientists estimate that when it does, the result will be a 1000 foot high tidal wave crashing towards both North America and Europe. Even Plato realized that for something the size of Atlantis to sink, the resulting tidal wave would denude the Greek Islands down to bare rock.
Skull Island sports a population of very big dinosaurs. For an ecology of monsters that big to exist, there has to be a lot of greenery to feed them, which means a lot of land for that greenery to grow on. Hundreds or thousands of square miles. We also know from both movies that Skull Island was a mountainous, cliff ridden island, with highlands and chasms. So there's a substantial volume of 'above ground' topography to submerge. For Skull Island to disappear completely beneath the waves, you'd get a monster Tsunami.
Yet, no Tsunami, apparently. In fact, even a ship relatively near Skull Island is unaffected, since it is close enough to rescue Denham after the cataclysm.
Now either Skull Island sank, and created no ocean displacement and no Tsunami... Or it didn't sink at all.
Well, it's up to the reader to make their choice. No subsequent movie refers to Skull Island's survival. There are other movies which have Skull Island features - e.g., islands with dinosaurs or the ruins of lost civilizations, or both, in the South Pacific or Indian Ocean. But they could simply be other islands. So if you don't want Skull Island, you don't have to have it.
Or we can accept the possibility that Skull Island and its monstrous inhabitants survived into modern times, and well past its 'sell by' date of 1933. In which case, how do we explain the end of Son of Kong, which seems to show the end of Skull Island?
Earthquakes are a geological phenomenon, not a meteorological one, there's not a lot of connection between the two categories of event. So, if a ferocious typhoon was blowing up at the same time as a major genuine earthquake, then that's a major coincidence.
But, what if all that was happening was really simply a factor of the typhoon? Perhaps hurricane winds and saturation rains triggered landslides which were felt as Earth tremors, and which may have resulted in landslides or upheavals in the local area of Skull Island where the ruins were.
Remember that much of Son of Kong seems to take place in a small valley in front of a ruined temple that faces a round cave. Well, caves can be volcanic, but this one seems smooth and weathered, indicating that it was formed by water action. Essentially, it's a giant natural drainage channel. This area might well be an ancient flash flood gully, and flash floods are both sudden and catastrophic. From the vegetation, it appears that it may have been decades, even centuries, since the last major flash floods. But weather patterns are unpredictable, most years might be mild, but a hundred year storm will inevitably occur sometime during a century.
So this might well have been a matter of bad luck. A major typhoon strikes, mudslides or erosion rock falls block normal drainage channels, or perhaps this is a hundred year storm, and a massive wall of water flows into the flash flood channel to drain out to sea. As far as Denham and his colleagues know, more water than they've ever seen is coming down at them. They're washed out to sea. In the poor visibility, mists or air so saturated with water, Skull Island is no longer visible, Denham simply assumes it sank.
Well, maybe not. Rather, I think that it is possible to argue that Skull Island still exists by 1948, and that the 'Unknown Island,' with its dinosaurs and giant ape may actually be it.
FOOTNOTE 2: THE SECRET HISTORY OF SKULL ISLAND
But then, this raises an interesting line of speculation: What exactly was happening on Skull Island and the world of Kong from 1933 to 1948... apart from the obvious World War, of course. Here's how I work it out.
The discovery of Skull Island by Denham, and his presentation of his giant ape, would have sent a shockwave through the world, political, scientific and entertainment. But no sooner had the ape been unveiled than it went into a rampage, and was shot down. Denham flees within a couple of months, avoiding police and lawsuits. With him and Hellstrom goes the location of Skull Island.
Within another couple of months Denham and survivors re-emerge to reveal that Skull Island is no more. The reports of the island's demise would have been front page international news.
However, during this period, practically every major national navy - the American, British, Japanese, French and Dutch, and a host of expeditions and adventurers would have set out searching for it. The ship that rescued Denham at the end of Son of Kong might well have been one of those expeditions. Sooner or later, Skull Island would have been located by governments of nations, its place on the map firmly fixed.
At this point, the news would have slowly trickled out that reports of Skull Island's obliteration had been greatly exaggerated. Indeed, the reports might not have trickled out with any certainty or detail. By this time, its old news, and not nearly as explosive. Meanwhile, the real wrangling is going on politically behind the scenes.
In the old days, up to the 19th century, and even up to 1914, the discovery of any new unclaimed land mass would inevitably bring a European power scurrying up to plant a flag on it. By the later part of the 19th century, the European powers were joined by the United States and Japan, latecomers dedicated to building their own colonial Empires. And by that time, territory was in short supply so there were all sorts of diplomatic tussles.
Sometimes the natives objected, sometimes they were agreeable, occasionally they were bemused, and often they didn't realize what was going on until too late. But by and large, the map of the world was being busily and aggressively filled in. So if Skull Island had been discovered in 1910 for instance, you can bet that there'd have been a race to claim it, and some nasty confrontations.
1933 was a different world in a lot of ways. For one thing, the Great Depression was in full swing. None of the colonial empires were feeling all that frisky. Acquiring new international possessions, particularly in far flung remote locations, had lost its luster. There were other, more immediate problems to be confronted by governments facing economic disaster - random conquest and gratuitous international confrontations... not high on the list. Particularly since the last great gratuitous international confrontation in 1914 had turned out so badly.
But it was a little more complicated than that. The Great War, 1914 through 1918, hadn't simply devastated Europe. It had released a set of new ideas into the war. One of these was national self determination, the notion that peoples were entitled to govern themselves and their own lands. This had resulted in the creation of a host of new European states - Finland, Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia, Poland, Czechoslovakia, Poland, Yugoslavia, Turkey and temporarily Byelorussia and Ukraine.
It had also put a permanent cramp in the Colonial mentality -- why should European natives be entitled to their own countries and not Arabs, Africans or Asians? There wasn't a good reason, except the notion that these peoples were not yet ready for self government. So, the result was that these countries were designated by the League of Nations as Trust Territories. Not colonies, not protectorates, but internationally conferred mandates where the Empire had to administer the territory for the benefit and eventual independence of the people wherein.
Nice philosophy. In practical terms, it didn't work all that well. You didn't get to be a Colonial Empire by caring about fine points of law. But still, the principal was established, and it took effect rather more firmly than Europeans would like. Within four years, the British were losing control of Iraq, within a decade Egypt and South Africa were going their own way. By 1946, India and the Phillipines were independent. By the 1960's, most of the Colonial Empires were gone.
So it's likely that in 1933, when the League of Nations was still at its height, and before Nazism and Fascism really took hold, Skull Island would not have been claimed by an Empire, but would have become a League of Nations trust territory. After all, there were people living there, and even if they did not have the wherewithal to confront a European state, it was still their island.
What sort of trust territory? Again, we have to look at developments around this time. Conservation had begun with Teddy Roosevelt in the early 19th century. Large parcels of pristine wilderness were designated as parks and refuges. The notion that wildlife and wild plants should be protected and preserved by states, rather than systematically exploited to extinction, had taken hold. The 19th century had witnessed the extinction of the Dodo, the Great Auks, the Buffalo and Passenger Pigeon, people had begun to realize how vulnerable nature could be.
The Western Powers had cooperated on a joint expedition to crush the Boxer Rebellion in the early 19th century, had settled on the division of Africa in an international conference, and England had even shared jurisdiction over Sudan with Egypt. So this sort of international cooperation had begun.
There might also be another factor weighing in. Skull Island was a reservoir of lost life. Did that also mean lost diseases? The Spanish flu, barely fifteen years earlier, had slaughtered 10% of the human population of the world. So perhaps with the sober second thoughts following on the rediscovery of Skull Island, the notion that just blasting on in there might not be the smartest thing to do.
So, Skull Island would have been most likely a multi-national trust. The League of Nations trust territory status would also have recognized its unique biology and designated it a world heritage/preservation site. It would have been almost certainly off limits to all civilians, and particularly to adventurers, hunters and entertainers, guarded by a multinational force and accessible only to credited science expeditions. As part of that preservation, its location, perhaps even its continuing existence might have been a multinational secret. That would have established a status quo that would be re-applied after 1945 by the United Nations. Even if Skull Island's continued survival was known to the general public, not much more would be recorded. Closed to the public, and to photographers, journalists, newspapers and newsreels (thanks Denham), all that would come out would be the occasional scattered story, without juicy pictures or salacious detail.
Without front page coverage, most people would only remember the last headlines -- Skull Island sinking. We can assume the general public would simply believe this, just as in modern times, a large part of the general public believed that Saddam was involved in 9/11, or that weapons of mass destruction had been found in Iraq. Of course, for those fascinated by such matters, Skull Island's discovery, whether it survived or not, would have set off a flurry of expeditions into the Indian and Pacific Oceans, and to Latin America, Asia and Africa hoping to find other lost worlds filled with prehistoric fauna. These expeditions would have been well funded and driven to the most remote and inaccessible regions.
Now, to be fair, this is all total speculation. You can take it or leave it. But if Skull Island had survived, I'd argue that during the 1930's something like this would have had to have happened.
There might have been other outcomes. Perhaps a single nation -- England, America, Japan or France-- laying full claim. Perhaps two or more nations dividing it up like Samoa or Africa. Perhaps a nasty diplomatic incident or a war over ownership. All of these things had happened before 1914 among the great powers. Perhaps Skull Island would have been ground central for looting, as museums, zoos, hunting expeditions, lumber, mining, colonizing and runaway exploitation wrecked the island and drove dinosaurs to extinction -- certainly all of these things had happened previously, and as a matter of fact, that's exactly what happened to the Great Auks (once they were found to be endangered, museums hunted the species to extinction to make sure they had specimens before they were all extinct.). Hell, the place might even have been turned into a world famous theme park, as was contemplated in one bad Crichton novel. But these other outcomes belonged more strongly to the past or the future. My best guess is that the real outcome would have been something like the scenario I laid out.
However, if Skull Island was indeed surviving, and off limits as an International Trust territory, then this might explain why 'Unknown Island' is unknown.
The truth: They weren't allowed near Skull Island, so the expedition had to pretend to be to some other island. Skull Island was a wildlife sanctuary -- dinosaur hunters, tourists, poachers, etc., not welcome. If you didn't have credentials and authorization, you weren't welcome. If you were going to go taking pictures of dinosaurs (or capturing a few, live or dead, for sale elsewhere) then you had to sneak in the back way. And you couldn't admit that you were going to or coming from Skull Island, it would be better to claim to have found another such island.
FOOTNOTE 3: KONG, AFTER THE FALL
Kong's rampage through New York and subsequent fall from the Empire State Building made international headlines. A number of newsreel organizations had footage of parts of Kong's rampage, including multiple angles of the final stand on the Empire State Building. Literally hundreds of photographs were taken of the rampage by photographers of every stripe.
In the immediate aftermath of Kong's fall, Carl Denham was an international celebrity. However, within days the tide turned against him. Denham was forced to flee a storm of lawsuits and arrest warrants. Denham's assets, including records, photographs and movies from Skull Island, were seized by Sheriffs Bailiff's, and a year later placed in Trust as against Denham's creditors and litigants, and were marketed to the general public.
The inadvertent result was a wave of Kong mania, including republication of photographs and newsreel footage at every opportunity. A number of 'Kong' compilation movies circulated in movie houses and travelling shows, throughout the 1930's and into the 1940's, ranging from a few minutes to an hour or more. Some of these even recreated the story with actors in the role.
Kong photographs, miniatures, cameos, cartoons and little sculptures could be found everywhere. King Kong turned out to be a lucrative property.
Ironically, Denham himself never saw a penny of these monies.
FOOTNOTE 4: THE BODY OF THE KING
The corpse at the foot of the Empire State Building was initially seized by the City of New York. Cranes and flatbed trucks were used to remove the body, which was dismembered in the process.
Almost immediately, a bidding war among institutions, notably the Smithsonian and the Metropolitan Museum, took place for the remains. Other participants included the Royal London Museum, the Chicago Museum and the Barnum Museum. Ultimately, Kong's hide, stuffed and mounted, went to the Metropolitan Museum, along with brain, intact eye, heart and other internal organs. The Smithsonian, as part of a compromise, obtained the Skeleton, shattered in many places. The reconstructed Kong skeleton has been on display at the Smithsonian ever since.
Two of Kong's teeth, an ear and various pieces of fur were stolen by souvenir collectors while the body was at the foot of the Empire State Building. These would later give rise to a lively trade in 'authentic' Kong relics.
The small handful of relics, of course, could not keep up with the demand. Enterprising con men immediately got into the business of manufacturing 'authentic' relics of all sorts for sale to the eager, the credulous, or the gullible. Kong 'fur' or 'hide' usually made from yak or musk ox were the most common, but elephant or sperm whale teeth were passed off as Kong's, as were whale vertebra, and a variety of bones. Some were outright forgeries made of plaster. In one case, lump of plaster in a formaldehyde jar was sold to a museum as Kong's brain.
FOOTNOTE 5: KONG'S KARNIVAL CIRCUIT, APES, BEARS AND SLOTHS
Through the thirties and forties, and even as late as the 1960's, America had a thriving carnival tradition of travelling carnivals, including shows, sideshows and amusements. The Kong saga was all but built for hucksterism.
In the 19th century, P.T. Barnum had attempted to purchase the Cardiff Giant for his museum. When the owners of the Cardiff Giant refused to sell or lease, he simply manufactured his own. The resulting legal controversy between the two Cardiff Giants resulted in them both being thrown out as fakes.
But King Kong had been unquestionably real. Although the legitimate remains were in known museums, this didn't stop a number of Carnivals from beginning to manufacture their own full sized Kong relics, mainly hands and heads. A few went so far as to manufacture full size replicas, but for the most part, the typical Kong relic was a handful of cow femurs wired into the shape of a hand, or yak fur and leather sewn into a paw.
The 'Kong Show' became a staple part of carnivals, sometimes with newsreel footage. Displays took on a theatrical quality. In some cases, yak and leather paws were animated with internal ropes and pulleys, for cheap scares. In the most elaborate shows, an animated arm would reach out to grab a blonde white stripper in a re-enactment of the original story. Black men made a living masquerading as Skull Island natives. Some of the poorer Kong shows specialized in fabricating dinosaur relics from Kong Island. At these carnivals, sooner or later, for a reasonable price, bits of Kong or dinosaurs would be sold to the trusting.
One problem, however, was that in pursuit of fabricated authenticity, claims were frequently made that the relics were 'on loan' from or 'endorsed' by either the Denham Trust, the Skull Island Trust Authority, the Smithsonian or the New York Museum. These institutions saw the carnival trade in Kong shows and Kong memorabilia as both taking away from their revenue and devaluing the authenticity of their genuine property. By 1937, there was a pushback from the institutions with actual legal claim to Kong. Collectively or individually the Museums and Trusts began to threaten and at times sue the Kong shows. Injunctive actions shut down the largest and most elaborate shows.
The result was that the Kong shows hastily repainted their signs. All references to the Smithsonian, the Metropolitan, Denham or Skull Island were excised. Instead, the former 'Kong' relics were portrayed as simply Giant Apes. Elaborate stories were created placing giant apes in Africa, Borneo or other unknown Pacific Islands. The Apes were renamed Gargantua, Gorgantua, or sometimes Gorgo or Gorga.
Still, this was not entirely satisfactory, and sporadic lawsuits and threats of lawsuit continued into the late '50's. Several of the more careful carnival shows carefully changed their show from that of a Giant Ape to a Giant Sloth, often without changing anything more than the names. Why a Giant Sloth? In part, Giant Sloth's were relatively well known as a large exotic animal which had lived in North America. But mainly because they could fit the bill as a giant mammal with long arms which could stand or walk upright on occasion.
Some carnies switched to Giant Cave Bears, but bears, despite their occasional upright stances, were too well known in America to be sufficiently exotic. Yeti, Sasquatch and Abominable Snowmen were also used as replacement names for Kong Shows. But far and away, even as various 'Giant Apes' were the most popular alternative to Kong, the Sloths were most popular alternatives to Apes.
Sloth, Bear or Yeti, though Carnival artwork continued to depict Giant Apes. The trade in Kong hair and hide became Sloth or Yeti hair and hide. The giant skeletal paws, or fur and leather hands were attributed to the Sloths. This was often a mercenary decision -- a traveling show might well describe its exhibit as Kong, Giant Ape or Giant Sloth, depending on the community and the proximity of lawsuits or bailiffs. In fact, traveling shows often carried two or three different banners to use as the occasion demanded.
In carnival lore, the Giant Sloth became a ferocious apelike predator, the equal of fierce dinosaurs, cave bears and even giant apes. In some Carnival artwork, versions of Giant Sloths fought Giant Apes. Accuracy of image was questionable, some images were not changed at all. But most artistic adjustments were minimal, usually confined to adding claws, long fangs and sometimes a muzzle onto apes. The resulting creature was often described as a 'Sloth Ape', 'American Ape', 'American Beast.'
Because Giant Sloth fossils were found in America, the former Kong Shows sometimes relocated their back stories to the new world. Giant Sloths in paintings undertook King Kong style rampages through small towns or pueblo villages, in rough drawn pictures they were shot by marksmen or biplanes from water towers or grain elevators. The Sloth Shows never truly replaced the Kong or Ape Shows. King Kong's impact on the American psyche was simply too profound to be displaced, even by a homegrown monster. There was a powerful gravity to Kong. Nevertheless, they became a fundamental part of American carnival lore.
FOOTNOTE 6: THE SEARCH FOR NEW KONGS
It was quite obvious to most naturalists that wherever the Kong species originated from, it was not native to Skull Island. Skull Island was clearly a dinosaur refuge, its descendants were survivors of the Cretaceous era. Apes were at least forty to fifty million years more recent, according to the fossil record.
By the late thirties, as Skull Island became inaccessible, and the institutions were ever more vigilant in policing their rights, speculation about the true source of the Kong species became a cottage industry. The most popular theories placed the Kongs' points of origin as either a lost or unknown Island, the Indonesian archipelago of the Orangutans, central Asia in the Tibetan Highlands of the legendary Yeti, or darkest Africa, the home of Chimpanzees and Gorillas.
Interest in identifying the true origin of the Kongs waxed and waned over the years. In the 1950's and 1960's, expeditions were sent to Africa, without conclusive results. The biggest effort came with a flurry of expeditions following the discovery of the Petrox Kong which turned up Megaprimates on several locations.
FOOTNOTE 7: BIOLOGY AND BEHAVIOUR OF MEGAPRIMATES
Megaprimates, unlike most apes, are omnivores. It appears that they will hunt and eat meat regularly, killing game with their bare hands, clubs or thrown objects. The vegetarian side of their diet is less well known, but it appears that like gorillas, they consume a great deal of roughage.
By all accounts, they appear to be highly intelligent, though the parameters of that intelligence are not well defined. They are tool users as shown in their ability to throw stones and wield objects as clubs. They appear to be solitary, but this may be a feature of their food requirements. However, there's no case of Megaprimates encountered together in the wild. They are both highly territorial and very curious.
They are extremely aggressive and combative and are seldom deterred. They have been observed battling carnosaurs even larger than themselves. Most of the observed battles have not been for meat or feeding, but rather seem to involve territorial assertion, or defense of protected humans. Still their willingness to engage in combat, and their success, marks them as experienced and fierce combatants.
They also appear to be curious creatures, and will often play or explore. At times their rage aggression can be distracted with novelty. On Skull Island, after a battle, Kong was observed to play with the bodies of his slain victims. He also partially undressed Ann Darrow.
Megaprimates' responses to humans vary. Of course, Kong's rampage through New York killing dozens of citizens is famous. But nearly as famous are the records of his rampage through the Skull Island village. On Skull Island, Kong appears to have eaten a number of his human sacrifices. There are other reports of megaprimates attacking and eating humans, notably Kong II, Queen Kong and Goliathon [a.k.a., the 'Mighty Peking Man'…he was referred to as 'Goliathon' by a few American media outlets-CN]. In most instances where humans live in proximity to Megaprimates, the humans have built large walls to keep them and similar sized creatures out.
Interestingly, the presence of large doors in these walls apparently designed to allow Megaprimate sized creatures to pass through, implies a more complex relationship with the creatures.
On the other hand, Megaprimates or Kongs will tend to fix upon or bond with specific humans. It appears that they have difficulty distinguishing among humans initially, so a specific human needs to stand out to attract its curiosity. Once they have learned to identify an individual human they can recognize it easily thereafter, often distinguishing it from similar humans. King Kong in New York was able to distinguish Ann Darrow from other similarly dressed blonde women. The attachment to individual humans forms quickly, and can resemble that between a Mahout and an Elephant. Megaprimates will go to great lengths to find their human, and will risk their lives to protect the human.
FOOTNOTE 8: MYSTERIES OF KONGS
From the beginning, Kong's Megaprimate race poses challenges to naturalists. The distribution of the creature seems highly anomalous. Of known Megaprimates, two or perhaps three were found on Skull Island. As few as one, or as many as three may be from Africa. One appears to have inhabited Borneo. Two or perhaps three others were found on isolated Islands. One appears to have inhabited the Burmese/Thai jungles. Two more have completely unknown origins.
Despite this, their population appears to be extremely thin. In the wild, only single specimens have been encountered, and arguably, on at least some of the islands they were found, they were the only representatives of their species. How did they get there? Where did they come from? Why aren't there others?
We do know that the Kongs reproduce sexually. They do so in King Kong Lives. Son of Kong and Mighty Joe Young may depict at least one and possibly two juveniles. Nevertheless, the apparent sparseness and great distances of the population suggest that this is a species verging on extinction.
Another remarkable oddity is the association of these animals with dinosaur remnants. The most famous example is King Kong and Kiko, the Son of Kong themselves. But Gorga in Africa encounters and fights a dinosaur, as does Queen Kong on the island of Lazonga. Even Kong II was found on the same Island as a gigantic python.
Several of the Kongs' habitats, particularly Skull Island, Lazonga and Petrox Island feature megalithic structures which appear to be beyond the current skills of the inhabitants. While these features may be unrelated, there does seem to be some basis for inferring that they are related works deriving from the same culture. The implication is that some of these Islands sported a vanished civilization.
It is tempting to tie these things together. Were the Kongs transported to at least some of their known locations by human intervention -- by this vanished civilization? And if so, did this same culture transport dinosaurs as well? Perhaps both Kongs and dinosaurs were originally domesticated by this society [see Den Valdron's article on "Dinosaurs in the South Pacific" elsewhere in the Guest Section of this site for a detailed analysis of this-CN].
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