Sept. 1974: Apes become star attraction at county fair; live mortar found in Union Chapel


Fairgoers didn't know quite what to make of the apes (or maybe it was the other way around) at the 1974 Northwest Alabama State Fair.

Trainer Jan Berosini had three animals to show — two baby gorillas, an adult orangutang and two chimpanzees.

The baby gorillas, named King and Gorry, weighed 450 pounds. The real giant of the group was the oranatang, who weighed 700 pounds. 

Berosini had paid $21,000 for the pair of gorillas before purchasing the protected species was outlawed.

Berosini said it was impossible to predict the mood of a gorilla on any given day.

"One day they're alright and then the next day they'd just as soon take your head off," he said in a Sept. 12, 1974 Daily Mountain Eagle article.

They behaved so poorly at times that Berosini no longer showed them onstage, choosing to keep them in a cage while they were displayed to the public at fairs, carnivals and other events held around the country. 

Berosini's wife traveled with him.

The trainer's story was more interesting than that of the animals he brought to the fair.

Berosini's father had started the business in the family's native Czechoslovakia. The family traveled Europe with an "ape review" that included stage shows. 

The family left Czechoslovakia after Communists came to power and ordered Berosini's father to move to Russia and set up a similar show.

The family moved to Austria and toured Europe some more before moving to the United States in 1959. However, a job offer too good to pass up in Europe drew them back overseas that same year. 

They moved to the States for good in 1964. They arrived just in time to break in their act at the New York Worlds Fair.

There was apparently money to be made showing apes. Berosini's father made $145,000 in 1973, according to the article.

There was also an odd incident out in Union Chapel in September 1974. A demolition team from Fort McClellan had to be brought in to defuse a live mortar under a bridge in Union Chapel.

Sheriff Bunny Cottrell said the shell would have destroyed the bridge and anyone within 40 to 50 feet.

The mortar was discovered by two 12-year-old boys playing after school. It was wrapped in a quilt and hidden under a bridge near the school. 

The  men from Fort McClellan speculated that some local National Guardsmen had taken the shell from camp but the investigation was ongoing.  

Also that week, members of the Tutwiler community were celebrating the longevity of Hurd Shoals Methodist Church. Services had been held in the church for over 100 years. 

Mrs. Brady Perry said church members were not to be crossed.

"Some years back, some men came and loaded up all the benches and took them to a church in Oakman. Our trustees got together and it wasn't long before the men who had taken the benches brought them right back," Perry said.

The church building in question had only been built approximately 40 years earlier. However, the original church had been established for over a century.

The timber for the current incarnation of the church had come from a 42-acre tract cut by  Perry's deceased husband and Joe Smith.

The church got its name after a swarm of yellow jackets swarmed a herd of cattle on the shoals and the cows promptly stampeded, according to Perry.

Perry, who lived in a house that dated back 128 years, also provided other interesting facts about the history of the area. 

Perry recalled when mail was delivered on horseback.

"Jackie Bush carried the mail on horseback and it took him a week to make his round and get back," she said.

The community had four doctors in her lifetime: Dr. A.J. Perry, Dr. Simpson, Dr. Garrett and Dr. Stephens.

The doctors only knew of four diseases, according to Perry — diphtheria, smallpox, malaria and pneumonia.  

"There weren't too many survived them either, especially children," she said.

Jennifer Cohron is the Daily Mountain Eagle's features editor.