Happy the Tiger lived in Columbia, South Carolina, at an Esso gas station and car wash, Pat Conroy told the Philadelphia Daily News in 1986.
Happy was the model for the tiger that is one of the heroes of Conroy’s novel, “The Prince of Tides,” about “family neuroses and Southern grotesques” that spent more than a year on the New York Times bestseller list.
“I used to see Happy the Tiger at the gas station in Columbia when I was a kid,” Conroy told The Daily News, innocently. “Happy was there about eight years. And then the Humane Society got pissed off ’cause poor Happy’s in this cage at a car wash. So they made the gas station guy put Happy in the zoo.”
The zoo tigers absolutely hated Happy’s guts. ’Cause he was a car wash tiger. They mauled poor Happy.
Pat Conroy as quoted by The Philadelphia Daily News
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At this point, Conroy’s eyes lose their innocence. “The zoo tigers,” he says darkly, “absolutely hated Happy’s guts. ’Cause he was a car wash tiger. They mauled poor Happy. ...
“So Happy had to be moved into isolation. Happy’s miserable. They kept making the cage smaller and smaller until finally they had a cage the same size as the one at the car wash. But Happy’s still not doing very well.”
Conroy pauses just long enough to savor the ending. “They finally solved Happy’s problem,” he says, “by playing a tape recording of a car wash 24 hours a day.”
Actually, when local leaders were pushing for a zoo in the 1960s, O. Stanley Smith bought Happy from the Lincoln Park Zoo in Chicago and displayed the tiger at his car wash and Esso gas station on Elmwood Avenue. The goal was two-fold: to draw customers to his business and drum up support for a zoo.